To visit Tuscia in central Italy would be a feat. Not because it would require traveling a great distance (it’s located just north of Rome), but because it would require traveling in time: Tuscia, or Etruria prior to Roman conquest, was the historical territory of the ancient Etruscans, who occupied what is now Tuscany, Umbria, and northern Lazio between the eighth and third centuries BCE. On modern-day maps, much of this region falls within the province of Viterbo.
Tuscia was lively through the Middle Ages. It was frequented by wealthy popes and nobles, and later became a haunt for mid-20th-century artists. However, tourism is slow today. But the region deserves to be more than a mere backdrop for travelers driving between Florence and Rome. Next time you’re in either city, keep a Tuscia town in mind for the ultimate day trip through central Italy’s idyllic, historic countryside.
The modest elevation Montefiascone manages atop the tallest of the Volsini hills makes it one of the best places in Tuscia to admire the region’s scenery. Some of the town’s most panoramic views are seen from the Castello della Rocca, a castle that hosted historic figures from popes and statesmen to nobles and artists during the Middle Ages. From the gardens, visitors can take in a pastoral patchwork of peaks, neighboring towns, Lake Bolsena, and the lush greenery that stitches it all together. Worth admiring up close are the massive Duomo di Santa Margherita, San Flaviano and Saint Andrea churches, and the Rocca dei Papi fortress. And after a long day of sightseeing, there’s no better reward than indulging in Montefiascone’s wines and olive oils.
This Tuscia town in northern Lazio takes its name from the lake it borders. Europe’s largest volcanic lake, Lake Bolsena was formed when the Vulsini volcano erupted in 104 BCE, which also explains its striking black sands. Later, in 1263, Bolsena became the site of a Catholic miracle when a traveling priest witnessed a consecrated Communion wafer seep blood during mass, renewing his faith in transubstantiation. By papal decree, the event, the feast of Corpus Christi, has been celebrated around the world ever since. Year-round, visitors can also appreciate Bolsena’s secular culinary heritage, notably traditional preparations of the lake fish coregone.
Viterbo is the capital city of the province of the same name in the Lazio region. It’s located an hour north of Rome and is one of the more popular day trips. Even still, it’s criminally overlooked. The well-preserved architecture surrounding the central Palazzo dei Papi was fit for the pope when the city served as the seat of the papacy in the 13th century, as were the town’s thermal baths, Terme dei Papi, which are still in use today.
4. Civita di Bagnoregio
It’s hard to say where Civita di Bagnoregio begins and the bluff it crowns ends. The timeworn hill town is clearly removed from the rest of the valley it rises above, however. It connects only to its sister town, Bagnoregio, by way of a 1,200-foot pedestrian bridge. Over time, the bulk of its population migrated across the footpath, yet visitors are becoming increasingly aware of Civita’s splendor. This uptick in tourism is deliberate: A decade-long tourism push has helped the Tuscia town that was once nicknamed “the dying city” due to the constant threat of erosion it faces, survive.
5. Soriano nel Cimino
Those traveling on the Autostrada A1 from Rome to Florence may stumble upon Soriano nel Cimino, which sits just a few miles off the expressway. They’d be lucky if they did. The town trickles down around the large, boxy, crenelated Orsini castle, which served as a papal summer residence for the medieval elite. The town is also backed by the Cimini Mountains, whose woodsy trails are rife with chestnut trees. Chestnuts feature in a variety of local dishes, alongside locally grown porcini mushrooms, and lend their name to the annual Sagra delle Castagne festival, which doubles as an all-out medieval reenactment fair.
Some 60 miles north of Rome, Bagnaia is everything you’d expect of small-town central Italy. Contemporary restaurants abut ancient landmarks. Friends and families populate the main piazza with espresso or gelato in hand. The unhurried pace is alone worth visiting for. But there is one standout attraction in Bagnaia: the 16th-century Villa Lante, a maze-like Mannerist garden complete with large, sculptural fountains; a frescoed manor; and an arrestingly green grotto.
Caprarola’s claim to fame is Villa Farnese, a Renaissance-era mansion with pentagonal architecture that represented some of the region’s most impressive architecture in its day. Even now the villa is recognized for its resplendence, having been featured in films like the 2019 Oscar-nominated drama The Two Popes and Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The views from the villa are equally grand, with Lake Vico to the west and the Cimini Mountains to the north. They’re best enjoyed nibbling on local cookies like tozzetti and amaretti, which are the sweetest part of Caprarola’s prolific hazelnut production.