You should get lost. That’s what happened in this case, and it made all the difference in the end.
The first part of the two hour long Via delle Cave (quarry route) in the Archeological Park of Baratti and Populonia consists of a healthy walk/hike from the visitors center down by the bay up into the hills that surround it. You enter a nice oak forest that thankfully provides much needed shade from the hot sun, and the path takes a stout turn… up.
Not sure if it was due to a bit of huffing and puffing in my case, but this is where you too will want to make my same mistake by going straight, instead of turning right which is where the “loop” tour path actually begins. You want do the loop in the opposite direction, basically starting from the end and working your way around to the loop’s beginning instead.
Doing it this way, the “first” tombs you will come across are the Etruscan tombe a camera (room tombs), which are way below ground. The single room for each of these multi-generation family tombs as well as the narrow steps that lead down to each one were carved out of the soft tufo and closed with a tufo block door. After each burial, the access stairs were filled in, to be dug out again when another member of the family died.
As you continue on the path, you begin to wonder how the hill is still standing, given the proliferation of the “room tombs”… they’re everywhere. At a certain point you find yourself following the path along more and more scarce bits of hill that still remain in between the multitude of steps dug down in every which way. This is not a necropolis on a hill, rather you realize the Etruscans turned the hill itself into the necropolis… quite eye opening.
Of course, curiosity gets the better of you and you have to peek into some tombs. In some of them you can still make out decorative frescoed motifs.
At this point, the tombs begin to thin out and you reach the top of the hill/necropolis, still densely covered in oak. Not yet realizing that you’re doing the loop backwards, and thus wondering why you haven’t yet seen what must obviously be the route’s main attraction (its photo is everywhere… at the visitor’s center, on posters, on the map/info leaflet), you walk a few more steps over to a clearing in the trees. You look down and finally see the main attraction, some very impressive and evocative tombs of a different kind, dug in the same area as the ancient quarry (that gives this route its name).
You also see the group of people down there with whom you entered the park that unlike you did not miss the “start” of the loop. Ok, so you might not be able to hear the guide from where you stand up in the clearing, but it’s a small price to pay for a view that will be hard to forget.