Chiusi & the Etruscans

(9/13)

We stayed two nights in the delightful Il Giardino degli Etruschi (Garden of the Etruscans), a Bed & Breakfast just outside Chiusi. There are five bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom and unique sense of style. Geothermal heat keeps the rooms cool during the summer and there is a pool for lazing by. The breakfast was delicious! Homemade sweet things and jam, breads (both sweet and plain), cured meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, coffee, juice, and tea. Carolina and Paolo are wonderful hosts — stay here if you’re in the area.

We chose Il Giardino because of it’s proximity to the town of Chiusi, with it’s world-famous Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

I can’t remember if I’ve already mentioned it, but our trip was planned around seeing Etruscan specific locations, with a dose of whimsy. Chiusi (Chee oo see) is an otherwise sleepy little town barely across the border in southern Tuscany. Once upon a time it was one of the most important cities of the Etruscan empire, way back during the 7th & 5th centuries BC.

We don’t know much (relatively speaking) about the Etruscans, but an amusing tale is that of King Porsenna, the conqueror of Rome. A legend passed down since medieval times speaks of his sarcophagus being held inside a golden carriage with 12 horses and guarded by a hen and 5,000 chicks…all made of gold. (Why chickens as protectors? No one knows. Just concentrate on the gold . . .) Supposedly his treasure is found in the labyrinths found beneath the city.

Chiusi has survived in history as a fearsome power while located on a dominant hilltop without a direct water source, a clear testimony to the creativity of the Etruscans. They used filtering tunnels and underground cisterns to gather water, increase their survival skills, and rise to lofty political heights. They finally succumbed to the Roman siege, and found a way to co-habitate with the invading population. Unfortunately, the Romans saw little use for their labyrinth of tunnels and over the years they were discarded and deliberately trashed.

We’ve been fascinated with this culture since our last visit (in 2014).

Turns out, the museum was closed that day. *sigh*

I’m told the collection is both well organized and well presented. The trick is to ask for the free tablet which will give you extra information about the statues and artifacts in English. (Apparently they don’t just offer it.) Most people also sign up for a guide to the Etruscan tombs about 2kms outside the city walls. You need to provide your own transport to the tombs – but a visit to the interior is well worth the effort. So we are told.

It wasn’t a total loss, essentially not at all advertised, but right next to the museum is another exhibition. It’s only in Italian, but there are some great 3D examples of the tombs.

We had dinner the first night at the gloriously named Ristorante Bar Il Bucchero Di Pascale Giuseppe. A family restaurant, we arrived so early that they were barely open. (It had been a long time since lunch!) This was a menu of pizza! Every type of topping was available and just reading the menu took ages it was so long. J. worried about just ordering a pizza (too touristy?), but was relieved when he saw a ‘grandma’ at another table order one for herself. A carafe of local wine washed it all down with a salad to finish and we were very happy. This was clearly a favorite of the locals and was filled with families by the time we left.

We decided on lunch out on our second day, and for that went to Ristorante Zaira. I had a dish of beet gnocchi that blew me away it was so tender and delicious. The service was outstanding and whatever J. had (I can’t remember) was also delicious. HUGE portions, we ended up bringing half of my dish home. Our hostess, Carolina, was pleased to accept it as an offering, which made me happy.

Both restaurants were recommended by Carolina. (Side note: she had the most charming, and addictive, was of saying yes. It was never, “Si,” but always, “Si,” (pause) “si, si!”) My research had given us a must-do: Il Grillo e Buoncantore. Representing the Slow Food movement, I was intrigued by their commitment to locally-sourced and seasonal menu. It was scrumptious from beginning to end. We were given a complementary glass of Prosecco and a lovely amuse bouche of a bit of pastry filled with a flavored cream. A primi of tortellini that melted in the mouth was shared by us both. For the main J. had a dish of Rolled Pork which had been braised in vegetables and I had a dish of rabbit. Both were absolutely fantastic. The local wine was an excellent Sangiovese and dessert was a plate of cantorni (biscotti). A great meal for about Eu60. I would go there again in a heartbeat.

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