After almost four years of living in southern Tuscany and strolling around, here are my personal top ten Italian towns.
I haven’t seen much of Italy yet, but so far Rome, Florence and Siena win without a fight. These here, however, are ten charming smaller towns in middle Italy, most of them in Maremma in Southern Tuscany.
What these towns have in common is that I don’t believe any of them is a household name and could use a shout-out. (Except Lucca. You have probably heard of Lucca. How about Orvieto?)
Each town depicted above gets two photos below and a quick introduction. As I was choosing the photos, I realised that my preference is for scenes that could be taken out of a fairy-tale or off a postcard. I used to play with grandma’s postcards in a different way on each visit. That’s how far back I can trace the birth of my aesthetics.
Out of the almost endless sea of little towns that is Italy, these – and not some others – happened to cross my path or the road took me there in a bit more premeditated way. This means that just around a corner or two there is a multitude of towns just as stunning. And I have a list of them too.
The towns appear in the order in which I discovered them:
- Tivoli. It is not far from Rome and it was my first town after Rome to visit. Back then I didn’t take photos of everything yet, so no photos of the town itself. It’s a cacophony. It’s a little secret, and it’s not advertised. Especially noteworthy is Villa d’Este with its 100 fountains on multiple levels. Visit before dusk and stay for the darkness.
- Capalbio. This is where I live, well, 10 km closer to the sea where the train station is. In the summer it is supposed to be the mecca of the “radical chic”. Hide your wallets and gaze from the wall. Or better yet, visit out of season and admire the doors. Also, it is too steep for a disabled chair.
- Porto Ercole. This is where Caravaggio is believed to have died. It is located on the Monte Argentario peninsula, as is its bigger (but slightly less charming) brother Porto Santo Stefano where the ferry for Isola del Giglio calls. I was blissfully unaware of the existence of this entire area, including Orbetello on the lagoon close by, until I landed here. I can tell you were as well.
- Talamone is another sea town, the home of a marina and kite surfers, half way between Capalbio and Grosseto, the region’s capital (Grosseto is charming as well but has just escaped this list). The weather is always dramatic here. The remains of the fort on the rock testify of thick history.
- Pitigliano always yields the biggest wow effect from first-time visitors. The city built on tuff with the Jewish quarter is often called “Little Jerusalem”. Sometimes it feels that all the roads lead out of it. (Haha.)
- Sovana is less them 10 km from Pitigliano. It feels like a movie set where a fairy-tale movie has just been filmed. It has the oldest cathedral around here, peculiar walking surface on its one street, and the most flowers by doors and windows ever.
- Orvieto is in Umbria, not in Tuscany (which is where all the others are located except for Tivoli which is in Lazio), and I discovered it by pure chance. It has a wicked cathedral, a deep fountain with double helix stairs and an underground system (which I haven’t visited yet). And there is a funicular from the train station to the town on the hill.
- Pienza is above the Val d’Orcia valley which is where most of the typical Tuscany cypress hill photos come from. I was there twice and both times there was no light. I’ll keep trying. Since it is the favourite town of my photographer friend Dunja, it was the first on my to-go list before moving here, and she was not wrong.
- Lucca is a town that deserves return visits, it’s just a bit far from me, close to Pisa. I was only there once, yet the light was golden. I was floored by its cathedral, the tower with seven oaks growing on top, and the square where Neil Young once played. Near is the Devil’s Bridge that I wish to photograph one of these days.
- Volterra is the last of these towns to be discovered. It held a fair as if it knew we were coming. I love it when you approach a town and know by the sight alone that it will stand out. Come to think of it, the light was golden on this visit too. Maybe this is the true key to this selection. 🙂
Photo: © signature mmm