The fastest route by car from Rome to Florence (or vice-versa) is the A1 Autostrada, which presents (for some of us) a bit of a problem.
Well, there’s really no problem at all if you’re only focused on rushing to your ultimate destination – perhaps from Fiumicino airport to your hotel in Florence. But if you’re a traveler who enjoys experiencing things up close and personal, the A1 Autostrada route can make you feel rushed – like you’re missing out on something.
That’s because you are.
Living in the western part of Umbria – just on the border with Tuscany – I travel the A1 fairly often (going to/from Rome, picking up guests at the airport, etc.) and I’ve come to love several of the exits off this busy highway because of their close proximately to fabulous medieval hill towns. (Actually, I have my favorite service areas too! But that’s a different topic …. )
So here are my 3 favorite exits (and towns), working our way up from Rome:
1. In the Lazio region – Orte. You can’t miss the signs for Orte as you head up on the A1, and you sure can’t miss the city when it appears before you, perched on a dramatic tufo cliff that overlooks the Tiber River. Orte was inhabited by the Etruscans around the 6th century BC, and about the 3rd century BC it was taken over by Rome. The entire area is filled with Etruscan necropoli and ruins, but the appearance of Orte today is medieval through and through, with centuries-old homes perched precariously on the cliff’s edge that surrounds the town – their foundations blending into the stone beneath them.
Although Orte is easy to get to from the A1 (just follow signs off the exit), you won’t see many tourists here. (We love that!) You can meander around on your own, visiting medieval churches and walking along the 17th century aqueduct on the northern end of town, or you can take guided tours of both the historic center and Etruscan underground caves. Just head to the Tourist Office in the center of town to begin your visit of Orte. (And the local cuisine is fabulous!)
2. In the Umbria region: Orvieto. Get ready – It’s another spectacular city perched on tufo cliffs! Orvieto is a particular love of ours (perhaps because our home is not far away), and getting here from the A1 is just a few turns off the Orvieto exit. You’ll have to drive through the not-so-pretty commercial section of Orvieto (Orvieto Scalo) to reach this gem on the hill, but it’s worth it! Also inhabited by Etruscans nearby 3,000 years ago, Orvieto is layered in fascinating history.
You might stop at the necropoli on the way into town – at the base of Orvieto’s tufu cliffs – or continue upwards to explore the delightful historic center. Parking areas are plentiful, and the narrow, cobbled lanes are lined with irresistible ceramics, lace and artisan shops. You might walk down to the oldest section of town, climb up the town’s medieval tower, take the underground Etruscan tour, visit several excellent museums or climb down into the famous well of San Patrizio … but you absolutely cannot miss a visit to Orvieto’s magnificent duomo in the center of town. (And the local cuisine is fabulous!)
3. In the Tuscany region: Chiusi. You won’t spot Chiusi from the Autostrada, but drive just a few kilometers east off the Chiusi/Chianciano exit and you’ll be there. Along this road, views of Tuscany to the northwest and Umbria to the southeast are spectacular – like something you’d see on a postcard!
Follow signs to the historic center and you’ll also find a parking lot nestled in a beautiful green public park, complete with children’s play areas and Etruscan sarcophagi. That’s because Chiusi was once (you guessed it) an Etruscan city – and an important one at that. From the park’s edge you can enjoy panoramic views (or even a picnic lunch) and then wander into the historic center of town. Chiusi’s archeological museum – off the main piazza – is one of the best in all of Italy – a must-visit in my opinion. Plus, you’ll find lovely artisan shops, plenty of lanes to explore and historic medieval buildings and churches. (And, yes, the local cuisine is once again fabulous!)
Tip: Head west instead of east off the A1 exit at Chiusi/Chianciano and you’ll immediately come upon a shopping center – Centro Etrusco – on the left side of the road. If you’re looking for groceries, pharmacy items or just need a little clothes shopping break, this is a great stop.
Pamela Haack is an Italy travel consultant and author who specializes in creating group trips and personalized experiences for travelers who like active vacations in Italy – off the beaten strada.
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