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Under the Etruscan Sun

Sorano Italy

Travelling to the inland Tuscan countryside was a nice change from the Amalfi coastline; time for something different.  The Etruscan hilltop towns dot this entire area and we wanted to see some of the best of the best, but we weren’t prepared for the stunning vertical views of Orvieto.

The areas between the River Tiber and Arno and the Tyrrhenian Sea was a major centre of Etruscan civilization dating back thousands of years.   Etruscan tombs and artifacts have been uncovered in these areas but very little is still known about this civilization.  The Romans conquered them around the 3rd Century BC, and after the collapse of the Roman Empire, much of their way of life was absorbed by successive civilizations.

Sitting on top of their rocky “tufa” (volcanic) columns, the ancient Etruscan hilltop towns of Tuscany command your attention from the moment you see them; Orvieto is no exception.

Since Orvieto is a walking city, people leave their cars in designated parking areas.  We took a funicular railway from the train station below and stayed at a hotel inside the city.

Walking through the narrow alleys and medieval city streets was incredibly interesting – many people still live in houses and apartments inside the city walls; although most are totally updated and ultra-modern inside.

The city has beautiful parks and a perimeter park walks along the ramparts with incredible views across the Tuscan landscape which is covered with vineyards that produce the famous Orvieto wines. Like any modern city, you can find great restaurants and cafes, high-end clothing stores and food stores with offerings of the local gourmet food and wine specialties of the area.

Walking the circumference of the city at the bottom of the city walls, we visited Etruscan tombs that were found totally intact and caves that at one time stored foodstuffs or wine, and now hold statues of The Madonna.

Another great city perched on top of volcanic Tufa overlooking the Tiber River Valley is the hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio; about 25 kms away from Orvieto, so we hopped on the local bus.

Once again the city looked as if it literally crashed through earth’s floor on its own column!  The original city of Civita was founded by Etruscans over 2500 years ago on top of a Tufa ridge jutting out into a canyon.  Over time erosion and earthquakes have collapsed the natural connecting bridge to its sister town of Bagnoregio leaving it stranded.  In later years a walkway was built to the ancient city in order to deliver supplies to the sparsely inhabited town.  Because of its relative isolation, Civita di Bagnoregio has remained relatively intact, but because of its uniqueness is now experiencing a tourism revival.

The next Tuscan hilltop town of Pitigliano is these days inhabited by a seemingly younger artsy and creative crowd.  These are truly passionate people who are totally involved in their culture and trying to revive the interest in the food, wine and local produce of the area.  These are modern technologically savvy people who love the town and its region and are committed to building the community.

The foods of this region are known for being simple, seasonal and hearty featuring local game meats; especially wild boar (Cinghiale), famous regional wines, olive oils and wild produce like truffles. We tried some of the specialties like a stew made with wild boar meat, tomatoes and olives, Porchetta: a roasted pork carved right off a stuffed, herbed young pig, local cured meats and cheeses, pasta with boar’s meat ragu and various pastries and cakes made with local nuts, honey, dark chocolate and candied fruit – just to name a few.   But there’s still time to sample more… All I can say is that it’s a good thing we’re doing a lot of hiking in between!

Once again we were completely awe inspired by the uniqueness of Pitigliano and ended up increasing our stay to 6 days so we could include hikes to two other hilltop towns. These were; Sorano with its ancient medieval town hanging over the Lente River and Sovana with its medieval town and 11-12th C cathedral built on top of an 8th C structure. This was an especially thrilling hike because it took us through Etruscan roadways carved deep into volcanic rock.

Next Post: Hiking the Cinque Terre

Favourite Enoteca and Salumeria in Pitigliano:  Ghiottornia 
Favourite stay in Pitigliano:  Appartamenti a Pitigliano:   riccardo.bernardini.arch@gmail.com

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