Viterbo is a Lazio city of about 60,000 roughly halfway between Rome, 60 miles south, and Tuscany’s Siena. Viterbo is so near the Tuscan border that the area is also called Tuscia, leading to confusion. Getting to Viterbo is a very pleasant, stress-free two-hour train ride from Rome through rolling green hills dotted with olive trees, vineyards, and an occasional Roman aqueduct. It makes an excellent day-trip where you get off at the second of two terminals, walk down a modern, broad, tree-lined avenue, and pass through medieval walls into an enchanting place.
A town has been on this site since Etruscans ruled. In the thirteenth century this already old population center became a papal residence. The Palazzo dei Papi, in fact, remains Viterbo’s main tourist draw. A favored pope getaway or hideout when there were difficulties in Rome, Viterbo was the actual papal seat for 24 years.
What makes Viterbo an enchanting destination today is its ongoing medievalness. Despite damage in World War II, enough of its pre-Renaissance streets are authentic to make it possible to imagine yourself an 11th century citizen living in one of Europe’s most important cities as you wander through. A medieval mindset is interrupted only by an occasional motorbike or locals wearing black leather jackets climbing into or out of Porsches.
We find the center of activity within Viterbo’s ancient walls to be the small Piazza delle Erbe, where a central fountain with lions is surrounded by yellow, gold, and flesh-colored Gothic buildings. Where Dante once sat contemplating The Divine Comedy, we eat gelato.
The town invites casual wandering. The hillside San Pellegrino quarter, which is our favorite, has the well-deserved reputation of containing the finest and best preserved medieval buildings in Italy. Renaissance palaces surround the Piazza del Plebiscito, and the twelfth century Romanesque San Lorenzo Cathedral dominates a lovely piazza. Its approach is a narrow street over a medieval bridge from which strollers see terraced gardens. There seems no end to twisting streets that end at Gothic fountains, ancient chiesas with empty cloisters, or imposing city gates. The well-preserved medieval buildings have irregular front stoops bestride cobblestone steps, inviting interiors, and balconies strung with wash.
Investment here would be especially attractive to three groups: investment-minded Italy lovers looking for an alternative to Tuscany, those seeking a very private second residence away from the frenzy that is Rome, or anyone wanting to dwell in a truly historically significant neighborhood. If you have time for more than a day-trip, agriturismo would be a pleasant way to explore Viterbo.
As is typical in Italy, Viterbo’s 11th century walls keep out a surrounding, bustling modern city offering all amenities.
Hank (photo above from italyheaven.co.uk)