A guide to Volterra, one of Tuscany’s many charming hilltop towns

Hilltop town of Volterra near our boutique hotels in Tuscany

Less than an hour away from tourist favourite Florence, the picturesque hilltop town of Volterra offers an authentic Tuscan experience far from the crowds. Its heritage dates back thousands of years, rendering it with a unique character that will make you never want to leave.

The origins of Volterra date back more than 2000 years, when it grew to become one of the most important cities of the Etruscan civilisation, acting as a key trading hub. Its Etruscan origins can still be seen in the town even today, with the best example of the remains being the remnants of a four-mile-long wall. Half of this can still be seen today, built from volcanic stones sourced from the region, as well as an impressive gate.

Its rich heritage can also be seen at one of the town’s main attractions, the Etruscan Museum. Carefully handcrafted jewellery, a collection of urns and etched mirrors can all be found here, all important treasures which demonstrate the importance of afterlife and the beauty to the Etruscans. The town’s city hall is also important as it is one of the oldest in Tuscany, dating back more than 800 years. As with many other historical city halls, it shows how much power this former city state once had. At the time of the hall’s construction, the city administration would have had more power than even the emperors and popes, with their wealth displayed in the extravagant architecture.

Volterra is famous not only for being vital to the Etruscan civilisation, but also for its supply of alabaster. Alabaster is a translucent mineral which the townspeople began to use from the medieval period onwards to provide windows for the churches. Artists still work with alabaster today, and you can see them in action just across the way from the Etruscan Museum, creating all kinds of traditional wares which you can also purchase to take home. On Via Porta all’Arco, you’ll find not only artisan stores selling alabaster goods, but also all kinds of other traditional and handmade crafts, ranging from bronzeware to leather and jewellery.

Visitors will also love simply roaming the quiet streets of this small and medieval town, and while most of the old buildings will seem humble, the town’s centrepiece, the Palazzo dei Priori, is a spectacular building which would not seem out of place alongside the grand architecture of Florence. As you explore all that Volterra has to offer, you’ll find that this is the real Tuscany in all its glory, its relaxed atmosphere perfect complementing its beauty and its rich history.

To discover the charms of Volterra for yourself, why not treat yourself to a stay at one of our boutique hotels in Tuscany? Villa Vignamaggio is situated on one of the oldest farming estates in Tuscany, in the heart of the hills of Chianti. If you want to stay a little closer to Volterra, there’s Borgo Pignano, perfect for an active holiday, and Barbialla Nuova, an eco-retreat famous for its white truffles.

Image: Andres Nieto Portas, Dave and Margie Hill, available under Creative Commons

Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.