A DAY IN PITIGLIANO

Pitigliano isn't just another Tuscan hilltop town. It's the Tuscan hilltop town. No other of them manages to balance so elegantly on top of a rocky cliff. In fact Pitigliano is also called suicide town (at least by my Tuscan native). You'll get the idea once you look down from one of the buildings located right on the edge; but don't do it if you're having a difficult moment in life. 


Pitigliano panorama view in B&W
Pitigliano's skyline

Already the Etruscans took advantage of Pitigliano's amazing location, which guaranteed easy defense. In fact, warlords must have felt rather disheartened when taking sight of the city from afar... at least that's what I think each time Pitigliano's stunning silhouette appears after a curvy trip on the road from the Tuscan coast. Or maybe warlords were just too car-sick to worry about it. Which is how our children normally feel about it. 

Pitigliano is built on tufo (tufa or tuff in English), a limestone that has also been used extensively by the Etruscans for their burial sites in the area. 

Apart of the tufa stone (which is friable enough for digging but still tough enough to keep the town up there), Pitigliano is also known for its small Jewish ghetto. An interview with Elena Servi, the initiator of the Jewish museum in town, gives a historic overview and interesting insight into the up and downs of Tuscany's little Jerusalem. Once in town, visit the bakery next to the synagogue which still produces a dry kosher sweet called lo sfratto. The local vintners association also produces a kosher wine.  

Once you've soaked up the spectacular views over Southern Tuscany's countryside, also keep an eye out for Pitigliano's impressive tufa cellars. Cut directly into the stone, some of them have the feel of a medieval underground maze. Or just spend some time sipping cappuccino. Pitigliano is lay-back and a great place to do some people watching. The city is close to the Lazio border (the region Rome belongs to) and architecture, language and life-style in town definitely account for the vicinity.  


From nurse to fur coat: people watching in Pitigliano, Tuscany
Day out on town. People watching in Pitigliano


WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

IN THE TOWN CENTER
  • IL TUFO ALLEGRO is a good address if you like restaurants, which follow the Slow Food ideology. 
  • ARTTRAV has written a review about their lunch at lovely ENOTECA LA CORTE DEL CECCOTTINO, a restaurant run by two art historians from Rome.
  • My Tuscan native used to play football with (or rather against) the owner of Caffè degli Archi on piazza della Repubblica, right next to the Medici aqueduct. He says he was nearly as good as him! Whatever the barman's former career, this is a nice place to sit outside and enjoy the view with a Cappuccino or glass of wine in hand.

IN THE VICINITY
  • For a stellar dinner, drive the 20 minutes to lovely Montemerano, where Tuscan Valeria Piccinini runs restaurant Il CAINO. Recipes start from a traditional Tuscan base but are revisited in an artful way by the two starred Michelin cook.  
  • Pitigliano has been the first Italian wine growing area to receive DOC status in the 60s. But over a few decades, Pitigliano's once famous white wine had been mainstreamed into a cheap supermarket beverage. Luckily, with the new Millennium things are changing for the better. The best example of the area's winemaking potential is the Sassotondo vineyard. The small winery is run by a knowledgeable, passionate and very likable couple (agronomist Carla Benini and her husband Edoardo Ventimiglia), who work with well known wine consultant Attilio Pagli. Their organically certified vineyards produce wonderful red and white wines from the mineral rich volcano soil around Sovana and Pitigliano. Get in touch with them via their website for info and prices regarding a visit at their fascinating tufa stone wine cellar (Carla speaks great English and the two have a strong interest in biodynamic agriculture and the vin naturel movement).


View onto Pitigliano's impressive Medici aqueduct
Medici aqueduct: securing Pitigliano's access to drinking water since the Middle Ages


SIGHTSEEING
  • A good introduction to Pitigliano's Etruscan, Roman and more recent history can be found on the municipality website
  • Not surprisingly, the New York Times has been here too. Read an interesting article about Pitigliano's Jewish heritage and find out why the famous local sweet may be called sfratto.
  • Maremma Tuscany has an informative page about Pitigliano's most important sights: museums, churches and the nearby Jewish cemetery and Etruscan necropolis. 

EVENTS 
  • La Fiaccolata di San Giuseppe takes place on the 19th of March (St. Joseph's day). There's a rather pagan feeling to Pitigliano during the torch lit parade and the burning of the big straw puppet on the main square at the entrance of town. Winter is told to bugger off and spring is called in. All of it accompanied by plenty of food, wine and song.
  • I'm no big lover of flower carpets (I prefer to meet them in the wild), but in case you are, come in late May or June for the Corpus Christi festivity. Pitigliano's roads will be adorned with at times religiously inspired images - all of them artistically designed with cut flowers.
  • If you are in the area in September look out for the dates of Pitigliano's Cantine Aperte or Festa dell'Uva, the harvest festival with tastings organized in the city's tufa rock wine cellars. 

Busy preparation for the St. Joseph day festivities in Pitigliano
Getting ready for la Fiaccolata di San Giuseppe


IN THE AREA
  • If you have some spare time, drive on to two more tufa towns, both of them smaller but worth a visit. Sovana is a tiny village with an important past. Things went downhill once the county capital got moved to Pitigliano by the Orsini family. Sorano sits on a tufa rock too and has an impressive access road (the town in itself is smaller and not as spectacular as Pitigliano). In any case make sure you visit some of the impressive Vie Cave near Sovana, which the Etruscans managed to cut as rocky roadways into the tufa stones. 
  • Still wondering who these Etruscan are in the first place? Archaeologist Lucy Shipley writes a witty, but refreshingly esoteric and mystery free blog about the talented people, who shaped Tuscany's future over 2500 years ago.
  • Nuff' culture? Saturnia's wild hot springs are a must but definitely no insider tip. The stunning rock pools are busy with Italians and foreigners alike, so make sure you time your visit well. 

WHERE TO STAY

New York Times recommends a hotel in town (Albergo Guastanini), which offers great views. We stayed half an hour drive from Pitigliano at the Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort. You won't get the views, but an ancient thermal water rock pool and a 21st century 18 holes golf course will make up for it. 

STILL NOT ENOUGH?

Head over to my Pitigliano photo guide


Pitigliano, Mini car with Roman number plate in front of restaurant Tufo Allegro
I said Rome's just around the corner

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