There’s off the beaten track and then there’s way off the beaten track. Volterra, Tuscany has both. Spend half a day in this tiny medieval Tuscan hilltown (pop: 12,000) without the tourist crowds of say, nearby San Gimignano. Here are five reasons – and two bonus reasons – to go out of your way for Volterra.
What to do in Volterra
Visit the Etruscan museum and the Roman theater.
I first visited Volterra on a high school class trip to the Etruscan museum, and indeed if you have any interest whatsoever in the Etruscans, who lived in Italy from about 800 to 500 BC, visit the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. Also don’t miss the 2,000 year old Roman theater (photo above).
You are in wild boar (cinghiale, in Italian) country, so if you’re a meat-eater, try it. Volterra is also surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, so don’t leave without sampling the local wine and olive oil. I also recommend persimmons, artichokes, white truffles, and mushrooms when in season.
The gorgeous semi-transparent stone alabaster is local to this area, so this is a great place to acquire some (or just take photos if you don’t really have the extra weight allowance to carry rocks home in your suitcase).
Photograph Volterra’s castle.
The picture-perfect castle is a maximum-security prison so you probably don’t want to go in and wander around. But there are a couple good reasons to visit at specific times – see the section below about way off the beaten track.
Go to an Andrea Bocelli concert in the Tuscan hills.
The famous Teatro del Silenzio (Theater of Silence) is near Volterra, pretty much in the middle of nowhere (aerial photo). If you happen to be planning to visit the area in mid-July, it may be worth trying to get tickets to hear Andrea Bocelli. And if you do get tickets to any performance at this theater, read these tips on being prepared for a concert at the Teatro del Silenzio.
Off the Beaten Track in Volterra
- Eat at the gourmet restaurant inside the prison. So, the maximum-security prison has a restaurant – a good one. Pros: You can see the castle-prison from the inside, the food is allegedly very good, reasonably priced, and it’s a unique experience. Cons (so to speak): You need at least 2 months’ notice to get a reservation, and that’s after checking that the restaurant is actually going to be serving. You’ll also go through a background check, and your place setting will be, not surprisingly, paper plates and plastic cutlery. Contact email@example.com to ask about serving days and reservations.
- See the prisoners put on a play. Are you surprised to hear the maximum-security prison that serves gourmet food also has a nationally-renowned theater troupe? About 100 Italian prisons have theater troupes but Volterra’s is considered the best in Italy, and even has won – twice – the prestigious Ubu national theater prize. The troupe performs at the Volterra theater festival, held at the end of July every year.
The Volturi in Volterra
The popularity of the New Moon book and movie has increased tourism to Volterra, and the tourism agency has made the most of the publicity, leading twice-weekly tours and providing printed maps marked with New Moon sights. So it’s useful to know – either to participate or to avoid it – that New Moon tours run Fridays at 9 pm and Sundays at 5 pm between April and September.
Photo of Roman theater by Mike Stewart; Volterra castle photo from istockphoto.com
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