Tuscany itinerary: Five days on the Etruscan Trail

A vacation blueprint for spending five days exploring the ancient Etruscan heritage of Tuscany and southern Umbria

Florence—Volterra—the Maremma—Grosseto—Sorano—Sovana—Pitigliano—Orvieto—Chiusi—Cortona



Etruscan Trail Tour: Day by Day

Day 1 - Florence, Volterra

Where to spend the night
Hotels in Florence (day 0)
Hotels in Volterra (day 1)
Hotels in Orvieto (day 2)
Hotels in Chiusi (day 3)
Hotels in Cortona (days 4-5)
Be at the door of Florence’s Archeological Museum when they open at 9am to admire their two 4th-century BC cast-bronze Etruscan prizes, a Chimera from Arezzo and the Orator statue. Both show a highly refined styling that helps dispel the old myth that Etruscans could only make good art when imitating the Greeks.

Leave Florence before lunch for the drive to one of D. H. Lawrence’s “Etruscan Places,” Volterra. The best museum in all of Etruria is here in one of it’s greatest cities, with over 600 cinerary urns, many carved from the translucent native alabaster.

Volterra's walls also preserved the most intact gate of any Etruscan city, looking out over a vast, misty valley.

Spend the night in Volterra.


Day 2 - The Maremma, Orvieto

Don't forget to pay attention to the "Before you Leave Home " box at the end of the itinerary covering all the details you need to take care of before leaving home—and be sure to read the "Foolish Assumptions" page about how these itineraries work along with more time-planning tips.Today is the day for the Maremma, the deep south of Tuscany, a backwater from Roman times to the present century and still haunted by its Etruscan ghosts—full of half-excavated tombs, sunken roads, and ancient hilltop towns.

You can hit the tombs and small museum at Populonia, then cut inland for more of the same at Vetulonia; both were ancient Etruscan centers but no more than villages today.

Get to Grosseto for lunch (two of the region’s top restaurants are the Enoteca Ombrona at Viale Matteotti 69, tel. +39-0564-22-585 and the Buca di San Lorenzo at Via Manetti 1, tel. +39-0564-25-142), after which you can check out its archeological museum, which collects many of the find from the entire region under one roof.

Grosseto itself isn’t to sort of place most people want to hang around, so push on to the deepest deep south, staring with Pitigliano, where from the tourist office you can get information on the dozens of tombs and vie cave in the area.

The vie cave latter are narrow passages of mysterious purpose that the Etruscans carved sometimes over 60 feet deep into the living rock of the landscape. Some of the roads in this network of open-air tunnels still go on for hundreds of yards at a stretch, and they litter the area all around the old towns of Sorano and Sovana just north of Pitigliano.

Press on before it gets dark to spend the night in Orvieto, which was already old when the Romans came along.


Day 3 - Orvieto

In Orvieto, check out the Duomo in the morning while you’re waiting for the 11am “Orvieto Underground” tour to meet in the tourist office across the piazza.

The guide will show you some of the subterranean chambers that may have been used by the Etruscans and well-shafts that were sunk by them to gather water for this perennially dry city.

Lunch at Trattoria Tipica Etrusca and ask to see their wine cellars—another set of tunnels carved centuries before Christ.

After lunch, check out the city’s two archeological museums, both of which focus heavily on the Etruscan era with sarcophagi, bronzes, red- and black-figure ceramic vases—some of local Etruscan production—and reconstructions of the painted tombs excavated nearby.

At the other end of town are the grassy remains of the 5th-century BC Belvedere Temple.

Get out of Orvieto by early evening to make the 25-mile drive up to Chiusi, once home to the famous Etruscan king Lars Porsena and, more importantly at the moment, some great present-day restaurants.


Day 4 - Chiusi, Cortona

Chiusi was one of the power players in the Etruscan league, and it has a fine small museum and dozens of tombs scattered around the town.

In fact, most of the hills amid the farmed fields of the valley behind town are really Etruscan tumuli, and while the best are either closed or only visitable by booking ahead at the museum, many are simply abandoned, open for your exploration.

It’s not far up the road to another of the Etruscan League's Dodecapolis of cities, modern day Cortona, where you can crash for the night.


Day 5 - Cortona

The best Etruscan remains Cortona has to offer are a pair of 7th- to 6th-century BC tombs down in the valley and an overzealously excavated, but romantically cypress-surrounded, later one on the way down the hill.

Get down to see the tombs early in the morning to check up on the ongoing excavation work at the so-called “Melone II” one, where a few years ago they stumbled across an unprecedented find—a large altar jutting out from one side of the circular tumulus with a majestic staircase flanked by man-eating sphinxes.

Whether or not this was a tomb of princes has yet to be determined, but the dig is extensively documented and explained—and the removable bits preserved—at the Museum of the Etruscan Academy back up in town. Among the other collections here are numerous devotional bronzes and their prize, an enormous 4th-century oil lamp chandelier surrounded with figures and cast with a gorgon’s head on the bottom.


Tips & links

Consider a tour

I'm all for planning your own trip‚ and this website is set up to help you do just that—but some people might just as well prefer to leave all the planning, logistics, transportation, lodging, and gathering of information to the professionals and simply sign up with a guided tour.

Nothing wrong with that. Just take my advice and choose a tour that emphasizes small groups over large crowds, local transport over big tour buses, and fun cultural experiences over sightseeing checklists. You'll have a better time, and probably spend less for it. Here are a few of my favorite tour companies who emphasize just that.

1-5 days

1-2 weeks

Useful links
How it all fits into 2 weeks

A tall order for just two weeks? You bet. But there are three tricks to fitting all you can into such a short time here.

  1. Two weeks actually lasts 16 days (figuring you leave on Friday night for your overnight flight, and you don’t return until two Sundays after). » more 

  2. You're going to fly "open-jaws" into Rome and out of Milan.This will save you a full day of traveling back to where you started to pick up the return flight» more 

  3. You are going to take some guided daytours to visit the towns and sights outside the big cities in order to (a) pack as much sightseeing as possible into a limited amount of time, (b) get a professional guide, and (c) provide all transportation so you can spend your time seeing the sights and not waiting on train and bus connections.

Don't forget to pay attention to the "What to do before you leave" section (next) covering all the details you need to take care of before leaving home—and be sure to read the "Foolish Assumptions" page about how these itineraries are meant to work.)

What you need to do before you leave home
How to use this itinerary

The basic itinerary above is pretty packed—a lot of early morning wake-ups, a lot of churches and museums—because there's simply so much to see and do in Italy.

By all means, feel free to prune this itinerary down to something a bit slower paced if you don’t want to spend so much time running around (say, leaving out a few hilltowns—Pienza or Orvieto—or perhaps the Cinque Terre, or maybe Pompeii). I've even gone ahead and whipped up a sane version of this itinerary that leaves out Pompeii and the Cinque Terre.

Think of this more as a blueprint to squeezing in the maximum possible. You should, above all, have fun.

Don't overplan

I will freely admit to being as guilty as anyone of this, but: Please try not to overplan your trip to Italy. That's a two-fold plea:

  1. Plan everything, but don't feel compelled to stick to the plan. I think it's a fine idea to work out all the details of what you plan to do—if nor no other reason than it will help you get a handle of what you are able to get done, and start making the hard choices of what you have time for and what you should leave for the next trip to Italy. (Always assume you will retrun!)

    But then do not book absolutely every second in advance (that leaves no room to adjust things as you go to accommodate changing interests, sudden festivals, or unexpected invitations), and please do not attempt to stick to the schedule if it turns out to be overly ambitious and startrs making you miserable.

    Rememeber Clark W. Griswold, the Chevy Chase dad in the Vacation movies, always bound and detemrined to get to WallyWorld come hell or dead aunties? Yeah, don't be that guy. No one in that family was having any fun.
  2. Don't try to pack too much in. A vacation is not meant to be all about checking sights off a list or dashing from place to place to fit in as much as humanly possible. It's about enjoying yourself.

    So do that. Enjoy yourself. Take a hint from the Italian concept of la bel far' niente—the beauty of doing nothing—and take a break from the sightseeing every once in a while.

    Leave some time to stop and sip the cappuccino.

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off

Search ReidsItaly.com

  • Reliving the ROME of the Caesars at the Colosseum and Roman Forum (Day 2)
  • St Peter's, The Sistine Chapel, & the Vatican Museums in ROME (Day 3)
  • ROME's Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps (Day 1)
  • The ancient ghost city of POMPEII (Day 4)
  • Capri & the AMALFI COAST (Day 4)
  • Boticelli's Birth of Venus at the Uffizi in FLORENCE (Day 6)
  • Climbing Brunelleschi's Dome on the cathedral of FLORENCE (Day 6)
  • Sipping wine in the CHIANTI (Day 7)
  • Climbing the Leaning Tower of PISA (Day 7)
  • Touring that Medieval Manhattan town of towers SAN GIMIGNANO (Day 7)
  • Michelangelo's David at the Accademia in FLORENCE (Day 8)
  • Giotto's frescoes in ASSISI (Day 9)
  • Hiking the Cinque Terre on THE ITALIAN RIVIERA (Day 10)
  • Crusing the Grand Canal of VENICE (Day 11)
  • The glittering cathedral of St. Mark's VENICE (Day 12)
  • Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper in MILAN (Day 14)
  • A day on LAKE COMO (Day 15)

Useful links
Train tix

Shortcuts to popular planning sections:

Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

Follow ReidsItaly
Follow ReidsItaly on Twitter  Join the ReidsItaly fan page  Follow Reids Italy Adventures blog