The dream of nearly everyone who read “Under the Tuscan Sun” is to find that quintessential Tuscan village – you know, the one no one has discovered yet – and have their Tuscan moment. Nevermind that the town Frances Mayes “discovered,” Cortona, had been a popular vacation spot for ages and that there aren’t really many “undiscovered” spots in Tuscany anymore. These are trivialities, and they don’t have any impact on the hordes who might have better luck finding the Holy Grail.
Enter Calcata, Italy – a hippie artist community in an Italian hill town’s clothing. Don’t let the medieval facade fool you – Calcata has new kinds of charms beyond the city walls.
Maybe it’s the fresco of Jimi Hendrix painted on the wall of an 18th-century building. Or the ponytailed locals, some of whom might be milling about in Indian-style saris. Or the absurd number of art galleries tucked away in the tangle of cobblestone alleyways. Whatever it is, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Calcata is not your everyday Italian hill town.
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The government condemned the village in the 1930s, fearing the cliffs on which the buildings sit were crumbling, so the residents moved up the road to the new town (Calcata Nuova). The town was left deserted – an Italian ghost town – until the 60s and 70s, when “artists and bohemians began gravitating to the village, drawn by its rugged beauty and a mythical energy that some say emanates from Calcata’s 150-foot-high volcanic stump.” The new residents eventually convinced the government to un-condemn the city.
So, even though Calcata isn’t the typical Italian hill town, there’s something to be said for the freedoms you’ll find there. One resident puts it this way:
You could walk around here in your pajamas holding a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and no one is going to judge you because you’re not tied to the proper Italian way of doing things. That says a lot about the place.
Indeed, it does.
Intrigued? The visitor’s information is:
Driving is the easiest way to get to Calcata. From Rome, it is a 30-mile trip on highway Cassia Bis (SS2); exit at Sette Vene and follow signs for Calcata. You can also reach Calcata by bus. Take one of the light-rail trains from the Ferrovia Nord station in Rome to the Saxa Rubra bus terminal (a 20-minute ride that costs 1 euro, or $1.29) and switch to a blue Cotral bus that stops at Calcata. Buses leave almost every hour, and the ride takes about 45 minutes. Tickets are sold at the snack bar, Bar Saxa; a one-way ticket is 2 euros.
Photo by: Stefano Costantini