Many a motorist has screeched to a sudden halt as they swing round a bend in the SS74 and meet the sudden sight of Pitigliano. Pitched atop a dramatic high upthrust of tufa rock sprouting from a green ocean of foliage far below, the town’s setting is spectacular. But what makes Pitigliano even more breathtaking is the number of dwellings shoehorned onto the site. It’s a mad shantytown of tall homes well-built in camel-coloured stone. Sprouting from each other’s flanks like mushrooms, they vie aggressively for the same space, the ambitious skyscrapers of a medieval metropolis. Their original construction is hardly imaginable. “Pitigliano was not built. The cliff grew it,” I heard one dumbfounded onlooker say. Each home on the perimeter is rooted on a sheer precipice, a cliff wall dotted with Etruscan caves.
Inside, Pitigliano is a charming mix of imposing architecture and homey cobbled lanes. Wanderers in the shade of tall buildings meet sudden bright glimpses of plunging valley view. Some of these atmospheric alleyways were for several centuries home to a thriving Jewish community, and there’s a fascinating old synagogue tucked away down here. Elsewhere in town a conspicuous basilica with a florid frontage harbours a wildly over-the-top altarpiece. One thing there isn’t in Pitigliano is a huge number of tourists. While the town isn’t exactly unknown, visitor numbers are still tiny and, depending on when you go, you might feel you have the place pretty much to yourself.
Indeed, the southernmost tip of Tuscany in which Pitigliano finds itself is unvisited generally. Far from the manicured, Italian-Cotswolds feel of central Tuscany, this area is wild, rugged, and startlingly empty. If you find yourself charmed by the vast brooding landscape and have a penchant for views from high places, do also consider investigating the strange hilltop fort of Radicofani and the top-of-the-world summit of Monte Amiata, both an hour or so up the SS2 (Via Cassia) from Pitigliano.