The tufa stone towns Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano are an hour and twenty minutes' drive away to the south-east. This is a route you can’t miss if you wish to discover ancient Tuscany carved into the rock, retrace the footsteps of the Etruscans and the medieval pilgrims along the Via Francigena, the pilgrim route leading from France to Rome.

Tufa stone towns were built in the lava rock generated by the eruptions of Mount Amiata and Bolzena in ancient times. Light and easy to work with, volcanic lava became the preferred raw material for Etruscans, who were the first to dig their tombs in it and carve roads hidden in the mountains.

In Sovana there is an interesting archaeological route through the Etruscan necropolis with tombs dug into the tufa stone that reproduce the houses and temples of the time. Do not miss the Ildebranda tomb, the mermaid tomb, the tomb of the winged demons. The routes unravel among rock outcrops along the majestic Vie Cave, the ancient highways carved out up to 20 metre deep into the rock. In the road named "Cavone", you can see one of the first representations of the swastika. The left-facing swastika is an archaic symbol of the sun. The route entrance ticket is €5.00. A combined ticket available at €7.00 also gives access to the Orsini Fortress.

Pitigliano is the most famous tufa stone town, definitely a must see, but maybe a far-too-beaten tourist destination. We recommend that you visit it, especially in mid-September when the streets will be crowded for the open wineries events.

Sorano is just as beautiful, especially because it keeps genuine village life alive, without too many tourist shops. In Sorano you can see the most beautiful carved road, the San Rocco road, which will take you on a scenic downhill route around the village, offering one of the most beautiful views in the area. From the natural terrace of San Rocco, Sorano, perked on a tufa rock outcrop, is more beautiful than Pitigliano. The sight of the ruins on the brink of the chasm, with the river flowing idly down below, is breath-taking. Just outside Sorano, the columbaria burial caves with their niches carved in the rocky wall in front of the village are worth a visit.

If you wish to see what Pitigliano would have looked like, had its fate been different, if you want to see what the ancient caves dug into the rock originally looked like, you must visit Vitozza. Just off the beaten path, this is a place that is definitely worth a visit. Known as the rock city, it dates back to the first century BC. It has the same structure as Pitigliano, but is preserved in its original state after it was abandoned around the mid-1700s. Here you can visit about 200 caves that were originally homes, shops, stables. The size of the church is the only indication of how developed this city was, now that the vegetation has taken over the streets and stairs that crossed it. At both ends, the city was protected by two castles that are still visible.

Both the San Rocco road route and the Vitozza route require a 3 to 4-hour trek each. Plan accordingly and bring proper equipment.

Saturnia lies between Poggio Cavallo and the tufa roads: remember that just in case you have time left for a bath at the spa.

The photos of tufa stone towns in these pages are by Giuliano D'Angelo.

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