If you landed here, you have already heard of the region known as Tuscia in central Italy. Going through this article, you will be surprised at learning how many off-the-beaten-track places you can find on the way from Rome to southern Tuscany. As you check these destinations off your bucket list, you will feel like an explorer again. Tuscia can be considered an undiscovered part of Italy.
This region scattered with picturesque villages, wild gorges, and archeological sites is eclipsed by the nearby major tourist hubs of Rome and Tuscany. It is there that the vast majority of travelers go, not knowing what they are missing! Tuscia is one of the most fascinating regions of Italy and is just underrated. I spent years exploring it, yet it still excites me. Why is it called like that?
Why is the region of Tuscia, Italy, called so?
The word Tuscia is very ancient. It is the way the Latins called the territory where the Etruscans ruled, before the Romans. The Etruscans are one of the most ancient civilizations of Italy, they have left us incredible and mysterious architectural and artistic evidence, which we can still admire today in most of the places highlighted in this article.
Tuscia does not coincide with any of today’s administrative regions but touches three of them: upper Lazio, southern Tuscany, and part of Umbria. Tuscia today is synonymous with a territory with certain culinary and geographical characteristics that you are going to deepen here in this post.
20+ best experiences in Tuscia, Italy’s undiscovered heart
1. Explore the fascinating village of Calcata Vecchia
Perched on a tuff cliff, like other villages in Tuscia, Calcata Vecchia has a special atmosphere that distinguishes it. Since the late 60s, it has become a meeting place for alternative artists and individuals from all over the world, who relocated here to live according to their own rhythm and thought, snatching the village from decay and abandonment.
Calcata features medieval architecture, but the basements of the houses hold grottoes, caved in the tuff rock, which is way more ancient, certainly pre-Roman. The area was inhabited by the people called “Faliscans”, which allied with the Etruscans to stop the Romans’ expansion. The alleys of this hamlet colorful stores and studios with breathtaking views over a lush gorge.
Calcata is a pedestrian island. After passing through the only large gateway to the village, you reach the small square with the three thrones carved into the tuff by contemporary artist Costantino Morosin, right next to the village church, where it is believed the relic of Christ’s foreskin was kept. Then proceed to explore all the pretty little alleyways where artisan and artist’s workshops are located and which lead to breathtaking views of the lush gorge that surrounds the high cliff.
The most incredible attraction near Calcata is the open-air museum Opera Bosco, where, with a two-hour walk, you can admire more than 40 environmental sculptures along a trail in the forest of the Treja Valley Regional Park.
2. Hike in the fairy Sorbo Valley into the Veio Park
30 km north of Rome, next to the town of Formello, lies one of the main entrances of the Regional Park of Veio. Veio was an Etruscan city, one of the last to fall to the Romans. In the park, together with the remains of Etruscan temples have been found some of the statues displayed in the main Etruscan Museum in Rome, like the Apollo of Veio.
The most outstanding testimony of the pre-Roman anthropization is 50 km of underground hydraulic tunnels, proof that the Etruscans were expert engineers! The Sorbo Valley, crossed by the Cremera river, is one of the easiest and most scenic parts of the park to visit. The trails are mostly levels and animals such as horses, cows, and small wild boars can be spotted at any time of the day peacefully.
Visit the remains of the ancient mill at one of the most beautiful waterfalls near Rome and then walk to the Sanctuary Madonna del Sorbo, one of the stages of the Via Francigena. You will find a chapel, restroom, and an area with benches and tables to set up a picnic.
3. Stroll in and around the Orsini-Odescalchi Castle in Bracciano
The Bracciano Castle as we see it today, with 5 towers, is the result of 15th and 16th Century renovations financed by a rich family of Roman origins, the Orsinis. It is located in the heart of the historic center of Bracciano and overlooks Lake Bracciano, a stretch of crystal clear water, on the shores of which the locals spend the beautiful days from May to October. Today the castle is a museum with more than 20 rooms open to the public. During the week visitors are small. You will feel like you have a castle all to yourself. The frescoes and furniture are from the Renaissance period. From the towers, you can admire an incredible view of the blue waters of the lake and the surrounding nature. After visiting, explore the alleys of the medieval village and do not miss a meal in one of the excellent restaurants in Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini.
4. The Basilica of Sant’Elia, example of Romanesque art in Tuscia
This Romanesque style Basilica is so sheltered from the gaze that it will seem abandoned. Consisting of three naves, it houses medieval frescoes, an altar with a ciborium carved in marble, a portal with bas-reliefs of obscure significance, and a crypt with the tombs of two saints. Attributed to the 5th century AD, it lies a few hundred meters from the Hermitage of St. Leonard, which consists of grottoes dug into the tuff wall of a suggestive canyon of 100 meters that characterizes the Suppentonia valley. The visit to the basilica is also an opportunity to enjoy the view of the valley from the ancient towered gate of the village of Sant’Elia. The quiet and meditative atmosphere of the place will envelop you. If you like walking, keep going down towards the river, once past the cathedral, until you reach the heart of the gorge, where there is a perfectly preserved Etruscan bridge.
5. Spend a day in the Etruscan Necropolis of Cerveteri
The city of the dead of the ancient Etruscans, ancestors of the Italians, is a UNESCO Heritage Site since 2004. One of the most important historical landmarks of Italy, this immense necropolis, the largest in the Mediterranean, extends for more than 100 hectares west of the town of Cerveteri. Thousands of tombs have been excavated on the tuff plateau and it will take several days to explore them all.
We can divide the necropolis into three parts: one with an entrance fee of €8,50 that includes a short guided tour with animation inside one of the best-kept tombs; the other two parts of the necropolis can be reached with a 5 minutes walk from the gate of the main section and aren’t less monumental or interesting but you get free access. Visiting this historic landmark in Tuscia is the most effective way to observe the architectural technique of the Etruscans, skilled masters in rock working.
I suggest you end the day with a fish-based dinner in Cerveteri’s old town.
Enjoy more photos of the Etruscan Necropolis of Cerveteri.
6. Immerse yourself in the oldest beech wood in Europe
There is in the region of Tuscia, Italy, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this time of natural character, the beech forest of Mount Cimino. At an altitude of 1053 meters lies the “Faggeta Vetusta dei Monti Cimini”, a forest unique in Italy, where tall, centuries-old trees will take you back in time, to a time when men were respectful of nature. On the top of the mountain, traces of religious cults from the Bronze Age have been discovered. There are large rocks, one next to the other. The forest is very dense and hides the view. There are very clear paths that make the walk pleasant. After spending an hour inside the forest, you will feel refreshed and relaxed. Perhaps you will want to spend the whole day there. The environment is cool even in the hottest months. There is a very well-kept restaurant-cafe that offers typical dishes at the entrance of the forest, where there is also convenient free parking for cars.
7. Relax on the beach of Santa Severa
While most of the inhabitants of Rome choose Ostia or Fregene to spend a day by the sea, one of the most beautiful beaches in Lazio is that of Santa Severa. The water is much clearer than in other places and the profile of the coast is enhanced by the intact castle. This place had a crucial importance for the Etruscans, as here there was one of the main port cities on the Tyrrhenian Sea, called Pyrgi, of which we still can see the remains from the 7th century BC. The port also served the nearby Etruscan city of Caere, today’s Cerveteri, which I have mentioned above.
The castle as we see it today dates back to the 14th century and you can visit it with a €5 ticket.
Walking on the beach of Santa Severa, to the north, you will find several cafes and fish restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or aperitivo.
8. Stroll along the lakeside promenade of Trevignano Romano
Of the three towns that overlook the crystal-clear Lake Bracciano, Trevignano Romano is the smallest and most intimate, to be called a village. The locals simply refer to it as “Trevignano” and love to visit it from May to October, when the sunny days favor walks on the well-kept lakeside promenade equipped with restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, and beach clubs.
On weekends, the lakefront hosts the craft market. The village of Trevignano is just as pleasant to explore as the boardwalk. The Town Hall building houses a small Etruscan museum, while past the watchtower, you’ll reach the stairs leading to the remains of the ancient Roman Fortress, on top of the hill. From there, the view of Lake Bracciano is unforgettable.
9. Immerse yourself in the thermal waters of Viterbo
Viterbo is one of the largest cities in Lazio as well as one of the most underrated destinations in Italy. Viterbo’s historic center is characterized by a medieval quarter built with the typical dark local stone, the peperino, and perfectly preserved city walls. Among the peculiarities of the city, there are numerous sculpted fountains, one of the most important Etruscan museums in Italy, and the San Pellegrino district with a Romanesque church and the Palazzo Dei Papi. But the reason why Viterbo attracts many local tourists is the thermal spring from which flows hot healing water used in the many facilities just outside the city.
Some spas, such as the Bagnaccio, are managed by associations and immersed in nature, others are more elaborate and offer a lot of treatments, such as the Terme Dei Papi and the Therma Oasi. Viterbo definitely hosts some of the best thermal baths near Rome.
10. Discover the monumental paths dug in the tuff in southern Tuscany
On the border between Lazio and Tuscany, there are some villages of very ancient origin that have been renamed “tuff cities”. The inhabited centers rise on tuff spurs, as it often happens for the picturesque villages of Tuscia. The centers of Pitigliano, Sorano, and Sovana, however, holds something unique in Italy. The Etruscans, who civilized these lands, used to dig into the tuff rock cyclopean paths, alongside the necropolis, at the foot of the cliffs on which the acropolises stood. There are 30 of these paths connecting Sorano, Sovana, and Pitigliano and they are all practicable with long walks. Crossing these open-air corridors you will wonder how the ancient builders made their way through the rock using only hammer and chisel. On the walls, you will find mysterious carvings, niches, hermitages, and tombs. The most monumental tomb is that of the “Siren”, called this way because of a bas-relief representing a mermaid at the entrance of the tomb. In addition to trekking in the so-called “vie cave”, or “cut roads”, you will be pleased to visit the medieval villages and take advantage of the farmhouses that offer organic food nearby, such as “L’aia del Tufo”.
11. Take a walk in the ghost town of Antica Monterano
There are several abandoned cities to explore in Tuscia, Italy, but that of Antica Monterano is the most spectacular. It is said that in 1700 the inhabitants of this city migrated en masse a few kilometers away, founding Canale Monterano, which is still inhabited by roughly more than 4000 citizens. When the weather is good, by car or on foot you can reach the entrance of the Reserve of Canale Monterano. From there, continue the exploration wearing your hiking shoes. Explore the abandoned town slowly, following the path upstream and downstream. You will find prehistoric caves, the remains of a monumental aqueduct, the ruins of a palace with a statue sculpted by Bernini, a church with a mysterious fig tree in the center, a stream with waterfalls, and a sulfur pool…
This place really has a lot to offer to nature lovers. Bring a packed lunch and your camera!
12. Admire the landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio
Also called Civita, it is one of the most popular places in Tuscia. It is said that the view of this perched village inspired the Japanese designer Miyazaki in his cartoon movie “The Enchanted City”. The tuff base on which Civita di Bagnoregio stands looks like the cut trunk of a giant tree grown in the middle of a deserted limestone valley. The layers of the rock are of different colors and resemble a candy or a fairy site.
To get to the village, you need to cross the valley on a panoramic footbridge. Only 16 people live in the village, but there are restaurants and local craft stores. Due to the secluded location and to the colors of the landscape, this is considered one of the most romantic places of Italy.
13. Enjoy contemporary art in the open-air museum Opera Bosco
A couple of kilometers from the city of artists, Calcata, you can find one of the most unique open-air museums in the world. The museum of art in nature “Opera Bosco” houses works of art created with elements of the forest and in the forest. Following a guided tour of about two hours through the dense vegetation of the Treja Valley’s gorge, you will discover a dozen artworks by artists from different parts of the world, who have participated in this project for over two decades. The environment is very evocative due to the presence of a cave from prehistoric times and quarries dating back to the time of the Faliscans. The museum of art in nature is very hospitable. After the visit, which takes place on weekends from March to mid-December, it will be possible to stop for a picnic in a pleasant area and to spend the afternoon chilling. Wine is organic and offered by the artists!
14. Take a bath in the natural pools of Saturnia
Saturnia is one of the most famous naturalistic destinations in Tuscia and all of Italy. Near the village of Saturnia, in the south of Tuscany, there are picturesque natural pools crossed by the thermal water typical of the region, freely accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The pools are arranged on the side of the hill and the water fills them by making small jumps. There is an old mill on the hillside so that the place has been called “Cascate del Mulino”.
If you visit southern Tuscany, you can’t miss this place. Be sure to read my tips for a happy experience in Saturnia.
15. Walk from Anguillara Sabazia to Lake Martignano
One of the most satisfying day trips from Rome is to visit the village of Anguillara Sabazia on Lake Bracciano. Not everyone knows that right next to the largest lake, there is a smaller one, also of volcanic origin, Lake Martignano, the favorite alternative beach destination of those who live in the northern part of Rome. The lake is part of a protected area, hidden from view from the side of the hill, and surrounded only by unspoiled nature. The water is clean and the presence of lawns and trees on the shore makes it the perfect place to spend a pleasant day in the warm months. It can be reached by walking for about two hours from the Church of the Holy Trinity.
16. Eat at Trattoria Zì Maria
More or less halfway between the Forest of Manziana and the Tyrrhenian coast, there is an intriguing landscape characterized by huge groups of stones rising from the ground. In the shelter of the largest of these stones, which is called “Il Sasso”, a few centuries ago a small village was built. In the village, there are two excellent restaurants, and one of them, “Zì Maria”, is one of the best restaurants near Lake Bracciano.
The environment is bright and well kept, but not overly refined. Come here if you want to taste the best quality typical products, such as gnocchi with porcini mushrooms or different types of meat, accompanied by local wines. In the basement, there is a wine cellar and a wine shop.
17. Join Tolfarte
One of the most picturesque villages near Rome is nestled in the lush and quiet hills that border the Tolfa Mountains. Tolfa is a medieval village perched on a hill and surrounded by vegetation. The air you breathe here is clean, the atmosphere relaxing. If you want to visit this village at the most vital time of the year you should attend Tolfarte, a festival held in the alleys and squares of the city at the beginning of August. You will find jugglers, artisans, street food, and art exhibitions.
18. Climb to the top of Mount Soratte
From the remains found on top of this mountain, we know that religious ceremonies were held here since the Bronze Age. Mount Soratte stands alone in the plain of the River Tiber. Its profile is peculiar and easy to remember. The mountain is curiously aligned to all the heights and cities in the surrounding area, impossible not to notice it and not be intrigued by it. Even if it does not reach a height of 700 meters, the fact that it is the only mountain in the area gives it notoriety.
On the mountain, you can visit very large bunkers built before the Second World War. If you come here, don’t miss the Cruscioff pub, which offers great pizzas, sandwiches, and local dishes with a fantastic view of the plain below. It is also worth visiting the old part of the village of St. Oreste, which can be reached on foot.
19. Meet the Etruscans in the Archeological Museum of Tarquinia
The traces left by the Etruscans in Tuscia are so numerous that it is impossible to see them all during the same journey. The necropolis of Tarquinia is the most remarkable and rich Etruscan archeological site after that of Cerveteri. Near Tarquinia, there are several well-preserved tombs, where you can admire the Etruscan pictorial art, such as the Tomb of the Leopards. The artifacts that emerged from these sites have been transferred to the National Archaeological Museum in the historic center of Tarquinia. Distributed on three floors in the elegant Palazzo Vitelleschi, dozens of carved sarcophagi, ceramic vases, jewelry, sculptures, and architectural elements. Although the Etruscan Museum of Rome is better known, this is much richer. After enjoying the art in the museum, appreciate also the historical center of Tarquinia, which is characterized by many ancient towers and an ample view of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
These are other Etruscan museums in Lazio.
20. Camp on Lake Bolsena
Lake Bolsena is the largest volcanic lake in Italy. It is not possible to visit it in just one day, so you should take advantage of one of the many campsites on the lake and explore it slowly. Nearby there are many farmhouses and historical sites to explore, starting from the town of Bolsena, with its historic center and medieval castle.
21. The Farnese Palace of Caprarola
The Palazzo Farnese overlooking the village of Caprarola is a spectacular Renaissance villa with a characteristic pentagonal map that now functions as a museum. For a few euros, you can access most of the rooms, which are all frescoed and provided with informative boards explaining the frescoes. Here you can admire grotesque-style Renaissance paintings and a majestic spiral staircase. Spending time indoors surrounded by all this beauty is a unique experience, but also outdoors, where an Italian garden awaits you together with a nymphaeum that seems to have been created by a craftsman from the fairy kingdom.
22. The Castle of Badia in Vulci
This place is mostly unknown even to Italians. It is located near the border between Lazio and Tuscany and is surrounded by fields. The Castle is perfectly intact and protected by a ditch where crystal clear water flows. It is located on the edge of a ravine crossed by a panoramic bridge. The castle of Vulci can be appreciated both from outside and inside, where there is an Etruscan museum with the finds unearthed in the Archaeological Park of Vulci. In the park, you can walk through Etruscan and Roman remains and visit the tombs.
These are the places I loved the most in the region of Tuscia, Italy. For reasons of time, I left out destinations that are worth visiting anyway, like the city of Orvieto in Umbria, and the area of Bomarzo. Let me know in the comments which part of my Italy undiscovered you liked the most!