When you’re trying to give holiday advice for a destination as big as the Maremma, it sometimes helps to narrow things down.
Not everyone can spend years exploring. I admit that even after half a decade, I’ve only scratched the surface of the incredible cultural, historical and natural heritage that is the Tuscan Maremma.
I do, however, have a collection of experiences that were so spectacular they’ve burned a permanent place in my memory. When I’m describing my adopted home to people, these are the places that fill me with the same awe I felt when I first experienced them years ago.
I’ve chosen experiences that aren’t expensive, exclusive or hard to see on your own. If you're planning a trip to the Maremma, these are things you don’t want to miss.
1. Pitigliano at night
By day, Pitigliano
is the Maremma’s most beautiful and unusual city. By night, it becomes one of the most magnificent cities in Italy. Illuminated by spotlights, the Città del Tufo or tufa rock city transforms into something out of a fairy tale.
The spectacular visual effect is the result of frugal architecture. Rather than build on top of the cliff, Pitigliano’s first residents carved a city out of the cliff around them. There is nothing like it.
The best place to see Pitigliano at night is on La Strada Provinciale 6. There are places along the road where you can stop and get the perfect shot.
2. Sagra delle Lumache, Poggio Murella, early June
The Sagra delle Lumache
proudly claims to be one of Italy’s oldest festivals. Unchanged in more than 60 years, it's a real celebration of local flavours and lifestyles. Nothing fancy - just good food, great music and better company in Poggio Murella, a small town located just outside of Manciano
The Sagra delle Lumache makes it on this list because it one of the few festivals that is truly held for the locals alone. Oh, and did I forget to mention, lumache are snails?
: Don’t miss the signature dish of this festival - perfectly cleaned and cooked snails served in a deliciously moorish tomato sauce.
3. Saturnia’s hot springs
No matter how many times I mention them, Saturnia’s hot springs deserve a place on any holiday list simply because they are the number one tourist attraction in the Maremma. I remember the first time I saw the Cascate del Mulino
with its tumbling waterfalls and pools carved into the travertine rock. It looked like an oasis in the midst of the Tuscan countryside, and that was before I dipped my toes in the 37°C water
: Saturnia’s Cascate del Mulino can be crowded, so the best times to visit are at night, early in the morning or straight after lunch when everyone is having a siesta.
4.Cala Violina, between Follonica and Punta Ala
In Australia, we have Squeaky Beach. In the Maremma, we have the Bay of Violins. It’s the same natural phenomenon, but the Italian version sounds so much more romantic.
gets its poetic name from the incredibly fine white sand that fills its shores and sounds like the notes of a violin when you walk on it. The bay itself is picture perfect with calm waters that are great for families.
To get here, all you have to do is follow the easy-to-spot signs on the SP 158
from Follonica. When you get close to the beach, the SP 158 turns off onto a dirt road. Follow it for 1km and you’ll find a parking lot.
: If you’re looking for some privacy, follow the bay past Cala Violina in the opposite direction of Follonica and you’ll find plenty of secluded beaches that are too small to attract any tourist attention.
5.Castell'Azzara’s bat cave
I’ve seen a lot of caves in the last couple of years – my husband is obsessed with them – and to be perfectly honest, I hate them all with one notable exception –Castell'Azzara's
Behind this sleepy mountain town is a labyrinth of abandoned mines and natural caves. The mines can be visited on a tour, which I highly recommend because it tells the nostalgic tale of the young men, women and children who lived in appalling conditions to work in the mines that flourished in the forest.
The bat cave, on the other hand, is a breathtaking natural creation. Thousands of bats have found their home among the stalactites, making it an incredible place to visit. The trek through the forest is pretty spectacular too.
For information about the cave and the mine tours, visit the tourist information centre in Castell'Azzara
Castell'Azzara is not used to tourists, so take advantage of local atmosphere and grab a bite in the very quirky, but very authentic Tana dell'Orso restaurant on Via Veneto. The menu is typical Italian in that it’s decided daily on the whims of the chef.