Why you should ditch Tuscany and visit the Maremma instead
I sometimes wonder if part of the allure of the Maremma comes from the fact that it’s in Tuscany.
All you have to do is mention the word Tuscany and people start swooning. No joke, I’ve seen people get excited about Tuscan sunset (i.e orange) paint just because it had Tuscany in the front of it.
Now whatever entices people to see the Tuscan Maremma is a-okay with me. But I do have one slight objection to people who visit the Maremma hoping to see solitary cedar trees on rolling hills a la Under the Tuscan Sun.
… and that’s because we don’t have cedar trees on rolling hills in the Maremma. In fact, the only thing that ties the Maremma to Under the Tuscan Sun, and by extension Tuscany, is geography.
Now you might just think I’m being melodramatic, but it’s actually the opposite, whatever the opposite of melodrama is.
For centuries, the Maremma was a mass of messy and bloodthirsty separate states. They were ruled by medieval kings like Aldobrandeschi and Orsini families – kings that never stepped foot in the rest of Tuscany.
They were bent by foreign invaders like the Spanish and the Turkish pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa. And they were only shaped into some semblance of a unified region in the early 18th century by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.
So if you think about it, the Maremma has been part of Tuscany for little more than 200 years out of its much more than 2,000 year history!
But it’s more than just history that defines the Maremma. You won’t understand this until you’ve been here, but the region has a style all it’s own – everything is on a smaller scale here, quainter, less glamourous and refined, but all the more endearing for its authenticity, honesty and wild country charm.
But enough with the abstract concepts, here are five concrete reasons why you should ditch Tuscany and visit the Maremma instead:
1. More provincial charm
Forget the prim, proper and sophisticated air of Northern Tuscany. The Maremmani have until very recently lived off the land. They’re farming stock and with that comes a deep respect for tradition and the environment that sustains them. The Maremmani have absolutely no idea why people are making all this fuss over their homes. They are humble, affable and while this might cliche, terrible gossips who still sit outside their sandstone homes watching the world go by and picking out the tourists. Check out Montemerano if you don’t believe me.
2. Good honest food
The Maremma was practising ‘slow food’ long before it became fashionable. You still can’t buy out of season produce in its biggest supermarkets, let alone the tiny fruttivendolo (greengrocers) you’ll find in most towns. But the Maremmani follow the seasons in more than just the ingredients they use. Summer calls for simple dishes like panzarella, while the winter chill in chased away with rustic dishes like wild boar ragu and acquacotta. Whatever the weather, the Maremmani like the food of their ancestors – good, honest traditional fare that sustained the farmers. They made and continue to make use of the flavours of the land in place of the prohibitively expensive meat that was only saved for special occasions.
3. No Renaissance
If Tuscany is the home of the Renaissance than the Maremma is the home of realism. When you spent a large chuck of your history as little more than an infectious and malodorous swamp, there isn’t much time for high brow art. Just ask Dante Alighieri, who admonished the Maremma as the cesspool of brigands in The Divine Comedy. But just because we didn’t experience the Renaissance didn’t mean we didn’t have art. The Mancianese painter Paride Pascucci is called the poet of the Maremma as he depicted the harsh reality of life here in the 19th century. Poverty and anguish colour many of his magnificent oil paintings, but there’s also a sense of the strength of man, family and music. You can see his work in the Town Hall in Manciano.
4. A love of the legends
Tales of butteri (Italian cowboys), brigands, kidnapped damsels, dragons and Madonna-finding donkeys are the Maremman versions of the Grimms Book of Fairytales. But rather than providing fodder for bedtime stories, these legends are alive in the hundreds of festivals and sagre held each year, and interestingly also in a number of museums like the Davide Lazzaretti museum in Arcidosso. The Maremmani are proud of their traditions and their heritage. They have a close affinity to the stories told to them by their ancestors. Take May Day, which is celebrated widely and colourfully all over the Maremma, but hardly even acknowledged in Florence.
5. All-in-one natural splendour
If you’re a Great Outdoors kinda person, you’re not going to want to give the Maremma as miss. The locals say the region has l’ambiente infinita che cambia con ogni metro or an infinite environment that changes with every metre. San romanticism that means you can be at a secluded white-sanded beach in one minute and a snow-capped mountain forest the next. And the nature parks in between? They’ll leave you speechless. Then of course there are the Saturnia Hot Springs – Italy’s single most magnificent and famous hot spring destination.