Volterra, Italy – History and Handbags High in the Tuscan Hills
I was lucky enough to spend a week working in Tuscany. I know, sorry, stressful but someone had to do it, I’m such a martyr for my cause eh? On an afternoon off I was driven to this joy of a ancient mountain town, Volterra.
I’d seen it from a distance across the valley from the work location. High in the clouds first thing in the morning, safely nestling above the expanse of green valleys and hillsides later in the day.
I’m glad I wasn’t driving the roads are winding with huge drops to certain death on one side, although as a passenger I’m not sure which took my breath away most, the vertiginous drops or the STUNNING panoramic views beauty of nature all around! So if you do drive you may miss out on the numerous opportunities to look past the trees and extreme drops to the famous Tuscan views.
Painters, artists and writers have been drawn to this part of the world across the years. It is a calm, light, green, panoramic countryside and it’s very easy to understand why so many found it inspirational.
‘I am a product of my native land, Tuscany, Italy’ – Andrea Bocelli
We arrived in Volterra and parked in a municipal underground car park. Ignoring this very concrete 1970’s spiral of a carpark as anything other than a convenience, we got walking shoes on, credit cards and cameras at the ready and started the wonderful stroll. Starting with a view over red tiled roofs and out to the far fields rampant with greenery and various farmed crops.
This gem of a town hidden high in the Tuscan hills is worth the drive. Don’t miss the panoramic views near the car park on the main road into the town. The heavy red tiled roofs sit solid and reassuring as you look out over the valley, on the edge of town, although the brickwork is quite wonky in places. No doubt after years of carrying the burden of the deeply ridged terracotta tiles. It all adds to the sense of place, rooted strongly to this mountain top in this country of earthquakes and tremors.
The Romans built an impressive theatre here, wow they must have been fit to hike up those hills! No straight Roman road would climb this high. Surprisingly they still trekked all the way up here, despite the lack of straight roads to ascend the hills, and built amongst other things a huge theatre.
‘Roman Theatre of Volterra’
Spend a few of your euros to see the historic sites, you can get a multi saver although as time was limited I just chose to spend time at the ‘Roman Theatre of Volterra’. As I wandered around paved pathways and stared awestruck as mosaic floors and marble columns, still standing all these years on, I knew I was walking in the footsteps of Roman poets and actors in leather sandals alongside Roman goddesses in long white robes and gold headdresses.
They had the right idea building here, truly near to their gods in the clouds, although I can imagine them moving elsewhere in winter. This place is HIGH!
It did make me wonder how the Romans had managed to do their usually excellent water and sewage management at this ancient mountain site, fighting gravity all the way. It’s hardly a coastal town with easy access. I’m sure they probably succeeded with some form of central heating and spa, they were so advanced.
On a typical tourist note, there are decent toilets here too although luckily as ever, being a backpacking tourist I always carry one of those little packet of paper tissues, you never know when they may come in handy.
Volterra’s town centre
I meandered via narrow lanes, glanced up and down numerous narrow alleyways and smiled at both friendly tourists and locals alike. A friend from South Africa was fascinated by the line of quite elderly men, seated in a row passing the time of day, dressed alike with smart caps and a ready smile. Apparently it’s not a regular sight in her home town. Photo opportunities abound, although as ever always be polite and ask before you take your shots! Papparrazzi be banned!
Typically Italian village shops sell Volterra Alabaster gifts and olive wood kitchen accessories. The shops sit alongside coffee bars (yes with free wi-fi!) occupying the ancient stone built winding streets.
The town hall and church dominates the centre of town, as a service was on I missed lighting a candle.
I’m quite a spiritual person so wherever I am I try to go into my local place of worship, whatever the name or denomination, and pay a tribute to my chosen memories and loved ones.
Gateway to new friendships
Friendly locals mix amongst numerous day trippers, so I can imagine in summer it may get a bit chaotic. I wouldn’t fancy meeting a coach trip on the narrow roads in and out. It has ancient ruins alongside less ancient historic buildings, a beautiful big gateway sits in the town, I’m guessing it was at some point the entrance through the ancient walls.
Oh, and don’t make the mistake of a friend who spotted a huge old architectural gem, asked if she could go in to look around, only to be told it was the local prison!
We left before dusk, I’m sure if you stayed over you’d be able to capture some breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, if so I hope you get a day without low cloud, and please share the images with me. There are plenty of places to sit and take in the surroundings with a coffee or a gelato.
Volterra is a great day trip, truly Tuscan life. Don’t forget the camera and the wallet for the bargains. I bought some beautiful useful souvenirs, I’m trying to buy things I’ll use everyday at home. OK, so yes I confess I also invested in more than one handbag, I’d missed out on that in Rome and wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
Shop around, it’s much cheaper than Pisa but some shops are more pricey than others, oh and of course I picked up a fridge magnet, it’s the law of backpack travel!
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