Viterbo Travel Guide

Revel in the largest medieval center in Italy

Why go to Viterbo? When I was collecting data for this article, I posted bits and pieces of my experience to our Facebook page. The response? Lots of moving Viterbo from the "Should I go?" category to "I have to go". Viterbo is a fascinating destination in northern Lazio with the largest medieval core in Italy. 

I visited Viterbo many years ago. The monuments, like the famous and unmistakable Loggia of the Papal Palace, were gray from bus soot. I took a picture anyway--with a film camera. Digital was a dream of the future. 

I recently returned to a glistening city in the digital era. We had rented an apartment in a medieval tower above a small but important museum of Viterbo's big festival, La Macchina di Santa Rosa, in which 100 men called “Facchini di Santa Rosa” (porters of Saint Rose) carry the 30-meter-high tower weighing 5 tons through the medieval streets on September 3rd.

macchina di santa rosa
The Machina di Santa Rosa display at the museum

The owner of "our" tower navigated us in his car through the same maze of narrow streets as the suffering Facchini, pointing out his favorite bars and restaurants as if he had the exact route memorized, right down to the few millimeteters between steel and wall he'd have left over after squeezing his large vehicle through a tight turn.  There were a lot of tight turns but few tourists to gum them up; we were smack in the middle of Viterbo, a city obviously underappreciated by travelers.

The Loggia was still there, of course, fixed up and clean as a whistle. Imagine, a simple medieval walkway, made inspring enough to become the symbol of a great city!

loggia viterbo
Loggia of the Papal Palace of Viterbo -- Loggia delle Benedizioni.

The wide steps you see to the left of the loggia are the entrance to the Papal Palace of Viterbo in the Piazza di San Lorenzo, where you can buy tickets to see the inner works. You can also purchase tickets online

What's a Papal Palace doing in Viterbo? Well, during the 13th century upheaval and flight from Rome, the Papal Palace served as the home of the Popes from 1257 to 1281, when they moved to Avignon. 

Behind you in the piazza is the Duomo of Viterbo. It was once elaborately decorated, but a sixteenth-century reconstruction wiped it all out. Legand has it that it was built upon an Etruscan site, the timple of Hercules.

According to Wikipedia:

The Palazzo was the original location of the initiation of the conclave tradition, taken from the Latin cum claves or with keys. The cardinals were taking so long picking a new pope following the death of Pope Clement IV in 1268 that their presence was bankrupting local businesses. This drove the infuriated local people to lock the cardinals inside the palace and to steal the roof, exposing those inside to the elements. They only returned the slates and unlocked the door once a decision had been reached.

Distinguishing Architectual Features of Viterbo

As you meander through the medieval center of Viterbo, you'll notice a 13th century feature called Profferli, external staircases that give you access to the first floor of a medieval building (the ground floor was for the animals, who heated the house).

macchina di santa rosa
A profferio staircase in Viterbo

The Medieval walls, built between the 11th and 13th centuries, completely encircle Viterbo. The picture below shows the gate and wall just outside the Archaeological Museum.

macchina di santa rosa
Medieval Wall and Gate in Viterbo

What to Eat in Viterbo

The food of Viterbo is quite tasty, and the menus tended to keep up with the seasons. We went in late fall, and the traditional dishes, above all the Aqua Cotta, were warming and comforting.

You'll find the Acqua Cotta della Tuscia in many local restaurants. It's a soup loaded with vegetables with an egg on top for protein in place of meat. It's cucina povera in a large, filling portion.

Pizzicotti con versa rossa, castagne, salsiccia e guanciale locale is a triumph. The red cabbage and chestnuts were in season, and the guanciale and sausage making an almost invisible appearance held the thing together. But what was really special about this dish is that the pasta is really left over fermented dough from bread or pizza making that they've shaped and boiled. 

We had both these dishes and more at the highly recommended Trattoria L'Archetto on Via San Cristoforo 1. 

acua cotta
Acqua Cotta della Tuscia: Trattoria L'Archetto, Viterbo
pizzicotti pasta
Pizzicotti con versa rossa, castagne, salsiccia e guanciale locale

Our host recommended a restaurant close to the medieval tower we stayed in, Il Gargolo. The restaurant is located in a triangualar piazza with the rather disturbing name of Piazza della Morte. We ate outside in a drizzle, there was an overhead covering to keep the wetness out. 

The dish the just made me think I'd put the best thing in my mouth in my whole life was the Fieno di Canepina con macinato di maiale, funghi porcini e nocciole, fine egg spaghetti called "the hay of the Canepina" with ground pork, porchini mushrooms and hazelnuts.  Mama mia it was good.

Looking to eat cheap with students? Ristorante La Spaghetteria di Viterbo has so many pastas it will make your head spin.

Where to Stay in Viterbo

We highly recommend Antica Dimora San Pellegrino tucked neatly into a medieval tower in the center of town. 

Antica Dimora San Pellegrino
Antica Dimora San Pellegrino is the tower on the center right of the picture.
piazza pellegrino, viterbo
Piazza San Pellegrino, which is the view you look down upon.

Lodging in Viterbo

Here are more loging options for Viterbo and vicinity and how to get there from the nearest Airport.

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How to Get to Viterbo, Italy

It's easy to get to Viterbo from Rome. Frequent trains leave from Roma Termini to Viterbo Piazza Fiorentina. The faster train connections will make the journey in 1h 40m. Tickets cost from 6 to 9 euro.

A car is faster, getting you the 104 km to Viterbo from Rome in 1h 16m. The fuel cost will be 19-28 euro. 

Viterbo Weather and Climate Charts

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Viterbo Weather and Climate

Nearby Day Trips from Viterbo

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Castel d'Asso Etruscan Tombs
Ferento: Roman Ruins in Northern Lazio
Villa Farnese, Caprarola