Step Back In Time And Ditch Crowds At This Italian Town Full Of Ancient Structures

Situated an hour north of Rome in the province of Viterbo sits Sutri, one of the oldest cities in the world to add to your bucket list. Tucked in the hillside of central Italy, the town's center contains a wealth of well-preserved Roman structures, marking it as a fascinating area overflowing with history. The Lazio region where Sutri resides is a montage of old and new welded within its boundaries. Its first inhabitants were the Etruscans before the town was conquered and overtaken by Romans, resulting in many of the ancient structures that stand today.

Sutri is less of a tourist attraction and more of a time capsule, revealing details of the lives in this peaceful region. Via Francigena is a local gem and one of the most coveted sites in Sutri. This ancient road was a pilgrimage route; it stretches from Canterbury through France and Switzerland and ends in Rome. Like many Italian cities, Sutri is surrounded by deep valleys, forested hills, and rolling countryside. 

Unless you're looking for a bottle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar, Sutri lacks a strong shopping scene outside local markets or the occasional boutique dotting a street corner. Most people visit the secluded city of Sutri as part of their day trip excursion, allowing the ancient Roman fortifications to provide a history lesson and a glimpse into the past. Visitors often have nearly the entire town to themselves, leaving the crowds behind in Rome.

A land steeped in rich history and natural wonders

Nestled within the Cimini mountains, just above the town of Sutri, the Parco Naturale Regionale dell'Antichissima Città di Sutri is home to a flourishing environment of flora and fauna. Spanning a total of 17 square miles, the crowning jewel of the park is Villa Savorelli. The park basin rests against the main urban center of Sutri, creating a dynamic pathway between the natural reserve and the town's notable architectural structures.

Built in the mid 1200s, the Santa Maria del Tempio was a place of rest and sanctification for wandering pilgrims along the Via Francigena route. It was one of many churches purposefully placed along this voyage as a rest station and place of worship during its reigning decade. Featuring a simple interior design, it's crowned with a decorative altarpiece, where a fresco painting of Madonna and Child is framed by a golden outer rim, dating back to the Renaissance period.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunto is a gateway into the regal Piazza Grande, the main square of town in Sutri. Constructed over nearly 10 years, the final touches for this feat of architecture were fortified during a competition between some of Italy's finest architects in the 14th century. Today, only four pieces remain — the bell tower and the funeral monument of Bartolomeo Aragazzi. There's also the baptismal font of Altare dei Gigli by Andrea della Robbia and the triptych of the Assumption of Thaddeus of Bartholomew. 

Embrace Sutri's frequent festival celebrations

Sutri is a town that loves to celebrate. There's never a dull moment throughout the year, with a collection of fun festivals in this underrated European country lined up nearly every month. The Sutri Carnival takes place annually in February. This vibrant celebration is rooted in folklore and emphasizes the procession of masks, allowing citizens to mock rulers for comical fun. 

Locals dress up in costumes and masks, awaiting the arrival of the poor "King Carnival." Colorful floats, food, and music permeate the streets of Sutri on this sanctified day. The saltarello is a traditional folk dance performed during the carnival, recognized by locals forming circles and dancing merrily hand in hand. The region's staple foods are served, including castagnole and frappe desserts with a variety of fillings, like chocolate and ricotta.

Sutri has always been a town with a rich agricultural heritage, something locals can proudly attest to. The Sagra del Fagiolo (Bean Festival) commemorates the city's strong agrarian roots every year in September, right before the harvest months. Beans have always been the defining product of this region, and the town honors its source of bread and butter with an outpouring of songs, dancing, and live entertainment. Of course, the tasting of the beans is the star of the show. The Sutri beans are passed around, along with bottles of olive oil, bits of pork rinds, and potato dumplings for tasting.