When people say that the Maremma is a secluded paradise still true to the traditional way of life, they really mean it. Search for it on Google and hardly anything comes up. It's a mystery destination, concealed in the glow of the big cities that surround it.
For an Australian girl like me, the Maremma presented an enigma. 18-years-old, I'd spent all my life in the bright lights of Melbourne in south-east Australia, where the supermarkets are open 24-hours and nobody knows when tomatoes are in season... I thought you could grow them all year round!
Walking through the streets of towns like Manciano, all alone and with limited Italian, I was in awe of the antique stone houses and castle. It's nothing like Australia, where the oldest building are 19th century ones and the only castles are the colourful blow-up kind you find at a kid's birthday party.
My first week in the Maremma as the kindergarten English teacher took me to Manciano, Montemerano, Saturnia and Poggio Murella. If teaching five-year-olds the colours when all they wanted to do was cover themselves in paint wasn't strange enough, the incredible differences between these towns was.
Despite being within kilometres of each other, the diversity in history, cuisine and even speech shocked me. In my part of Australia we don't have towns, we have suburbs and they all look alike. Each one was built in the 20th century and you can go from one suburb to another without noticing it. There are no signs saying, 'Welcome to Berwick' and no local history or cuisine. To my surprise, towns in the Maremma aren't like that.
All neatly contained on its hill and closed off from the world, Manciano doesn't look anything like, say Pitigliano. Pitigliano is built almost completely out tuff rock and has its own Hebrew ghetto, Manciano has a incredible view but no Jews...and they hate each other. During my time in the Maremma I was constantly asked which town was better... Manciano or Pitigliano? Fiercely proud and jealous of Pitigliano's popularity, the Mancianesi would always expect me to say Manciano, the Pitiglianesi the opposite.
If someone asks the Montemeranesi where they're from they proudly answer Montemerano. Back home, if anyone asks me where I'm from, I don't say my home-suburb Berwick, I say Melbourne, our state's capital...and the only city we hate is Sydney because they're always rubbing in just how great they are.
But even to someone who had never seen towns so diverse they could be in different countries, I knew this was something that Maremma should be proud of. Whenever I go home I always laugh about the Manciano-Pitigliano rivalry or the pride the people of Castell'Azzara have for their local mushroom tagliatelle.
Driving through the suburbs of Melbourne, each one like the last, I admit that Australia could use some of the Maremma's diversity. When you've seen one suburb in Melbourne, you've seen them all and nobody goes on day trips to the neighbouring town. In Maremma you can spend endless Sundays visiting Sovana, Montemerano or Pitigliano and it never gets boring. For me this diversity is a thing of beauty. Something I always miss whenever I return to Australia.