GENERAL

3 of the Best Places in Italy to Visit, Other Than the Big Three

Here are 3 of the best places in Italy to visit, other than the big thee (Rome, Florence, and Venice), Volterra, Ravenna, and Orvieto. My family has made a few trips to Italy over the last few years and have found that as much as we enjoy stays in the big three, we really loved getting out of the major tourist centers and exploring this ancient land. The three spots I am writing about are lesser known tour sites with plenty to offer the visitor from history, shopping, and beauty.

Volterra is an ancient city whose roots are Etruscan while its character is medieval Tuscan. Sites include the massive Etruscan gate and walls as well as an Etruscan museum, a Roman temple in the city center and ampitheatre just outside of town, and beautiful medieval churches, cobbled streets, and buildings. Nestled on top of a large hill and surrounded by vast walls, Volterra looks impregnable and timeless. The shopping is wonderful (or so my wife tells me) with numerous shops selling everything from local crafts to antiques to shoes (my brides favorite). The crowds are half or less than those in the better know Siena or San Gimingano while the history, shopping, dining, and aesthetic appeal are comparable. Volterra is a great day trip, or base to explore the many treasures of southern Tuscany.

Ravenna is south of Venice about an hour or two and is rich in history and beauty. Ravenna was the last Byzantine stronghold in the west and later was a Venetian strongpoint. Ravenna is a great stop for those leaving Venice for either the beaches of the Marche or to the Umbrian or Tuscan hill towns to the southwest. Today, Ravenna is a modern city and a hub for industry. Though neglected after falling to the Lombards in the 8th century, since WWII much has been done to protect and preserve the many historically important structures, the Byzantine mosaics found in the Basilica of St. Vitale and elsewhere and the National Museum with its many Roman and post Roman artifacts. Theodoric, greatest of the pagan Kings of Italy rests here with his wife. There is also a 16th century Venetian fortress nearby the Museum which today is used for concerts and such. Ravenna offers a glimpse of post Roman Italy and that period of Gothic and Byzantine/Venetian rule. A modern city re-discovering it’s varied and splendid past.

Orvieto is a tremendous hill town rising hundreds of feet above the surrounding area on a large tuff deposit. Like Volterra in Tuscany, The best beaches in Corfu Orvieto finds its origins amongst the Etruscan Federation. In the 3rd century BCE it was annexed by Rome until the fall of the western empire. Orvieto, controlling the road from Florence to Rome remained strategically important to the Goths and Lombards until ti eventually fell under the authority of the Papacy and became an independent commune. This long and varied history offers the visitor a broad look at the development of this region over the last 2500 years. It also provides some unique opportunities found only in Orvieto. The tunnels beneath this town are fascinating and extensive owing to the soft nature of the tuff on which Orvieto was built. There is also a 16th century well, dug for the Pope as he fled Charles V (after the sack of Rome), which has a double helix stair to allow one way travel both down and back. Visit and enjoy the splendid Cathedral, the many lovely shops, or sip the famous local white wine in the many romantic cafés found on Orvieto’s pleasant cobbled streets. Revel in the relaxed pace and rustic charm of this grand Umbrian hill town.

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