We are all familiar with the busy Tuscany of sunflowers and second homes and when we think of this beautiful region, our mind would instantly picture Siena’s broad piazzas, Florence’s pale palazzos and those curvaceous hills. Reassuringly, there is an escape from the 40 million tourists that each year pour into the northwestern province and if you venture out to the south, you would find yourself in beautiful Maremma, the undiscovered Tuscany.
Far from the bright lights of Florence and Siena, Maremma is one of the few territories left in Italy that remains true to its peasant roots, uncontaminated by the tourist explosion. Just like it happened to me a few years ago, I think that you would also become besotted with its unpretentious charm, sweet-natured people and simple beauty. You will find here splendour and tranquillity, breathtaking landscapes, delicious food and picturesque towns.
This is a land where pine-backed cliffs drop to plate-blue seas, where villages retain a medieval feel, where valleys plunge and lanes zigzag and it’s also home to the Maremma’s butteri (cowboys) that have for centuries herded ‘maremmana’ cattle. Some are still keeping the tradition alive, but the life of a buttero was anything but enviable at the turn of last century, when Maremma was nothing but bandit hideouts and mosquito swamps until Mussolini drained the swamps and got rid of malaria.
Among all of its outstanding natural resources, Maremma is also famous with Italians and a few foreigners for its natural hot springs. People have been flocking here since before the Roman Empire and today you can still take a dip for free in the Cascate del Mulino – the spectacular waterfalls that sit invitingly just outside Saturnia. These falls fill natural pools with 37 degrees centigrades water all year round and the view of the Maremman countryside that surrounds them is breathtaking.
Besides untamed and in parts wild countryside, historic hill towns where you are transported back to medieval times and a pristine natural landscape provided by the Parco Naturale della Maremma, this part of Tuscany also counts amongst its gems stunning coastline, a number of beautiful beaches only known to the locals and some totally unspoilt and idyllic islands. The Tuscan Archipelago in fact consists of 7 islands: Elba, Giglio, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo, Gorgona and Giannutri.
The islands are situated a short distance off the coast of Tuscany and there are several ports on the mainland that provide ferry trips for holiday makers. Elba, Giglio and Capraia have long been favourite tourist destinations for Italians. They are exceptionally beautiful and legend has it that they were a gift from the gods, formed as Venus dropped her necklace into the sea!
With such a variety of landscapes and activities offered by Maremma minus the crowds, like me you might really think that you have a found a small piece of heaven on earth, luckily still unclaimed by many! So next time you think of visiting Tuscany, why not head south, get off the beaten track and get ready to experience the ‘meraviglia’ of this incredible region!