FIVE REASONS TO VISIT THE HIDDEN GEM MAREMMA IN ITALY
Tuscany’s Maremma is without a doubt home to Italy’s most enchanting and pristine environments – perfect for long walks, wine tours, lazy days at the beach, and romantic getaways. It is one of Italy’s most undiscovered and unexplored parts, virtually untouched by COVID-19. The lack of developed mass tourism worked to Maremma’s advantage when some other parts of Italy suffered a lot. If after a year of pandemic, you are looking to get back to nature and enjoy empty beaches, natural hot springs, hikes and wine, Maremma could be your place for a relaxed reset away from it all. Rent a villa for a season, don’t forget to bring your bikes, hiking boots and a PADI license – Maremma is a paradise for nature lovers.
1. Nature Trails of Maremma
Tuscany is gorgeous and Maremma offers many eye-pleasing routes for hiking, biking, horseback riding and walking. Many trails are well-marked, so you won’t get lost. An obvious place to visit is the Regional Park of Maremma also known as Uccellina Park. It stretches along the sea, includes 25 km of coastline and offers numerous opportunities for pretty much any type of outdoor activity you can wish for, from religious walking tours to carriage rides and boating. And let’s not forget birdwatching in Maremma – the park is home to over 200 species of birds, including falcons, owls and woodpeckers.
Another great choice for exploring Maremma is a beautiful nature reserve of Diaccia Botrona between Castiglione della Pescaia and Grosseto. These protected wetlands appeared in the 18th century after Lake Preglio was drained to combat malaria. It covers over 1000 hectares of land, abundant with wildlife. Grab your most trusted wellies and binoculars if you want to spot wild geese, ducks, hawks, flamingos, porcupines, badgers and many more.
Check out the two WWF-managed nature reserves, Lago di Burano and Laguna di Orbetello, which are a part of a vital project to breed and release into the wild the Northern bald ibis. Guided tours are available all year-round.
If you travel to Elba, definitely try and get to the highest point of the island – Capanne Mountain and enjoy breath-taking views from the top.
2. The Island of Elba
The tiny island of Elba is famous for more than harbouring Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile in 1814. It is drenched in history, so you can spend days visiting old Christian churches, mighty fortresses and enchanting historical buildings like Villa dei Mulini – a Napoleons residence, or Valla San Martino – a stunning gallery that has a collection of items associated with France’s ruler, as well Villa Romana delle Grotte – a building abandoned at the beginning of our era, it was even mentioned by Ovidius. The villa is an unusual place and a must-see for everyone visiting Elba. The island is great for diving and snorkelling due to amazing visibility and abundant sea life. Little natural beaches are plentiful and most of them can be reached only from the seaside – what a perfect excuse to rent a boat and enjoy discovering new places every day. The island, of course, grows its own wine, so don’t miss Tenuta delle Repalte – a serene resort complex with uniquely furnished accommodations and vast vineyards. It’s an address to remember for anyone who enjoys wine and beautiful views.
3. Natural Hot Springs
The whole region of Maremma is peppered with natural springs many of them can be recognised by a very specific sulphurous smell (yes, that slightly “eggy” stinky smell). You will get used to it, just keep thinking about miracles this natural hot water does to your skin, joints and, apparently, blood pressure. Swimming in this water, naturally heated to about 37.5 °C, is very relaxing. For lovers of luxury, it’s recommended to visit a spa at the upmarket Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort. It’s expensive, comfortable and relaxed – an ideal place to get pampered over a weekend. For a more natural low-key experience visit Saturnia’s thermal free outdoor waterfalls, the Cascate del Mulino and Cascate del Gorello. They are open to the public and free, but probably less crowded now while the situation with international and domestic travel is still very uncertain.
Visits to thermal baths date back to Roman times. Saturnia is the most well-known but not the only natural warm pool. There are also Sorano, Venturina and Petriolo pools, and the latter one is hidden in woods and attracts bohemian types.
4. Wine Tourism
Maremma is a relatively recently developed part of Tuscany with a temperate climate and soil perfect for producing wine. Its wines are less known than those produced in a nearby Montalcino, but businessmen and wine enthusiasts took advantage of cheaper land and got down to work. Results are spectacular: in Maremma there’s one DOCG, seven DOCs, two IGTs and three wine roads. DOCG and DOC are both quality classifications. Under Italian wine law DOCG is the highest designation of quality among Italian wines. IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designations allow foreign grape varieties to be added. Wine tourism is still at its infant stage in Maremma but there is a lot to see, including spectacular examples of wine architecture like the dazzling Petra at Suvereto, Renzo Piano’s Rocca di Frassinello, near Gavorrano. If you have more time, visits to Le Mortelle and Tenuta Ammiraglia-Frescobaldi are a must.
5. Tufo Cities and Small Villages
Close to Lazio there are cities known as tufo or tuff cities (named after the soft reddish type of rock used to build the cities). Many of them are perched on a hilltop and appear to be carved entirely out of the tufa stone. Old tufa caves were once Etruscan tombs, later transformed into wine cellars. Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana are probably the most famous of them all, with Pitigliano being the most scenic of the three. Built on Etruscan territory it has a medieval church, a 16th-century aqueduct and a Jewish ghetto, which was so large that the village got nicknamed “Little Jerusalem”.
Sorano’s centre is famous for two fortresses: the massive Orsini Fortress built on a cliff and the 17th century Masso Leopoldino, where these days visitors go to enjoy the spectacular panorama from a terrace. Leave some time to explore an Etruscan necropolis located a few kilometres from the village and the thermal baths of Saturnia.
Three small villages of Roccastrada, Roccatederighi and Montemassi are worth a visit because of their fairy-tale like atmosphere. Roccastrada was built on huge rocks, Roccatederighi – on a volcanic cliff. In August, its narrow streets are filled with thousands of people attracted by celebrations of the Medieval Feast. Montemassi is most famous for a charming castle which is being renovated now.
Walk through these narrow streets, visit charming churches and castle ruins, try local delicacies and don’t rush – the charm of Maremma is in its nature and in its people, so take time to soak up this unique atmosphere surrounded by unspoiled countryside.
By Elena Leo