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Founded by a legendary Trojan prince, occupied since Neolithic times and surrounded by fields of perfumed Lavender, Tuscania is the perfect hilltop spot to escape the summer heat of nearby Rome. Each July the village turns lilac as its annual Lavender Festival brings the countryside into the historic centre. If you’ve never ventured outside Rome, here’s why Lazio’s lovely lavender gem needs to be added to your travel wish list.
Driving through the countryside of northern Lazio you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d accidentally nodded off and woken up in Provence, France. Few expect to see field after field of lavender in central Italy but it’s a big deal here. So it’s no wonder that the locals want to celebrate their perfumed produce with a festival. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; let’s have a look Tuscania’s origins first.
Tuscania’s illustrious ancient history
According to local legend Ascanius, the son of a Trojan prince, founded Tuscania. But his dad wasn’t just any old Trojan prince. Aeneas was a legendary Greek hero and son of the goddess Venus. He escaped Greece after the Trojan Wars - renowned for the Trojan Horse and Helen of Troy. Then crossed the Adriatic Sea to ancient Italy becoming an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the she-wolf suckled twins who went on to found Rome. Tuscania’s founder Ascanius was from pretty illustrious stock.
The story goes that he stumbled upon a dozen puppies on a hill, naming it Tus-Cana from the old Etruscan word cana meaning dog. Sadly there’s no record of what he called the dogs, but the fabled foundations tie in with archeological evidence of human occupation dating back to the Neolithic period (10,200BC to 2000BC). And whoever founded Tuscania, it’s lovely just to stroll through the lanes of this charming walled town, stopping to explore the Etruscan museum, Etruscan burials or old churches dating back to the 8th century.
The Festa della Lavanda
Fast-forward to today and the ancient town is preparing for the upcoming Festa della Lavanda, held on the first weekend of July every year (2nd & 3rd July 2016). During the festa the little town is immersed in lilac, perfume fills every corner and stalls overflow with a wide range of lavender products. Lavender is a key part of the province’s life and this is a time for celebration.
The Lavandula plant, to give it its botanical name, actually covers large swathes of northern Lazio from Montalto di Castro on the western coast to Viterbo inland and from Arlena in the north down to the ancient town of Tarquinia. It’s perfectly suited to Tuscania’s hot, dry Mediterranean summers hailing originally from the African and Indian continents, although these days it is very firmly associated in most peoples’ minds as a typically Mediterranean plant.
The name lavender is believed to come from Latin, but there are two schools of thought. It may come from lavare meaning to wash referring to the old use of water infused with lavender for washing or possibly from livere meaning blue. Either way, man has used its soft purple flowers, sweet-smelling perfume and silvery-grey leaves for over 2500 years. And far from being just a pretty flower, lavender has long been recognised for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory medicinal properties plus countless therapeutic, relaxing remedies. It was also once used for lucky charms and even love potions, although there isn’t so much call for those now!
Today over 20 companies cultivate lavender commercially in and around Tuscania so there is no shortage of produce for the mind, body and home. Local girls dressed all in white with lilac sashes, process bouquets and baskets full of lavender into the historic centre of town. And the town’s tiny streets and courtyards bustle with stands and stalls laden with all manner of lavender products.
From essential oil to lavender honey, from infused soaps and cosmetics to perfumes and from calming balms or infused pillows to aid sleep to lavender risotto, biscuits and even gelato, there is pretty much something for everyone to soothe the stressed traveller. Look out too for the demonstrations showing how the oil is distilled and also food tastings.
The town also opens many of the local attractions, offering guided tours of the historic centre, ancient Etruscan archeological sites and some lavender farms. Street performers, singers and dancers also offer entertainment throughout the weekend and local artisans and painters add to atmosphere. And whilst everywhere you wander, the sweet perfume pervades throughout the town, if this isn’t enough some lavender farms even offer accommodation so you can immerse yourselves, surrounded by this beautiful healing plant. It’s truly an explosion of colors, tastes, scents, lotions and sights for the senses and a perfect Italian day out.
So, if you’re looking to escape the heat and hubbub of Rome for a slower pace, perfumed trip, Tuscania is the ideal spot to restore tired travellers. Why not take a stroll to admire the old town’s sights, immerse yourself in the gently rolling hills of lavender or stop to sample the soothing, calming potions and products. There’s plenty to admire and after a day or two cocooned in the lilac lanes, soaking up the luscious fragrance you’ll be so relaxed you won’t want to leave! Perfetto!