Spend enough time in Italy and you will undoubtedly be asked: “Where is the Tuscia area that we keep hearing about?” It could be a village. Is it a region? It’s a new area that I have never heard of.”
Tuscia, also known as Etruria, is a historical landmass that wraps around most Tuscany, Umbria, and parts of Lazio. It is often called “the land of Etruscans” after the ancient civilization which inhabited these areas from around 900 B.C. Until their fall and incorporation into the Roman Republic at 100 B.C.
Many of the technological advances and inventions we associate with Romans are actually the result of Etruscans. These include winemaking, pottery wheels and civil engineering ideas that were used to build the famous Roman roads.
Although the Etruscans are gone, their mysterious spirit lives on in many of these beautiful sights. These hidden treasures capture the essence of this ancient civilization.
What to See
Parco dei Mostri (Monster Park), Bomarzo, Lazio
Bomarzo, a small town in northern Lazio, is home to one the most unique and stunning Renaissance gardens in the country. The Parco dei Mostri, like many Italian garden designs that are mannerist-inspired, eschews symmetry and order in favor of whimsy and a stylized sense for fun. It was designed by Pirro Ligorio, who also created the Tivoli Garden in Rome. It is filled with bizarre and haunting motifs, mythological creatures, and mind-bending structures. The Monster Park may seem dark and gloomy to some, but it is lighthearted and whimsical, and a great place for family fun.
According to legend, Salvador Dali visited Bomarzo once and was so taken with the place that he decided to paint his surreal Temptation of Saint Anthony. Although we are unable to confirm this story, we can see how it could be connected.
Terme di Saturnia, Saturnia, Tuscany
According to Roman and Etruscan legends, the hot springs at Saturnia formed when Jupiter sent a lightning bolt at Saturn in a dispute. Saturn, and us, were able to miss the lightning bolt that hit Saturn during a quarrel. He opened a huge rift in earth where hot water poured out. Although it is more likely that warm pools were formed from calcium carbonate deposits accumulated over thousands of years in natural sulfurous hotsprings, who knows?
Saturnia is adjacent to a luxurious spa resort. It has two outdoor waterfalls. The most well-known is the Cascate del Mulino. This hot spot features mineral-rich pools that reach temperatures close to 100 degrees F/38 degrees C.
Via Cava di Sovana, Sovana, Tuscany
Vie Cava is an ancient network Etruscan roads that surround Sovana. However, their construction is unlike anything you have ever seen. Cava is an excavation road. This amazing artery was created through 65-foot tall tufa rocks, presumably to make it easy to travel between Etruscan tombs and settlements. The chasm may have also been used to direct rainwater, or as an effective defense against enemy attacks according to archeologists. You can walk in the woods surrounding Sovana on a path that dates back to the birth of Christ.
La Scarzuola, Montegabbione, Umbria
Although technically, this destination is not within the invisible Tuscia border, it is close and beautiful so we include it.
It looks a lot like an M.C. La Scarzuola, a former Franciscan monastery built in the middle of the ages, is an Escher drawing. It was purchased by Tomas Buzzi, an Italian architect. He transformed it into a surrealist villa/cum-sculpture gallery with futuristic underpinnings.
It is a combination of symbolism, architecture and esoteric cultural reference, much like the Monster Park. But it’s more personal. Buzzi often refers to the work as his “autobiography written in stone”. It doesn’t matter how you interpret it; most people find it fascinating.
How to get there
Tuscia, located in the middle the country, is approximately 75 miles/120 km from Rome’s center and 125 miles/200 km from Florence. There are local trains that run to the area but we recommend driving to see these amazing sites and all of their surrounding villages.
Where to Stay
Orvieto was once a center for Etruscan civilizations and is an excellent base to explore Tuscia. It is located along the A-1 Autostrada, the main train line between Rome & Florence, and has one of the best central Italy locations. But it is also home to the Museo Etrusco Claudio Faudio Faina as well as ancient Etruscan tombs. They are both conveniently located in Orvieto’s historic center.
Pitigliano, although smaller than Orvieto in terms of population, packs a punch with its dramatic cliffs that drop into a ravine. The classic Italian experience of watching the sunset over Tuscany from one of Pitigliano’s charming hotels, B&Bs or guest houses is the balcony at one of the charming hotels.
Viterbo, the capital of the Province, is home to the University of Tuscia. It’s also close to many thermal springs. This attracts a lot of visitors. The city is surrounded by impressive medieval walls and can be accessed through its ancient gates.
What to eat
Tuscia’s dishes are known for being earthy and rustic. Although the Etruscans did not leave any cookbooks (or writings) behind, archeologists were able to reconstruct their eating habits through studying the remains and relics found in their necropoli. Their favourite foods were likely to have been meat, poultry, and lots of pork.
It’s not surprising that central Italy’s traditional cuisine includes porchetta (roasted pork), dove and pigeon, and cinghiale, (wild boar). There are also hearty soups (Tuscan beans and lentils are very popular), and rich goat and sheep cheeses. You’ll find these delicious dishes in every type of restaurant, from a country trattoria or fine restaurant.