Guest Post by Elisa Scarton Detti
Start your visit with a custard-filled cornetto (Italian croissant) and cappuccino fresh from the oven of one of Pitigliano’s artisan bakeries. Like any small Tuscan town, you have to get in early if you want to eat at a pasticceria or the locals will beat you to all the best pastries!
Pitigliano is at the meeting point of three rivers, suspended above the valley on a tufa cliff. Tufa is a local stone that’s extremely porous and easy to work with. It’s everywhere in Pitigliano and central to its history. In the 7th century BC, the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilisation, carved cellars and stables in the tufa cliffs around Pitigliano. As you drive up the winding road that leads into town, you can see more modern versions of these grotte or caves, used by industrious locals as workshops and garages.
As you step through Pitigliano’s arches, your first stop is the Medici Aqueduct. These spectacular arches were paid for by the locals to bring running water into the Renaissance city. The name is a nod to Pitigliano’s one-time rulers, the famous Florentine Medici. Keep an eye out for their insignia, five coins… or pills, if you believe the local legend that the Medici were originally humble pharmacists. Medici in Italian means ‘physicians’ so perhaps there is some truth to the story?
A little further up, the imposing Fortezza Orsini houses Pitigliano’s two museums. You can while away an entire morning in the impressive Museo Diocesano. Pitigliano is the seat of the local diocese, so you know territory’s best religious treasures are housed in this fascinating museum.
Next door, the tale of Prehistoric, Etruscan and Roman Pitigliano is told in the Archaeological Museum. The striking bucchero vases are the museum’s highlight. Native to this part of Southern Tuscany, these sleek and shiny black vases were fired without oxygen and used by the Etruscans as pitchers and plates in their legendary banquets.
History is hungry work, so as you step back into the main piazza, make a beeline for one of Pitigliano’s trattorias. Many of the town’s oldest restaurants are carved into the tufa rock. Cool and picturesque, they are the perfect spot for a summer lunch.
The local Maremman cuisine is all about bold, bright and flavourful dishes that are intensely seasonal and often made with little or no meat. This corner of Southern Tuscany has a hard and humble history. Its residents often made do with what they harvested in the fields and Pitigliano is no different. Order acquacotta for a taste of the local cultura contadina (peasant culture). This rich vegetable soup is poured over slices of garlicky toast and sometimes served with a poached egg. To follow, indulge in tagliatelle al ragù di cinghiale (a thick hand cut noodle with a wild boar sauce). Wash it all down with a glass of red. In these parts, that’s Morellino di Scansano, a gutsy DOCG wine that packs a punch.
After lunch, continue your stroll through the piazza and down Via Zuccarelli. It won’t be long until you stumble across something that is quite unexpected: a Jewish ghetto.
Pitigliano bears the nickname Piccola Gerusalemme (Little Jerusalem). In the 16th century, it was home to a bustling community of Jewish traders and businesses. Today the ghetto is a museum. Not only is it a captivating peek into 16th-century Jewish culture with a bakery, butcher, cellar, baths and a synagogue, but it’s also a rare chance to see what Pitigliano looks like below the surface.
Under the palazzos and piazzas, underground cellars weave and twist like a rabbit warren. Some of these cellars are thousands of years old and Pitigliano’s Jewish ghetto is the only place in town where you can get up close and see these amazing feats of architecture.
With what’s left of your afternoon, wander through the streets souvenir shopping and marvelling at Pitigliano’s churches and extremely garish, but much beloved Baroque cathedral. Far from Florence and off most tourists’ radar, Pitigliano has a lovely provincial vibe. You can lose yourself in its flower-filled courtyard gardens and hidden alleyways watching children play and snapping Instagram worthy shots of the surrounding countryside.
But I have left the best bit for last. As you head out of Pitigliano and towards home, stop in the designated lookout spot for a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
Many of Pitigliano’s palazzos are made from the same tufa rock as the cliff that supports it. As the sun sets over the valley manmade and natural come together to create a visual sensation, and Pitigliano appears before you suspended in air, a marvel not of modern architecture, but of millennia of human ingenuity.
About the Author:
Elisa Scarton Detti is a lifestyle and travel journalist. She is the author of an English language guidebook on Maremma Tuscany, published in 2016, and manages maremma-tuscany.com.