Green landscapes and enchanting Medieval villages characterize the Tuscia zone and its capital, Viterbo. It is an oasis of good food and relaxation, situated amidst the legacies of the Etruscans and the Via Francigena, where the rhythms of life from the mountains to the sea are dictated by nature and the age-old customs of peasant life.
Located between the southern borders of the Tuscan Maremma and Rome, Viterbo and Upper Lazio are characterized by a landscape of volcanic origins, with the Lakes of Bolsena and Vico having formed in ancient extinct craters. Flat in the north, the land becomes more hilly up towards the Cimini Mountains, then slopes down to the River Tiber. Beechwoods dot the higher areas, while oaks and chestnut trees inhabit the lower altitudes.
A sandy shoreline and the Mediterranean bush characterize the area of the coast with its crystalline waters. Among the coastal destinations, Tarquinia Lido offers tourists swims in limpid waters, a vast panorama from the top of the Tarquinia Alta Hill, and the discovery of an Etruscan necropolis (one of Italy's 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites) made up of approximately 200 graves, where paintings represent the most conspicuous legacies of Etruscan art.
Many archaeological finds unearthed during excavations here are kept in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (National Archaeological Museum), housed in Palazzo Vitelleschi, considered one of the most important Etruscan museums in Italy.
Ancient Tuscia is still shrouded in the mystery that surrounds the Etruscan civilization, prevalent feature of this territory, the remains of which can be seen in the necropolises of Norchia and Castel d'Asso, or in the archaeological sites of Ferento and Acquarossa.
In the Provincial capital, Viterbo, the beautifu,l historic center has been preserved and comprises the old urban core enclosed by the town wall, while the modern, commercial and industrial part is nearer to the defensive walls. In the central Piazza San Lorenzo stand the Cathedral, built in the 12th Century, and the Palazzo dei Papi (Papal Palace), residence for the popes since 1255, and remembered as the site where the longest and most disputed conclave in history took place. Not far away is Piazza del Plebiscito, fronted by Palazzo dei Priori, considered the historical, social and institutional hub of the city, and connected by the Pinacoteca (Art Gallery) to the Medieval Palazzo del Podestà.
Not far from Viterbo lies the town of Tuscanica, with its striking presence of Etruscan remains and necropolis. Worth a visit are the characteristic Churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest place of worship in Tuscania (dating from the 6th Century) and with a beautifully-decorated interior; and the 8th-Century St. Peter's Church, overlooking the village from the top of a hill.
Viterbo is an ideal starting point for sightseeing tours and excursions following archaeological and historical itineraries, such as those that wind along the route of the Via Francigena (Francigena Way), over the centuries followed by pilgrims to Rome. From Proceno to Acquapendente, from Bolsena to Montefiascone and again past the Cimini Mountains, the tour could continue to Vetralla, Capranica, Sutri and Monterosi.
Also worth a mention in the Province of Viterbo are Bagnaia and the famous Villa Lante, a wonderful exemplar of a late-Renaissance residence with an Italian garden, whose design is attributed to Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola. Not only, but Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola (by Baldassare Peruzzi and Antonio Sangallo the Younger) is a pentagonal, Renaissance residence and a fantastic architectonic sight to see.
Finally, the Parco dei Mostri (Park of Monsters) of Bomarzo, a large park with gardens, buildings and fantastic sculptures, is a fun and different excursion, one that also inspired Salvador Dalì; meanwhile, the ancient village of Montecalvello develops around a castle where the famous Balthus, a contemporary painter, lived for thirty years.
The diverse topography of Viterbo Province makes hiking and all outdoors activities ideal, when practiced amidst the beechwoods that populate the elevated areas, or among the oak and chestnut trees that characterize the lower altitudes.
The Bolsena Lakes, with the beautiful Islands of Martana and Bisentina, as well as Vico, are the perfect setting for a relaxing vacation, or even for a weekend of water sports, sailing and canoeing, as well as equestrian riding. And Lake Vico, lying within a nature reserve, is equipped with paths for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
One of the main attractions of the area are the terme or spas, known since Antiquity. Frequented by the Etruscans, the baths of Viterbo were expanded by the Romans, so that the remains of their structures occupy an area just under seven miles long. In Medieval times they became a favorite destination of many Popes for the treatment of various conditions, thanks to the properties of the mud and water. The three best known are the springs of Aquae Passeris, Paliano and Bullicame, quoted by Dante in The Divine Comedy and portrayed in a famous painting by Michelangelo. Today the famous Terme dei Papi offer a pleasant stay for cures and relaxation.
Among the festivals and popular fairs, the best-known and most spectacular event celebrated each year in Viterbo is the Festa di Santa Rosa, the city's Patron Saint, the remains of which are kept in the Duomo. For the occasion, 100 people carry on their shoulders a structure lit by torches and lights; the structure, which has to be transported a little over 1/2 mi of narrow, steep streets, rises to a height of 98 feet and weighs five tons. After the procession, the simulacrum of Santa Rosa can be visited for a few days.
Also characteristic are the events that take place in Soriano nel Cimino, including the sagra delle castagne (chestnut festival) and the Palio delle Contrade (tournament of the city wards), during which the town is divided into four zones that compete in archery tournaments and ring jousting. Then, the Festa della Merca is held in Tarquinia, with cowherds branding cattle and contests of dexterity among the traditional Maremma cowboys, the butteri.
The sagra degli gnocchi (potato dumpling festival) is held in Ronciglione, where the delicious dish is accompanied by the full-bodied local wine. Of ancient tradition, the Tiratura del solco dritto ("Ploughing of the straight furrow") in Valentano is a propitiation ritual during which a pair of oxen draws a long furrow in the soil; the festival is a thanksgiving to Our Lady for the crops harvested during the year.
Viterbo cuisine as a whole valorizes the characteristics of neighboring territories: the tastes of Roman dishes, the simplicity of Umbria's gastronomy and the aromas of Tuscany. It is a cuisine tied to the territory and its predominant products.
Of great quality is the production of extra-virgin olive oil and of manzetta maremmana, a cut of local meat, particularly tender. Among the typical foodstuffs of Tuscia, worth mentioning are asparagus and olive oil frp, Canino, lentils from Onano and Corego fish from Lake Bolsena. The most traditional typical dishes are acquacotta, prepared with homemade dried bread and wild vegetables, and lamb soup, enriched with a variety of vegetables, artichokes and potatoes.
Big in the area around Lake Bolsena is the Sbroscia, a lake fish soup combined with potatoes, bread and mint, thus lending it the distinctive scent of the earth. In addition to legume soups, pasta dishes are prepared with homemade pasta (made with water and flour only), for instance lombrichelli, pasta straccia (shredded dough), gnocchi (dumplings) or strozzapreti, served with hare, mushrooms or wild boar sauces.
Among the meat main courses, the pignattaccia, a stew baked in a crock, is one of the most characteristic, whose ingredients include meat trimmings, beef and pig entrails, and a variety of vegetables. On the slopes around Lake Bolsena and in the area of Montefiascone, one of the most famous wines of Lazio and a renowned D.O.C. white, the Est!Est!Est!, is produced, along with Aleatico of Gradoli.