Niamh’s sister had friends who said that if they had the resources, they’d buy a place in Massa Marittima, and so her interest was piqued. Happily, this town is also one of my and Niamh’s favourites: it’s main square is beautiful, and is worth checking out if you happen to be in the Maremma. You can climb to the top of a steep street, and then at the top, find a tower, pay a small price and climb to the top of that too for some exquisite views. We didn’t do that this time around, as we left it a little late in the day to start the trip.
And therein lies one of the problems: the drive. It is about 80 minutes or so from Volterra, and about a third of it is through forested hills, which sounds lovely, but in actuality is a little dull. Having said that, there are some interesting towns that you drive through first (the outskirts of Pomerance, Monetcerboli and Castelnuovo Val di Cecina). Along the way, you’ll drive through part of Tuscany’s geothermal area, with which energy is derived. Strung throughout this part of the drive are space-age silver pipes, which somehow contrast amazingly well with the more natural views.
We got there shortly before lunch, and had a potter about the main shopping drags and the square. I took some snaps along the way.
It was a relatively walkabout, as we were hungry! We asked Niamh’s sister’s friend for a recommendation for a place to eat. They said they were only there a couple of times, and sat outside and ate at Cafe Le Logge. The ladies shared classical bruschette, whereas I had blended chicken liver on crostini.
They tasted nice enough. It was followed by pasta. Niamh had ravioli alla Maremma (essentially ravioli slathered in a meat ragù. She enjoyed it. I think I had carbonana, and sis-in-law a tuna salad. The food was adequate. I did really enjoy the gelato I had after, though. It was in the mid-30’s there… a hot one!
Afterwards the ladies did some shopping. We spotted some nice art that Niamh’s sister wanted to take home. The young man at the front of the shop took her number and said he’d call to let her know how much it would be to ship it back to Ireland. (The call never came, by the way – but she found something else in Volterra she took home herself another day). Niamh bought a pretty glass carafe, with a really narrow spout that we would use to dispense olive oil.
We had another short wander around, visiting the penis tree fresco (yes, you read that right), and the Pisan-Romanesque cathedral.
We were heated sufficiently to consider retreating back to the apartment in Volterra, and so took off. I took a few shots of outside the town walls before we left.
In the wooded part of the drive home, we were pulled over by the police – for the second time this trip. I didn’t mention it the first time (when we were leaving Siena), as it was my hundreth blog and I remember my anxiety spiking at the time. The first time, the cop took a couple of our passports and licenses back to the car, and spent 15 minutes with them, before finally handing them back and letting us go.
This time, they pulled us over, but let us go after a minute without further interaction. We assume that was because the Sienese police had already checked us out a couple of days previously. These were our first encounters with Italian road police, and I had no idea why it was happening… whether it was purely random, or they were running a specific operation. Anyone, no harm done.
So that was our trip to Massa Marittima. I captured a bit of it on video, which you can see here.
We spent some time cooling off (as best as you can in a space with no air-conditioning) back at the apartment, and then had a simple dinner of cold-cuts and salad back on the terrace.
I went out myself after to check out the town at night, and to take snaps. This culminated in passing by La Sosta del Priore, and chatting to Ilenia (the owner) about the new seating area and the new purchaseable stock she has on the shelves there. I was hoping to buy some stuff from her to take back to Ireland, but I was under the mistaken impression that my brother would be coming over having purchased additional large baggage – sadly, he didn’t. I’d forgotten he had to change flight carrier. Maybe some other time.
Thanks for reading… please leave a like and a comment to let me know what you think!
With the rollout of the vaccines (particularly for us in Ireland), and the fact that Volterra’s positive case numbers seem to be falling rapidly again, we have gotten a hankering for visiting Italy again. Truth be told, it’s on our minds daily!
So, we’ve decided to take our brains on a tour, and we’ll take you guys with us. This will be a little different to our regular older posts about Volterra in a couple of ways:
We’ll be following a set route;
Most of the photos we’ll be showing will be at full iPhone resolution (some iPhone 7, some iPhone 11)
Let’s begin. Below is a map of the route:
Starting at ‘1’, we’ll move in numerical order, through to ’17’. On the way we’ll be showing some sights, giving little insights here and there. We will skip some sights so we can show them on other tours – we’ll see how this one goes.
This will be lengthy, and will require a bit of data consumption, due to the size of most of the photos.
#1: Ok! Welcome to Via Giacomo Matteotti! This is the street on which the entrance to our apartment lies. A curious thing about some of the streets in Volterra. They’ve had their names changed (probably multiple times), but many streets have two names: the current one, and the one it was previously known by, which is still frequently used by locals. In this case, our street will have two labels: ‘Via Giacomo Matteotti’ and ‘Gia Via Guidi’, the latter being the ‘previously known as’ street name. Anyway, here’s the entrance to our block:
There are a couple of restaurants, a bar and a pasticceria nearby, but we will cover those another time.
There is a bit of history to the palazzo in which our apartment lies, as we think it might have been a sixteenth century customs building. We will dig around and see what we can find for another tour. For now, though, we’ll carry on uphill towards the main square.
#2: Let’s take the first right. If it’s during the busy season, you will always find tourists here taking this shot.
For us, this is one of the prettiest lanes in Tuscany, and is called Vicolo delle Prigione (Lane of the Prisoners). Up this laneway and almost immediately to the right is a sandwich bar called La Sosta del Priore. It was recently voted best sandwich bar in the province (think of provinces as counties over in Ireland). Volterra is in Pisa ‘county’. We’ve eaten here more than a few times. It may seem expensive, but the sandwiches are huge! Our faves are porchetta (roast whole pig) and their burger… both with pecorino cheese. On top of that, the welcome from Ilenia is always heart-warming!
We’ll continue upwards through this lane. Whenever exploring, and you find yourself blinkered on a path forward, please also remember to look behind you every now and again, for views you may be missing. This goes for towns and nature! Here’s a pic looking back down from where we’ve just come.
There’s a slight difference in the sky here! Many photos were taken at different times – we hope the 4th wall isn’t completely shattered for you!
#3: We’ll head back to to the T-junction at the end of this laneway and then swing a right up the remainder of Via delle Prigione (note Via rather than Vicolo). You may be able to see part of Volterra’s main piazza from here Piazza dei Priori.
#4: We’ll head steadily upwards towards the square, and under the archway. Turning back and looking up gives us…
You might just be able to see a tiny statue peeking out near the top of the tower on the left. This is the Torre del Porcellino (there is a restaurant of the same name, not covered in this tour), which is Tower of the Piglet. Why there is a piglet there, is not fully known, but it is guessed that it was a show of wealth by the original owner, given that meat would have been so expensive many centuries ago (the tower having been completed in the early 1200s).
It is with no small sense of irony that Volterra’s municipal police are stationed here! Here’s where we need to go when we need to renew our annual resident’s parking permit.
#5: We’ll pivot back towards the piazza.
Dead ahead of us is Ristorante Etruria, with its covered seating area. We have eaten here a bunch of times, and always receive a warm welcome. Eoin likes the Zuppa Volterrana here, and Niamh swears by the grilled boar chops. At the end of the night, we’re given a grappa or limoncello on the house, and a half-bottle of Chianti to take away. Inside, while Eoin isn’t a huge fan of the clear plastic chairs, the restaurant itself is beautifully decorated.
Turning our heads to the far side of the square, length-ways will give you this view, which is our bank in Volterra (Cassa di Risparmio di Volterra).
Banks in Italy are actually quite local, and yet are quite feature-rich. This bank also is deeply involved in providing funds and sponsorship to various arts and humanities projects, which is pretty cool.
#6: Turning back towards the main near side of the square, is the Palazzo dei Priori, essentially the ‘town hall’ in Volterra – and is the oldest continuous seat of local government in Tuscany, at nearly 800 years old.
There are many council buildings in a similar style throughout Tuscany, most notably the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but this is the origin of the species – the Florentine seat of government for the Medici was inspired by the Volterran original. The main council office is here.
Inside, as well as local governmental offices, are rooms for exhibitions, and the bell tower, which can be climbed up for some wonderful views.
Coming out of the palazzo gives us a view of the arch and the Torre del Porcellino again.
#7: We turn right after leaving the palazzo and continue south a bit. Just past the palazzo is a foodie place called Volaterra.
We have ordered pasta sauces, olive oil, cantuccini (hard nutty biscuit ‘slices’) and limoncello during the pandemic crisis, to give us a little taste of our second home.
Walking past it we note to the left what we think is Volterra’s most moody laneway: Vicolo Mazzoni. Here’s a suitable shot of it.
We fondly call it ‘Pigeonshit Alley’, as the place is replete with those little flying rats. However, it’s worth a stroll, as it’s quite snappable – we’ll reserve it for a different tour. Walking on again, we hit a crossroads of the street where we live, to the left, and Volterra’s artisan street, to the right, that leads down to an Estruscan gate (some would say ‘the’ Etruscan gate): Via Porta all’Arco. Again, we will reserve this amazing road for a separate route, but here’s a preview.
We’ll continue on, walking past the road that leads to Volterra’s premier panoramic viewpoint (you guessed it – another route!). You may remember what I said earlier: always look back to see you’re not missing anything. Here we are looking back at the main piazza, and again further on and looking back. One of the most dramatic views in Volterra, infrequently snapped by visitors… who never look back!
#9: For now we’ll make a stop at Ristorante Enoteca Del Duca. This is one of our favourite places to eat. The Del Duca family is so nice, and this year are celebrating 30 years in the restaurant business. They run an agritourismo called Marcampo (think a bed & breakfast farm-stay) about a 5-7 minute drive outside the town – and we love the wines they produce there – principally by sommelier Claudia Del Duca. We always get a warm welcome, and the restaurant features the best technical cooking in the area. The outside seating area in the back is perfect if you need a little calm from crowds.
We’ve also attended a cooking course in Marcampo – well worth the money, as you get to eat your efforts and drink complementary wines.
#10: With full bellies, we swing towards the east, and somewhat uphill, past another of Volterra’s prettiest views.
#11: Heading up the steep lane, we hit one of the entrances to Volterra’s municipal park (Parco Archeologico Enrico Fiumi). We’ll walk around this park some other time – as well as having a green area, there are a couple of archaeological ruins of note (the clue is in the name!).
Opposite the entrance is the back gate to Albergo Etruria (its Cafe Etruria entrance, essentially). I’ve never gone in there (to my shame), except to take this lovely shot:
We carry on through this laneway, until we hit a set of stairs heading down towards our next stop.
#12:Antica Velathri Cafe. We love this place. The manager here is a mixologist of some skill, and is super-friendly. He always encourages our use of Italian, so we get rare opportunities to practice our spoken Italian here. The cocktails are sublime, and the nibbles all home-made. They make lovely almond-based cookies to take away here too. It’s primarily an apperitivo place, so it often closes early as a result (21:30-22:00), so go there before dinner!
We leave the Cafe and swing a right. Here we can see Piazza XX Settembre (a tour on some other route), and the junction of Via di Sotto and Via Antonio Gramsci. We will take the left fork down the latter street, one of Volterra’s premier pedestrian ways.
#13: Almost every time we re-visit Volterra, La Taverna di Terra di Mezzo is the first place we eat. Why? The welcome from Robbi, the owner, and Aurora the ever-present waitress. The second time we visited Volterra, Niamh had been driving and was super-tense, so Robbi gave her an honest-to-God shoulder massage! Not to feel left out, Eoin pointed out that his glutes were similarly tense. Robbi didn’t take him up on the offer, much to the amusement of Aurora, Niamh and a couple of Belgian guests who where sitting near us.
Niamh loves the penne arrabiata here, and I love the Zuppa Volterrana (the best in Volterra) and pappardelle (thin, wide pasta) with bacon and black truffle in a gentle lemon ricotta sauce is one of the best plates of pasta he says he’s had. Robbi also puts together killer antipasto plates and is skilled on the grill. Tourists stop all the time to take a shot of the cute exterior (of the restaurant, not of Robbi).
We carry on down Via Gramsci… a pretty and busy street.
#14: Next stop: La Mangiatoia, the first canopied place you can see in the photo above. When we feel like a pizza and a beer (although we usually go to Pizzeria Ombra dell Sera for that), or some other grub like a hot dog or burger and fries to change the food-mood, we stop off here. A fun, busy place. The food is good and service is pretty fast if you’re in a rush.
One of the features we love most about this street is how the rooftops are all higgledy-piggledy with many towards the one end of the street not forming anything like a straight line. It just gives a sense of character to the place.
#15: Whenever Eoin goes out for a morning walk in Volterra (which is most days) he ends up either here or at the stop after this. Welcome to Pasticceria Migliorini!
This place is perfect for an Italian breakfast, and has a range of delicious pastries, and some gelati later in the day. You can, of course, take some pastries away!
#16: This might seem weird. We don’t have a photo of this place. Another reason why it’s weird it’s because it’s a mini-market (La Bottega, previously known as Il Punto). They see Eoin in here most mornings, topping up on water and sodas, and maybe later we’ll call in to the deli section at the back for some of the most delicious bresaola (cured beef) and prosciutto alla griglia we’ve ever had.
Couple that with a lovely welcome every time from the lady who usually works there in the mornings, and this has become one of our favourite places to give our business to. In fact, she welcomed us back with an enthusiastic ‘Bentornati!’ after almost a year after not having seen us. All too often it’s the little things in life that make you happiest.
#17: Like a good gelato, for instance! Almost opposite the mini-market is one of Tuscany’s finest gelaterie: L’Isola del Gusto. Propietor Ersilia Carboni has been a regional finalist and/or winner in competitions for several years now. The mint, chocolate, hazelnut, cherry and ‘crema di Ersilia’ flavours are just amazing, as is their deliciously cooling lemon sorbet and granita. Do you ever get a hug from food? Well you’ll get one from the gelati here.
And the ladies serving you are always super-friendly too – even welcoming us back to Volterra with grins. We love this place, and honestly, we suspect we buy something from here every second day we’re in Volterra. Not to worry, though – gelato has less fat and fewer calories than ice-cream!
Well that’s it! That’s tour route number 1. We’re just a 30 second walk back to our apartment building! Did you enjoy it – please pop us a comment if so and we’ll have a good think about the next route!