Tuscia’s countryside bears all the signs of Italy’s rich history, peppered with scores of diverse villages and towns from the Etruscan to the Renaissance. Here are a few recommendations, each one with their own unique architectural charms and delights.
Viterbo is the principle town of ‘la Tuscia’ and one of Europe’s best preserved and most beautiful walled medieval cities. The city is home to a number of Romanesque Churches, Renaissance palaces, towers and copious decorative fountains. Once the seat of the Papacy, the 13th Century architecture of Viterbo’s Papal Palace remains the symbol of the city, sitting pride of place within the city walls on a hill with the town’s Cathedral of St Lorenzo. Other sights include, Palazzo dei Priori on Piazza del Plebiscito and Palazzo degli Alessandri in the charming medieval quarter of San Pellegrino. An area characterised by a series of pretty winding streets, inner courtyards and small piazzas dotted with antique shops, artist studios, restaurants and wine bars. It is here in the larger town of Viterbo where you can find a great variety of boutiques and designer shops in and around Piazza delle Erbe.
Viterbo is also known for its hot sulphur springs and houses the famous health spa Le Terme dei Papi. The renowned spa waters of this area were much appreciated by both the Etruscans and the Romans who built many thermal baths along the ancient Via Cassia. Still to this day all year round, visitors of all ages benefit from the therapeutic properties of the warm bubbling natural waters at a number of both free and private open air thermal springs. As well as Viterbo’s Terme dei Papi are the nearby springs of San Sisto, Marta and Orte.
Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio’s precarious and striking setting perched high on top of a ravine overlooking the vast Tiber Valley Gorges (Valle dei Calanchi), makes this fairy-tale town a must-see. It was founded by the Etruscans over 2500 years ago. Today the town is known as ‘The Dying City’ due to its number of dwindling inhabitants, caused by the constant erosion to the town’s base of soft volcanic rock, brought on by several earthquakes and landslides over the years. Accessible only by way of a long footbridge, once inside the town, its charming quaint streets decorated with flowers make you feel transported back in time.
The most important Etruscan centre was undoubtedly Tarquinia located 6km from the coast. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site it is home to a necropolis of around 6,000 frescoed tombs, with paintings dating over 2500 years, these are mostly found at the site of Monterozzi. Within the walls of the medieval town of Tarquinia is an excellent Etruscan museum housed within a medieval palace, said to be the best outside of Rome.
Another Etruscan town of great importance is Tuscania, located between Viterbo and Tarquinia it is home to a great number of monuments both Etruscan and Roman. The Hill of Saint Peter, standing outside the town’s medieval walls, was once the acropolis of an Etruscan settlement, where a number of tombs and sarcophagi have been found. On this site now stand the great Romanesque Churches of San Pietro and Santa Maria Maggiore, taking pride of place overlooking the landscape of ‘la Tuscia’.
Built on a volcanic hill the magical small medieval town of Calcata is a maze of alleyways, stone houses and dazzling views. Its breath taking setting overlooking the Valley of the Treja River natural reserve 500ft below makes for an artist’s dream location. Ever since the sixties the town has had a thriving artistic community, today it is still a bohemian town with a large number of art galleries. The New York Times once described Calcata as possibly ‘the grooviest village in Italy’.
At 600 meters above sea level, the town of Montefiascone set in the Volsini Mountains is the highest town within the province of Viterbo. Breath taking views surround the town. To the south lies the rich agricultural plains heading towards the ancient city of Viterbo and the Cimini Mountains while to the west, the town overlooks the magnificent volcanic Lake of Bolsena. Montefiascone has its own stretch of peaceful shoreline down on the lake. The town flourished in the middle ages and its development throughout history is strongly linked to its proximity to the famous ancient Roman road, Via Cassia, also known as Via Francigena or The Pilgrims Way connecting Rome to northern Europe. Tuscia is an integral part of one of Europe’s most important ancient roads. Sites not to be missed in Montefiascone itself are its Cathedral of St. Margarita, with its imposing Baroque dome, and the Romanesque Church of St. Flaviano.
Vulci & The Archaeological Park
The vast Archaeological Naturalistic Park of Vulci lies in the southern Maremma 16km from the coast, within the province of Viterbo. The Maremma comprises an extensive area of pristine rural landscape in northern Lazio and south west Tuscany, along an unspoilt coastline. Near to the town of Montalto di Castro, the Park of Vulci is a complete panorama of an ancient Etruscan and Roman city, which is dotted with archaeological remains. At its height in the 6th Century BC the town of Vulci was once the most powerful city within the province, largely as a result in trade and the extraction of minerals. Visitors today can still see the Badia Castle (housing the Vulci museum) and Bridge, a Roman bridge with Etruscan foundations, a large network of streets and an extensive necropolis including the most famous of Etruscan tombs, the Tomb Francois. Explore this vast park by way of trails that cross the nature reserve and run along the Fiora River which cuts its way between the volcanic rocks before reaching the picturesque Pellicone Lake.