I am infatuated with Montemerano
? How can I describe it to someone who has never been? Montemerano is one of the smaller towns in the municipality of Manciano, where I live, but what it lacks in people, it definitely makes up in atmosphere.
The town itself is a medieval jewel. A beautifully conserved maze of cobblestone streets and hidden courtyards. As you wander through the 15th and 16th century streets, there's greenery everywhere you look - bright flowers blooming out of old wine barrels, vibrant ivy winding its way up the bricks of the old sandstone buildings, wistera trees with purple flowers - and one woman, called Maria, who has been tending all of Montemerano's gardens for almost 20 years for free and who is yet to miss an afternoon's watering session with a bucket in one hand and her blue and purple paper fan, which she brandishes almost nonstop while gossiping with the older Montemeranese who escape the heat of their homes by sitting in their courtyard gardens watching the world go by.
But over the last three days, Montemerano has been even more beautiful, even more endearing that it's usually charming and picturesque self. And that's because it has been partying.
Every year on June 17, 18, 19 or thereabout, Montemerano holds its Maremma in Musica Festival. The event is three days of great local music in the magical setting that is the Piazza del Castello
at the heart of Montemerano's old town centre.
There are jazz bands, traditional folk groups, orchestras and the odd Maremmano who gets up and sings without any music. There's plenty of food and drink, made by the locals themselves and served without fanfare to everyone who just happens to be in the piazza. And there are stories, told by those who have lived in the Maremma their entire lives and who know the local legends back to front.
Yesterday night, I was lucky enough to be in town for the last day of the festival. The Proloco, which is made up of residents, organised the entire festival and had decked out the Piazza del Castello to look like a wild secret garden. Fresh green grass was placed in the middle of the piazza, while terracotta pots of jasmine and lavender collected in clusters and perfumed the entire piazza.
During the day, the sight was spectacular, but when I arrived as the sun set and the evening lights were switched on, the entire effect was enough to leave me speechless. I felt like I had wandered from the maze of cobblestone streets into another world. The contrast between the old, sandstone buildings and the fresh foliage was truly beautiful.
While the entertainment was stirring, the best part of the night, for me, came right at the end. A massive crowd had come together to listen to the orchestra of local residents playing in the middle of the piazza, but as the final tunes rang out, the sky was lit up with small paper balloons, one after another after another. You could barely hear the orchestra over the oohs and ahhs and squeals of excitement from the younger members of the crowd... and then the bubbles started - hundreds of them, made by children in the piazza and sitting on the terraces in the surrounding palazzos. They almost stole the show from the balloons - I've never seen anything like it.
On a side note, Montemerano is the only town in the Maremma that makes and marks their celebrations with paper balloons. It's a local art and a carefully guarded secret. Only a few families know how to make them and even less know how to launch them. This was the first time in the history of the city that they launched 50 balloons simultaneously.
And me? I just stood there craning my neck to see paper balloons of every colour rise from the piazza, float longingly above our heads, before disappearing behind the town walls, while thousands of soap bubbles fought with them for space in the night sky and the orchestra provided the perfect backing track.
Maybe my descriptions don't do the event justice, but my pictures speak a thousand words...