A journey through the ages awaits in Tuscia, a region that exudes both ancient charm and Renaissance grandeur, all just a short distance from the bustling heart of Rome. This is a voyage into the depths of time, where mediaeval and Renaissance vestiges, perched villages, ancient beech forests, and thermal waters blend seamlessly with the tufa rock tombs concealed by wild vegetation. It’s a realm steeped in civilisation and mystery. Known as Tuscia or Etruria (derived from the Latin “tuscus,” a contraction of “etruscus”), this enchanting province lies in the northern part of Lazio, approximately an hour’s drive from Rome.
Tuscia is a land waiting to be discovered, a blend of art and nature, historic gardens, and ancient mansions. Take, for instance, Castello Ruspoli, once the stronghold of the illustrious Farnese family, a lineage deeply intertwined with many other noble houses in the ancient Papal province of San Pietro. Claudia Ruspoli, the current owner, along with her sister Giada and cousin Francesco, received the property as a gift from their father and relocated from California to Vignanello after dedicating her life to the business of cinema and entertainment. Her mission was to open this historical gem to the public and create a haven for the younger generation of their family.
A garden dating back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries is an extraordinary example of Renaissance design. Such gardens are rare, with other notable examples including Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, Villa Lante in Bagnaia, and the Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo. Many of Tuscia’s historic residences are still privately owned, a legacy to preserve thanks to their unique identities. The Rocca Farnese in Ischia di Castro, the oldest residence of the aristocratic Farnese family, is now owned by art historian Stefano Aluffi Pentini. During its restoration, he unveiled the Renaissance loggia that had been bricked up over the centuries. Inspired by the 18th-century Grand Tour, Aluffi organizes private tours through his “A Private View of Italy.”
For those who relish delving into history, there are remarkable accommodations to consider. In Bolsena, Palazzo Cozza Caposavi, the ancestral residence of the same family for five centuries, offers rooms named after the historical guests who slept there, including the French writer Stendhal. The palace guards artworks, fabrics from the San Leucio textile factory, and a museum. It is a stop along the Via Francigena, a storied path that has seen popes, writers, artists, directors, actors walking across. A restaurant occupies the old kitchens of the 1920s, overlooking San Rocco Square.
To reconnect with nature, head to Relais Villa Lina in Ronciglione, a 40-hectare organic estate. Paola Igliori, a writer and filmmaker with ties to the contemporary art scene (she was married to artist Sandro Chia) and a descendant of the Lante Montefeltro della Rovere family, has deep roots in this land. Her symbolic garden is filled with energy points, designed in the 1920s by landscape architect Raffaele De Vico, who was a member of the Rosicrucian order, a mystical, cabalistic-Christian secret society.
In comparison with the small villages, including Caprarola with its renowned Palazzo Farnese, Viterbo is nearly a metropolis. Its centre winds through mediaeval alleyways and quaint squares. One compelling reason to visit the city is the annual celebration on September 3rd, honouring the patron saint, during which the towering Macchina di Santa Rosa (30-meter-high, 50-ton canopy) parades through the streets of the city. Every five years, a competition is held to create this marvel, and architect Raffaele Ascenzi, owner of B&B A Piazza del Gesù, has won it twice.
A holiday in this region is inseparable from its history. The B&B dei Papi ensures that guests receive an art-filled breakfast experience, courtesy of the host Alessandro Rocca, an art historian with profound knowledge of Bomarzo. According to his theory, the Park of Monsters or Sacro Bosco, commissioned by Prince Vicino Orsini in the late 16th century, is a journey of knowledge and salvation, akin to Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Not far away, a pyramidal structure with steps, possibly an Etruscan altar, was discovered and cleaned by Salvatore Fosci. It’s just one of many archaeological marvels in Tuscia, nestled in pristine natural environments (for excursions, the Archeotuscia Association is highly recommended).
Many artists were captivated by Etruria. Pierpaolo Pasolini filmed some scenes from his “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” in the Valle di Fosso Castello and even acquired the nearby mediaeval tower of Chia. The painter Balthus resided in the Calvello Castle, now owned by his son Stanislas Klossowski de Rola. Enrico Castellani, one of Italy’s foremost artists of the 20th century, purchased the abandoned Orsini Castle in the village of Celleno, which is less known than the equally depopulated Civita di Bagnoregio, the “dying city” perched on a tufa cliff against the backdrop of the Valle dei Calanchi.
The rediscovery of Tuscia was spearheaded by a vanguard of intellectuals from various nationalities. In Vetralla, for instance, at Palazzo Piatti, American journalist and writer Mary Jane Cryan is an expert on the region. Her recent work, “Etruria. Storie e Segreti” (Etruria Editions, 2019), serves as a treasure trove of information (also available to read here). In the same palace, Susanna Othonen, of Finnish origin, has been organising opera performances since 2005 with the Opera Extravaganza association. Another palace houses painter Giovanni Di Carpegna Falconieri, whose family roots are deeply intertwined with the area.
Sigfriedo Junior Hobel, an archaeology graduate, chose Bomarzo over Naples after receiving his degree in 2009. He now curates Project Tuscia, a website featuring videos and texts about Tuscia. Through his continuously updated footage, these territories can be explored virtually, offering a tantalizing preview of the journey that awaits.
Tuscia is just an hour’s drive from Rome, and a train service is available to Viterbo.
WHERE TO EAT
Situated in Vetralla, this eatery tantalizes taste buds with typical Tuscia dishes, including the exquisite “coniglio verde leprino di Viterbo” (rabbit) infused with wild fennel. WEBSITE
In the heart of Civita di Bagnoregio, Alma Civita awaits, where culinary artistry intertwines with historical heritage. Maestro Maurizio Rocchi entices with an array of gourmet creations, including the delectable “Uovo di Alma” adorned with truffle and dill. WEBSITE
WHERE TO SHOP
Percorsi Artistici di Cinzia Chiulli
Explore Tarot cards connected to Tuscia’s historical figures and ceramics in a workshop in the mediaeval district of San Pellegrino in Viterbo. WEBSITE
La Grotta di Checco Lallo
Witness Angelo Ricci, one of the last of the terracotta potters creating timeless pottery and more in his ancient Vetralla workshop. WEBSITE
Centro Botanico Moutan
Visit the world’s largest collection of peonies (in bloom in May). WEBSITE
Where to SLEEP
Immerse yourself in 500 years of history within the halls and chambers of this palatial residence in Bolsena. WEBSITE
Natural Relais Villa Lina
Nestled within an organic estate, this enchanting residence beckons travelers seeking an otherworldly experience. Here, energy pathways wind through a symbolic garden, inviting you to reconnect with the essence of the land. WEBSITE
B&B A Piazza del Gesù
Amidst Viterbo’s tangle of alleys, three exquisitely appointed rooms, each with a private garden. And just a stone’s throw away, the renowned Terme dei Papi beckon. WEBSITE
B&B dei Papi
Tucked within an elegant palazzo, this haven boasts four gracefully designed rooms and a relaxation area featuring an emotional shower set within the ancient confines of a furnace. WEBSITE