The astonishingly beautiful region of Tuscany has it all: art cities and ancient hill towns, high mountains and long sandy beaches, alongside luxurious hotels and some of Italy’s best food and wine.
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Etruscan history in Tuscany
Built from tuff rock and founded by the Etruscans in the 8th century BC, Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana are a fascinating trio of towns set in a remote south-eastern corner of Tuscany. Evidence of the Etruscans is all over the area in local museum collections, the many necropoli and the mysterious Vie Cave.
Pitigliano, built on sheer cliffs, eventually passed into the hands of the Medici; a Jewish ghetto was established here in 1608, relics of which can still be seen today. The Archaeological Museum houses a haul of local Etruscan finds.
The heyday of Sovana came in the 13th century under the Aldobrandeschi family who built the now-ruined castle. A gem of a village, it has an impressive 12th-century town hall and a lovely Romanesque Duomo.
Cliff-top Sorano is reached via a dramatic road that winds in and out of deep gorges. The old town is partly derelict thanks to a series of landslides; its charming, quiet lanes are dotted with artists’ studios and workshops.
The precise purpose of the mysterious Etruscan walkways known as the vie cave (passageways gouged into the tuff rock) is not clear, but a walk through one of these deep channels, some of which are 20m deep and a kilometre long, is a memorable experience. The most famous are the Cavone, Poggio Prisca and San Sebastiano near Pitigliano.
While you’re there
Pitigliano has a small Jewish museum documenting the history of the community, which was forced out during World War II. You can still visit the old ghetto and synagogue and buy the walnut and honey pastries called sfratti in the nearby Forno del Ghetto bakery.
Getting there & doing it
The towns are located in the far south-east of Tuscany in Grosseto province, close to the border with Lazio. Access from the E80 superstrada is via some 60km of winding roads from the Aurelia (the SS1). You can also reach it from the A1 autostrada. Although a bus service runs from Grosseto and Siena to Pitigliano, a car is necessary to explore all three towns and the via Cave.
The main tourist office for the area is in Pitigliano, Piazza Garibaldi. It supplies maps and information on the area.
Wear good walking shoes to visit the Vie Cave and the necropoli; take water and a sun hat in summer.
When to do it
The towns can be visited year-round. This area of Tuscany is rarely crowded, and in the heat of the summer it can be pleasantly cool up here in the hills.
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A heady mix of incomparable Renaissance art, gorgeous palazzos, Tuscan cuisine and home-grown haute couture.