Within an hour of Rome and Rome’s small Ciampino airport lies Tarquinia, an Etruscan town which had been a flourishing city already in 655 BC.
By following the signs off of the freeway towards the city center, you’ll end up at a large parking lot just outside the walls that circle the oldest part of the city. Here you can enter through the Barriera S. Guisto, the gate that replaced the original medieval gate in 1914.
The town is small and easy to walk. Though little remains there of what was in the Etruscan time, you can visit the Museo Archeologico e Necropoli which holds an impressive collection of Etruscan finds. This is a place you could spend a day, but with just a couple hours, it’s still worth a stop.
There’s something about this town that we all fell in love with and after seeing Rome and Florence, that’s no small feat. In the small streets, there’s something that touched us, a feeling we couldn’t really put words to, but one that we all recognized looking at each other, smiling, and only being able to say how much we all really liked this town.
Tarquinia lies on top of a hill overlooking a the valley on one side and the sea on the other with the necropolis on a hill a couple kilometers away. The streets are mostly narrow and the buildings mostly in browns and grays with fancy bordered paintings adorning many corners the paintings barely visible with so much paint chipping away.
It’s a treasure trove of little allys and hidden art, old doors and interesting door knockers. Being a smaller town, there aren’t a lot of tourists, so there aren’t the traditional “tourist traps” either.
I asked a local woman to recommend a restaurant. “This is a small town,” she said, ” All of our restaurants are good.” I don’t doubt that. Even on Epiphany, a major holiday in Italy, all the restaurants were open and the smells wafting from the doors as they opened drew us in.
We ended up at Le Due Orfanelle, a tiny door that opens up into a spacious room up a small flight of stairs. Filled with families, some tourists but mostly locals dressed nicer for the holiday and gathering with several generations, we knew we could relax here. The linens are nice, the glasses beautiful and the food excellent, but it feels like home lacking the pretentiousness we’ve seen elsewhere. This meal was the best meal of our 12 day trip.
I ordered risotto gamberi e limone, a lemony risotto packed with prawns and galletto alla diavola, a moist and flavorful roasted chicken.
We also tried the gnocchetti gorgonzola e rucola, another generous portion of rich creamy pasta covered in fresh rucola leaves, the filetto alla brace o al pepe verde, a delicious thick, juicy steak, linguini alla Tusciana served with mushrooms and fruittura gamberi e calamari, a huge portion of fried prawns and calamari.
Though the food is absolutely excellent here, the desserts aren’t quite as special. Ice creams are generic from the refrigerator at the back of the room and the tiramisu was below average. I’d eat here again, but would find a gelateria for dessert.
The generous portions are hot and fairly priced. The house wine here was also the best of my trip although, I must admit, I didn’t drink nearly enough wine in Italy. Still, it’s a full flavored red, fruity, neither sweet nor dry, and so delicious, it wasn’t difficult to finish the little carafe they brought to me. If I’d been thinking, I’d have taken a bottle home.
Sadly we missed the celebrations here, but we saw evidence of La Bufana who brings sweets to the children in the main square that morning and arrived at the parking lot just in time to see the Roman soldiers assembling with horses and camels for the procession that begins around 4.
The locals are friendly and stopped us to tell us about the festivities that would begin soon. Sadly, we had a flight to catch. It was easy to see from the preparations that this town would be a special place to spend the Epiphany.