Time to look at a new corner of Tuscany: The Maremma, When you think of Italy, the first region that probably comes to mind is Tuscany, and in particular, the picturesque hills of Chianti; however, Tuscany has so much more to offer besides these vineyards. Did you ever think about Tuscany’s agriculture outside of wine production? Did you know that Tuscany is situated on the coast?
In Southern Tuscany, along the Tyrrhenian Sea, is an incredible area known as Maremma, one of the best agricultural centers in the region and the whole of Italy.
A few years back I had the chance to explore this corner of Tuscany, camping throughout the region, stopping in at local farms for lunch and riding my bike through those picture-perfect sunflower fields to reach the sea.
This region has always stayed a bit quiet, though it is filled with gorgeous scenery, beaches and that rustic agritourism we all love, it actually remains fairly unexplored. One part of Tuscany that has remained fairly free of touristic crowds, seasonally welcoming mainly Italian visitors. In a way, this is the allure of Maremma. With manageable tourism, the area has been able to remain true to its roots, focusing on organic and slow agritourism.
Maremma in History
In ancient times, under the Etruscans and Romans, the Maremma was widely populated and known for its farms. Though the area was marshland, ancient farmers developed subterranean canals which helped manage the right amount of irrigation. It was from the coast of the Maremma that the Etruscans founded ports and handled foreign trade.
Unfortunately, the region declined rapidly under the Romans. The new citizens did not keep up drainage maintenance and malaria became a huge problem. Eventually, the Maremma was used only as a winter grazing ground for cattle herds from the inland mountains. Though there were many reclamation efforts launched throughout the years by the grand dukes of Tuscany in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Finally, in the 1930s, some drainage of the swamps began and people could begin to repopulate this area. In 1951, the Maremma Land Reform Agency invested great amounts in developing the region. They invested in farms, new roads, and rural service centers to assist local populations, this brought considerable change to the Maremma. As the years have gone on, Maremma still struggles with rain and flooding, but producers and farmers along the region have been able to thrive, protecting their lands and holding together a strong community.
The Cowboys of Italy
Maremma might be most well known for its adorable large sheepdogs and its cattle. The Maremmana breed of cattle is a Slow Food Ark of Taste breed, originally raised as a drought animal, it is today mainly used for meat production. The Maremmana is one of the 2 breeds of cattle allowed to be used in the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina!
Historically these large cattle, which many presume to be directly descended from the ancient Auruoch, were herded wildly by Butteri. Butteri are Italy’s original cowboys. They were men who rode horses through the open terrain of Tuscany and Lazio, herding their cattle through the years.
Butteri dressed in coarse cotton pants, leggings, velvet jackets and a signature black hat. He would have a type of rain cloak called the pastràno and would carry a large stick known as a mazzarella.
They still to this day take part in various folk celebrations. On Sant’Antonio Abate’s day (January 17) which is famous for the benediction of animals, the butteri parade in the centers of Tarquinia, Tuscania, Marta, and Valentano. They also participate in other springtime harvest festivals throughout the towns of the Maremma. It is still possible to ride with the butteri as they check their cattle in the Parco Regionale della Maremma. Tuscany also takes the first Sunday in August to celebrate the memory of the Butteri and their skills.
While Maremma is definitely worth a visit on your next trip to Tuscany, it is, unfortunately, a bit hard to reach. Be sure to rent a car to get around! With a car you will be able to easily explore the small towns, rural agritourism, and even ancient Etruscan sites. History lovers, foodies, and even those of you who prefer to just lay out on the beach will all find something to love about the Maremma.
Here are just a few towns worth checking out when exploring the Maremma
Grosseto is often referred to as the Heart of the Tuscan Maremma, one of the main identifying towns in this area. Though it may not have an ancient history, Grosseto stil dates back to 1138, and holds much history to explore.
Though country/living Maremmani may say Grosseto is a bit too chaotic, it doesn’t much resemble a bustling city, but more of a large town. Its city center can be considered Piazza Dante and one main shopping street. Piazza Dante is marked by the impressive Palazzo della Provincia and the white marble Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. But if you wander off these main streets you will be met with medieval buildings, a mix of modern life mixed in with an ancient setting. Just on the edges of Grosseto are beautiful beaches and oak-filled forests of the Parco Regionale della Maremma – the grand nature reserve of the area.
For something a bit different than your average rustic Tuscany, you should stop by Capalbio, located along the Tuscany/Lazio border. It is known as “Little Athens” because of its environment and artistic importance it had during the Renaissance. But what you really should see on your stop through is the Tarot Garden, a sculpture garden based on the Tarot figures, including 22 monumental pieces made of reinforced concrete,covered with ceramic mosaics.
Some excellent white wines are made surrounding this town under the Capalbio DOC.
Another medieval gem of the Maremma, this city has a beautiful historic center, enclosed and protected by medieval city walls. A must-see in Massa Marittima is the central piazza, which still shows signs of life during the Middle Ages, (the era this city thrived): Palazzo del Podestà, the municipal hall, the market and, the Official Mint and the public fountain.
Actually my favorite find on our road trip through the Maremma. This gorgeous ancient town sits on top of a cliff, carved into the Tufa (reminiscent of Matera). The city has a history dating back to the Etruscans and is known as “Little Jerusalem” for its large and active Jewish community that has been around since the 15th century.
Uccellina Nature Park
For those of you looking for fewer cities, more nature, this park is located between Principina a Mare and Talamone. It is 25 kilometers of coastline with sandy beaches and cliffs, rolling hills, marshes, pine forests, cultivated fields, and pastures. Basically everything you could dream of. There are a number of hiking itineraries to carry you through the park by foot, it also has bike-friendly and horse-friendly paths. You can also rent a canoe and explore the coastline!
This one you may have heard of (unfortunately it is not so hidden from tourism and is quite packed). Saturnia is home to natural springs of sulphuric waters which form easily accessible pools, cascading down from a small waterfall. It really is a dreamy atmosphere, if you are lucky to get it when the crowds have thinned. It is public and free, open all year round.
Castiglione della Pescaia
Perched on top of a small hill, touching the sea and protected by historical walls. This small city offers a little historic itinerary, plus is close to the sea, and the Uccelina Natural Park, as well as nearby Etruscan settlements such as Vetulonia. Also it happens to have excellent gelato from Cremaria Corradini.
Don’t worry no trip to Tuscany would exclude a stop in Wine Country. The Maremma in fact has numerous DOC/DOCG’s and other wine production. Scansano is known to be one of excellent quality. The most famous wine of this region is Morellino di Scansano, Morellino being another name for Sangiovese. It is soft and fruit-forward, lighter than most Sangiovese, but if you really are looking for a great one I suggest tasting Governo by Vignaioli di Scansano.
Where to stay
If you are visiting the Maremma, the only option I suggest is staying in one of the amazing Agritourism of the area. You will really get a feel of what life in the Maremma is and you will get to taste the best local products and wines. One of my favorite spots in the area is Tenuta San Carlo. They are an organic rice farm & agritourism run by the Lotti sisters, Ariane and Samantha. They are the third generation farmers of Tenuta San Carlo and are so passionate about their farm, the territory, and sustainability. They have a small farmhouse surrounded by nature, just a short walk from the Sea. When staying in the farmhouse you are welcomed by their adorable Maremmano dogs and Maremmana cattle which graze freely in the surrounding pastures and forests. They are also so perfectly located close by Castiglione della Pescaia, Grosseto, and Uccelina Natural park. You will definitely have a truly unique Tuscan experience.