First, you should know that there are two towns called Chiusi: Chiusi Scalo and Chiusi (often called Chiusi Alto, Chiusi town, or the historic hilltop town of Chiusi).
Quick language lesson: In Italian, Ch has the "k" sound and C has the "ch" sound. Hence, Chiusi is pronouncesd "K - you - see" or "Que-see".
Chiusi Scalo (Scalo means outside) is the lower, larger, newer part of Chiusi. This is where the train station is located, and is much more industrial, and less pretty, than the historic hilltop town of Chiusi.
Our apartment is in the very center of the hilltop town of Chiusi. Our street is perpendicular to the Cathedral in Chiusi. While it is considered a Cathedral, and is the largest of Chiusi's many churches, it is a fraction of the size of one of the Duomos in Italy's larger cities. Interestingly, this Cathedral is considered the oldest in all of Tuscany, built over the ruins of a medieval basilica from the 6th century, transformed and rebuilt in the 12th century. The building stands atop the foundations of a late-Roman building, as can be seen in the beautiful 5th-century mosaic that came to light during an excavation (you can see the mosaic in the Cathedral Museum).
Chiusi sits at the top of a hill overlooking the Val di Chiana, bordering the Tuscany and Umbria regions. Chiusi was one of the most important cities of the Etruscan empire between the 7th & 5th centuries BC, during which time the town was ruled by the King Porsenna.
King Porsenna's rule is a conflicting mix of hearsay and legends, but the one real fact that stands out is that he truly did conquer Rome. His military courage and genius is the stuff bedtime stories are made of, including his funeral and final resting place. 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. It is rumored that this treasure is hidden beneath the city in the crazy maze of tunnels that the Etruscans left behind (and that the Romans carelessly destroyed over the years.) And though rich with details from antique writings, the exact burial place and structure covering it have yet to be found.
The fact that Chiusi survived as a fearsome power located on a hilltop without a direct water source, is a clear testimony to the creativity of the Etruscan population. Through the use of filtering tunnels and underground cisterns, they were able to gather water, increase their survival skills and rise to lofty political heights.
The Etruscans succumbed to the Roman siege, yet 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.
Some of these tunnels have been excavated and can now be toured (called the Labyrinth of Porsenna)! This is a fun way to spend a an hour or so, and I highly recommend taking the tour during one of your slower "down days."
Things to Do + See in Chiusi
One of my favorite ways to spend a morning is just strolling the tiny streets, taking in the views, and enjoying a cappuccino at the outdoor bar between the museum and the church, or a home made pasta dish at Pape Nero (via Porsenna, 61). Besides this, there are a few important historical places that are fun and interesting to visit.
Note: a bar in Italy is a place to grab coffee or a spritzer, and to socialize while standing at the counter drinking your espresso. It is not a bar for sitting and drinking the night away like we call it in the States
Labyrinth of Porsenna.
This isn't really a labyrinth, but an underground cistern and aqueduct system dug out of the hill nearly three thousand years ago. The tour guide we had only spoke Italian (he is an older gentleman- a volunteer with the Cathedral Museum) but they provided an interesting informational handout in English, and it was easy to understand what was going on.
Cost: 5 Euro
Where to get tickets: Buy your ticket (cash only) from the Cathedral museum. A visit to the Cathedral Museum is included in the ticket price.
Hours: See website for full hours. Change depending on the season: http://lnx.prolocochiusi.it/orari-e-prezzi-musei/
Definitely make plans to visit the museum, which is both well organized and well presented. And be sure to ask for the free tablet which will give you extra information about the statues and artifacts in English (they don't just offer it...which is a shame because it is well done). Time permitting, sign up to visit the Etruscan tombs with a guide (who is included in the price of the ticket for the tour). They are located 2 kms outside the city walls, and you will have to provide your own transport to the tombs - but a visit to the interior is well worth the effort.
PS. It is not advertised well, but right next to the museum is another exhibition and though it is only in Italian, there are some great 3D examples of the tombs, so if you don’t get out there you can at least get a glimpse of what they look like.
Cost: full € 6.00 First Sunday of the month free entry.
Via Porsenna, 93 - historical center - located directly across the street from the Cathedral
Hours: every day from 9.00 to 20.00.
Museo Civico/ La Città sotterranea: The Underground City
This is not actually an underground city, but the visit will take you into a small portion of the labyrinth of tunnels that run underneath the city. Be forewarned there are quite a few steps, and bring a sweater because even in summer it is a bit chilly. The winding tunnels are carved out of stone and feature a rich collection of grave markers. I particularly enjoyed how our guide took the time to help us decipher the tombstones, teaching us not only some of the letters but some interesting if not unusual information about the Etruscans and Romans who at one time co inhabited Chiusi
Just walk around and take in the views!
At the Eastern end of the town (just around the corner form the Cathedral), next to the free parking lot, is a wonderful little park - Parco dei Forti - with a bocce court, a playground, a soccer pitch, an Etruscan excavation site, hedge-line pathways, and benches for taking in the sweeping views of Mount Cetona and Umbria.
At the Western end of town (a 5 min walk in the other direction!) - in the Piazza Vittorio Veneto - you can enjoy beautiful views of rolling hills lined with olive trees while sitting upon the Medieval wall that used to completely surround the city. Here, you will also find informative placards that tell you about the area.
Weekly Outdoor Market
Every Tuesday from about 8 am-11:30 am, the outdoor market is held in the main square. Here you will find locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables, locally cured meats (prosciutto!) and cheese (this area is known for their Pecorino), and an assortment of household good (curtains, slippers, even shoes). It is fun to browse and even more fun to try all of the local goodies.
Where to eat! (This is the best part about Italy!)
Cotton's Bar: Our favorite place for breakfast.
Order a cappuccino and a delicious pastry while standing at the counter. Often in Italy, you pay a different price to stand at the counter to drink your coffee than to sit at a table. Not so at Cotton's Bar. Same price either way. But you do have to order - and pay when you are finished - at the bar. $ (great value, friendly owners/staff)
Tuscany Divine: Our favorite place for dinner.
While not technically in Chiusi, this restaurant is worth the 10 minute drive! Order the pre-fix tasting menu. 20 euros includes water, several starters (cheese and cured meats with house-made jams), a soup or other starter dish of some sort, a main, and a delicious dessert. All locally grown and produced. Everything made form scratch, to order, by mama in the back. House wine is a couple of euros for a glass, or something like 6 euros for a bottle. Get it! It is delicious - and local.
Address: Querce al Pino, 28, 53043 Chiusi SI, Italy (located next to the Pam grocery store / Etrusco shopping center)
Hours: 12-2:30pm and 7-10pm most days. Call ahead for a reservation or arrive early (before 8:00) to get a table.
Phone: +39 335 332 392
PAM Market: our favorite grocery store to stock up on picnic supplies + local wine
Large grocery store: clean, easy to navigate, fresh produce, local cheese + meat, freshly baked bread, excellent prices on local wine (excellent options for 5-6 euros per bottle!). Feel free to borrow one of our canvas Farm to Table Catering totes to take with you grocery shopping (in the white cabinet above the recycling)
Address: Etrusco - Centro Commerciale, 53043 Chiusi SI, Italy
Hours: 9 am -8:30 pm
Bread, cheese, prosciutto, jam...
No need to make a trip to the grocery store. There is a bakery (for fresh bread, daily), a prosciutteria (a small market selling cured meats, local cheese, eggs, local wine, and everything truffle), a butcher shop (be sure to take a peek inside), and a produce shop (also sells eggs) right on the main street - Via Porsenna - in Chiusi. Our street - Via Mecenate - is off of Via Porsenna. They are all located along the short section between the Cathedral and Cafe Venezia.
Papa Nero: Eat dinner in - Get delicious take0away
Delicious pasta made to order. Choose your noodle type and your sauce (sauce is on display in the case), wait about 10 min and you will receive a tin of takeaway pasta that will put any pasta in the States to shame. Delicious, inexpensive, friendly owners. About 6 euro for a take-away container of freshly made pasta.
Located on the main street of Via Porsenna, across the street from the Prosciutteria, just a around the corner form our front door.
Parking in Chiusi
While you can pull up to the front door to unload your car, for parking you can choose from two free lots. We like the lot at the Parco dei Forti because it is close and it is a flat minute - without hills - walk to the apartment.
You can also park in the newer lot on the north side of town near the Porta Lavinia- located just down the street form the main square and Cotton's Bar. This lot requires a semi-steep uphill walk to get to our house.
Note on parking: Once you have booked your stay with us, I will email you detailed directions on how to get to both parking lots, where to park, and how to walk to our home. It is a short walk from the parking lot. And the town is very small, so you don't need to worry about getting too lost!
Chiusi's Tourist Office
Chuisi does have a nice tourist office directly across the street from the Cathedral. There you will find maps and pamphlets on many of the interesting things to see in Tuscany and Umbria. The helpful attendants will tell you opening hours for the museums, recommend places to visit, and give you free maps.
There are several great articles about Chiusi, from which I have pulled much of this information.
From the website Discover Tuscany, here is a great article about Chiusi, including a brief history and a highlight of where to visit in town.
From the website Visit Tuscany, here is another good article about Chiusi. This one is written for those taking the Etruscan train through Tuscany; however, the article contains good points on where to visit.