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A Side Trip to Sarteano

The lively little market town of Sarteano is one of our favorite corners of southern Tuscany for whiling away a morning -- especially a Saturday morning, the only day its incredibly precious Etruscan sight is open to the public. The tiny, friendly tourist office at Corso Garibaldi 9, 53047 Sarteano (tel. 0578-269-204 or 0578-265-312; www.prolocosarteano.it) is open weekends (and sometimes Wed or Fri) 10am to noon. Driving by car is the easiest way to reach the town, which lies 12km (7 1/2 miles) southwest of Chiusi and is well signposted off the SS146 Chiusi-Montepulciano road. Eight buses a day from Chiusi (25 min.) and a similar number from Montepulciano (45 min.) also connect with the town.

Hands down the best Etruscan sight for miles around is the town's Tomba della Quadriga Infernale (Tomb of the Demon Charioteer). The tomb itself is just one part of a complex numbering at least 14, and inside contains vivid frescoes dating from around 330 B.C. The most striking image shows the eponymous charioteer driving two lions and two griffins -- the only known painting of its kind in Etruscan art. Visits inside are limited to 40 people per week, on Saturdays only. In summer email museo@comune.sarteano.siena.it a few weeks in advance to book; at other times a few days' notice usually suffices. The visit is conducted in Italian, but there's an English handout. You'll need a car to drive the 2km (just over 1 mile) to the site, known as Pianacce, where several tombs are cut into the travertine bedrock on a ridge with stupendous views of the Valdichiana. At other times, the site (and its other tombs) are open for free exploration. Tomb visits are run by Sarteano's Museo Civico, Via Roma 24 (tel. 0578-269-261) which displays finds including attica and bucchero pottery from Etruscan necropoli at Mulin Canale, Solaia, and Poggio Rotondo, a wealth of finds from Pianacce, as well as a realistic reconstruction of part of the Tomba della Quadriga's wall art. The museum is open April through October Tuesday to Sunday 10:30am to 12:30pm and 4 to 7pm; it's open the same hours on weekends only during other months. Admission costs 4€ adults, 3€ ages 6 to 18 and those 65 and over; a ticket covering the museum and the Tomba della Quadriga costs 7€ and 5€ respectively.

Elsewhere in town, seek out the Chiesa di San Martino, Piazza San Martino (no phone), whose boxy little interior is graced by one of the masterpieces of Sienese Renaissance painter Domenico Beccafumi, a 1546 Annunciation swept by his trademark light and shadow. If the church is locked, as it often is in low season, enquire at the tourist office (they hold a key).

Sarteano's best food is served in the small dining room at Da Gagliano, Via Roma 5 (tel. 0578-268-022), where the menu closely follows the waxing and waning of the seasons -- very little produce is sourced from outside the local hills. Primi cost 7.50€ to 9€, and delightful secondi such as coniglio al tegame con lardo e finocchio selvatico (pan-fried rabbit with cured ham fat and wild fennel) range from 9€ to 13€. Between April and October it's open Thursday through Monday for lunch and dinner (daily Aug and over Christmas); in the off season it's open on weekends only. Reservations are highly recommended.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.