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Three Etruscan Jewels
The first day of our Italian cycling tour takes us on a circular trip that visits both Sovana and Pitigliani, before returning back to Sorano.
Sovana is a tiny town these days, with barely 120 inhabitants. Many of the roads approaching the town follow the traditional sunken roads of the Etruscans, and the famous Etruscan tombs are in evidence everywhere.
Despite it's tiny size, Sovana was once the capital of the Aldobrandeschi family that were said to own a castle for every day of the year. It's heyday was in the 11th century with the accession to the Papal throne of Gregory VII. His house is now a museum - of snails, believe it or not. At one end of the town is a fortress dating from the Aldobrandeschi period. At the other end of the town is a large cathedral, or Duomo. In between is an exquisite town with a beautifully proportioned square of fishbone-patterned bricks laid by the Medicis in the 16th century.
Sovana is a beautiful little place, and it seems amazing that it isn't full of visitors. We'll time our arrival to take lunch in this special town.
After lunch we head for Pitigliano. the largest of the three towns, and the most spectacular. Pitigliano was once a thriving Jewish centre, complete with Jewish University. The Medici put paid to that in the 17th century, confining all Jews to a ghetto within the town. The ghetto is still there, and is open to visitors. It's an interesting place, but horrible. Definitely worth visiting.
Before we get there, we'll pass through our first vineyards. The main wine in these parts is the Bianco di Pitigliano, a gentle, neutral wine which at is best is compared to the better known whites of Orvieto. The best way to explore these wines is at the co-operative of Cantina di Pitigliano, where they produce and store wines in caves cut deep into the Tufa cliffs below the town. As well as the Bianco di Pitigliano, they produce DOC Sovano and a Vin Santo. During our week in Umbria we will explore wines that are almost unknown outside their region, and we'll start right here with a wine tasting in Pitigliano.
In the late afternoon we'll return the 6 miles to Sorano. It's a bit of a climb up into the town, but a truly spectacular approach, past cliffs littered with Etruscan tombs. A fairly short day at just 20 miles, but it's a full day, and fascinating.