Guide to the Maremma
Things to Do
Towns and Sites
Food and Wine
While stretching between the provinces of Livorno and Grosseto, the Maremma also extends over the southern Tuscan border into northern Lazio as far as Civitavecchia, from whose port ferries reach Sardegna, Italy’s 2nd largest island.
Actually the Maremma coast is the departure point for reaching several of the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, be it from Piombino to reach the island of Elba or from Porto Santo Stefano to reach the islands of Giglio or Giannutri. Monte Argentario itself may feel like an island but is actually a peninsula connected to the mainland by 3 spits of land which form two splendid lagoons with pine tree-backed sandy beaches.
The Maremma shares its name with several animals that roam its vast area: 2 breeds of horses used by the Butteri, the Maremma cowboys, a breed of large grey longhorn cattle raised near the coast, a breed of white sheepdog called the Maremmano, and a breed of small pigs usually left free to roam in the woodland.
The history of the Maremma has been a series of ups and downs. Its Golden Age came early with the Etruria, the Etruscan civilization which covered much of modern Maremma from Tarquinia to Roselle to Populonia. Mining and selling minerals and gold to much of the world, it became too attractive to be ignored by the powerful Romans, whose military overtook it and made it one of the proudest corners of the Roman Empire in Tuscany.
The glory of Rome faded and the Maremma collapsed into ages of fear, religious zealotry and war. From the 10th-15th centuries a few powerful families, such as the Aldobrandeschi and Orsini, essentially divided the Maremma between them and built fortresses that dominated every city. Dante, by the late 13th C., thought of it as uncivilized and desolate, a wild landscape inhabited wild people. For a time the Spanish and the Sienese Republic tore the area apart and for centuries the land did little more than endure as the population left it for safety. Swamps and coastal marshes covered fertile land, rivers flooded the woods and vegetation and malaria became an endemic killer until the 16th C. when the Medici Grand Duchy began to fill and reshape the swampland to favor natural drainage.
This continued over the centuries, aided by hydraulic engineering, and as areas were recovered for agriculture and human settlement the Maremma once again began to thrive. The Diaccia Botrona Nature Reserve (pictured) was the beneficiary of such a project when the old Lake Preglio was drained to defeat malaria; it now is a wetland haven for wildlife and the Casa Rosa is a museum and observation point. Though the province of Grosseto was created in the 18th C. when Manciano, Pitigliano and Grosseto united, each small city has its own history, traditions and cuisine which only makes this a more fascinating territory to discover.
The continued land reclamation in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially during the period of Fascism, a support of an agrarian economy and the recent development of seaside resorts have imbued Maremmani with a dedication to safeguarding the quality of the area and a joyful sense of hospitality and sharing what they have rediscovered.
Events in the Maremma
Infiorata del Corpus Domini in Pitigliano – May or June, depending on Easter
On Corpus Christi, in an explosion of color, Pitigliano citizens lay petals onto special designs making up a 1500 m. carpet of flowers. Nine weeks after Easter, residents of all ages team up to create bright designs that often require 2 or 3 days to complete. Once completed, everyone follows a religious and costumed procession around the ancient town.
Lirica in Piazza in Massa Marittima – 3, 4, 5 August 2019
In early August open-air opera performances take place against a backdrop of Massa Marittima’s marvelous San Cerbone cathedral. Staging is creative if minimal, and the venue and performance standard are high. Each year features three famous lyric operas and performances are quickly sold out, so pre-booking is a must. Occuring in the heart of the historic centre, opera-goers have plenty of restaurants to choose from pre- or post- performance.
Palio Marinaro dell’Argentario in Porto Santo Stefano – 15 August
In this colorful sailors’ race 4 boats representing the town’s districts evoke the days when fishermen rowed to get away from pirates. Four tartarone, the traditional fishing boats from Porto Santo Stefano represent the historic districts in a competition which dates back to the 18th century. Each of the boats is named after a wind - the Maestrale, Grecale, Libeccio and Scirocco. Though the race occurs at 7:30 p.m. on August 15th, the week prior is full of celebration - dinners in the various neighborhoods and an historic court procession.
Vox Mundi Festival in Principina a Mare – 2 wks, July & August
This lively ‘Voices of the World Festival‘ brings cultural education, good food and some of the best folk music to a medieval coastal town. Principina a Mare, a Blue Flag coastal area due to its pristine waters, holds the concerts in a square surrounded by tall native Maremma pines and, following the concert, invites the audience to toast the performers with local wine and food.
Vinellando Wine Festival in Magliano in Toscana – End August
Beginning with a wine tasting to select the 3 best Morellino di Scansano wines of the year, the festival continues with 3 days of fun and food. Morellino di Scansano is one of Maremma's premium wines, which competes in world markets. Visitors can taste this as well as the white wines of the Maremma at stands in the historic centre of the walled city, accompanied by music throughout the evenings.
Sovana Medievale in Sovana – weekend in late June
In this ancient walled town the Middle Ages live again with costumed processions, a banquet, sound & light shows and medieval markets. Somewhat different from other Medieval fairs, here visitors are welcome to rent costumes of the Middle Ages and join in the pagentry. The walled village is a small, but the enthusiasm with which they celebrate for two days is abundant and contagious.
Morellino Classica Music Festival in Scansano – Dates May-Sept.
This array of classical music concerts are set in some of the Maremma’s most beautiful locations. Churches, historical sites and open-air venues (as pictured) welcome musicians well-known in Italy and abroad. The concert season is particularly long, good for visitors not visiting in high season, Check the 2019 programme here.
Rodeo of the Rose in Alberese – 15 August
The Maremma cowboys, the Butteri, meet to challenge each other’s riding ability and pluck red or yellow roses from their opponents. The competition, requiring strength, quick reflexes and a certain amount of courage, is held in Alberese within the Maremma Regional Park. The winning team is the one whose team members have managed to pluck the greatest number of 'roses' from the shoulders of their adversaries.
Festa delle Torri in Porto Santo Stefano – June
A sunset celebration of the ancient defensive watchtowers constructed on Monte Argentario show that smoke signals can still communicate. Fires on these towers set along the coast from Porto Santo Stefano to Porto Ercole once warned residents of Monte Argentario of encroaching danger. Happily, these commemorative fires are now a cause for celebration. The first smoke signals begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Fortezza Spagnola, the Spanish fortress, and are relayed along the promontory, with an evening of music to follow.
Amiata Piano Festival in Cinigiano – 27-30 June, 25-28 July & 29 Aug.
Only a few kilometers from Monte Amiata the keyboards and strings bring classical music to the mountain. The 2019 season (1 June-7 December) celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Festival with 15 concerts in the Forum Bertarelli's 300-seat auditorium built on a hilltop in Poggi del Sasso and surrounded by grapevines and endless olive groves. Check the 2019 programme here.
Le Notti dei Pirati in Porto Ercole – 3, 4 & 5 May 2019
Porto Ercole is fun for the whole family when the harbor and local streets become a pirates’ den. The seaside town is 'invaded' by pirates and duels, dress-up and treasure hunts ensue. Decidedly an event for the whole family, the party atmosphere continues by torchlight and amidst colored smoke with music, dances and parties.
Wild Boar Festival in Capalbio – 9-13 September 2020
In a town known as ‘Little Athens’ for its Renaissance importance, the wild boar is the star of this yearly food festival, but not the only attraction. Coming up on their 55th annual event, the walled town with beautiful views of the sea sets up stands and picnic-style tables in the historic centre and serves Maremma specialities and local wines to all who come with an appetite.
Things to do in the Maremma
Let you inner child delight in the Tarot Garden of Niki de Saint Phalle near Capalbio. Huge ceramic and glass mosaic sculptures tucked into a woodland tarot garden will delight the whole family. The artist lived in the sparkling sphinx while she supervised the building of the garden and one can only imagine the delight with which she saw the colourful shapes take place.
Meet a Maremma Cowboy, or Buttero, and his longhorns in the equestrian shows at the Fattoria del Marruchetone or hard at work in the National Park near Albarese. The buttero or Maremma cowboy, dates back to the 15th century when former mercenaries transferred their skills to the land and livestock. While the herds of Maremma longhorns are now smaller in number, present day butteri still keep local traditions alive with shows that are good family entertainment.
Throw a towel on any of the Maremma’s Blue Flag beaches: The Marinas of Grosseto or Alberese, Baratti, Castiglione della Pescaia or the sandy beaches around Orbetello’s lagoon are all good places to spend a few hours by the sea. Often be bordered by long strips of Mediterranean pines, the beaches will likely have both beach resorts that provide umbrellas and sun beds as well as 'free' stretches of beach where you can bring your own.
Sample wine in the Renzo Piano-designed winery near Gavorrano. Rocca di Frassinello is a stunning winery with a surprising cellar where fine wine ages in style. Driving along the highway it is almost hard to spot it sitting low in the lanscape among the vines near the village of Giuncarico. But the visit is worth the trip, be it to try any of their six wines (5 red, 1 white) or perhaps enjoy an event in the cantina surrounded by barrels of maturing wine.
Discover Monte Amiata by traveling over and into it. Whether skiing, hiking, cycling, climbing or horse riding, Mount Amiata is the place to venture for all who love sport. And on family summer outings one can even take to the trees in the IndianaPark Amiata. In the mountainside beech and spruce woods tree-climbers from 5 yrs. upwards can test their spirit of adventure on climbing routes between the trees.
Get to know the Etruscans via an important Etruscan settlement near Populonia and the Gulf of Baratti or the magnificent painted tombs of Tarquina. Much of what is known of this culture pre-dating the Romans is thanks to its burial grounds. The Baratti and Populonia Archeological Park is an excellent stop for the whole family and happily is right across the road from the gentle Gulf where the water is calm even when the sea is rough.
Relax in Nature’s spa in the hot springs of Saturnia where people splash in the cascading waters all year round, and a full-service spa is near by. Take a few tips on visiting from an insider.
Bathing at the Saturnia hot springs
Towns & Sites
The capital of a province and the heart of the Tuscan Maremma, Grosseto’s modern sprawl has at its centre a charming hexagonal walled nucleus dating from 1138. From Piazza Dante outward its streets are perfect for strolling, shopping and discovery. Its centre is only 15 minutes from the nearest beach so it is not surprising that this capital has a relaxed air about it.
In inland Maremma Pitigliano is one of the most breathtakingly positioned cities you will find. Stretched along a tufa ridge, it is a wonderful ancient maze of cobbled streets. Once home to Tuscany’s only Jewish Ghetto, a site which is still a fascinating place to visit, the town has a timelessness about it, not to mention good restaurants and impressive monuments.
As a producer of one of Italy’s premier wines, Morellino di Scansano, this town is on many a wine tour. An Aldobrandeschi fortress in the 13th century, it has gently settled into the modern age with ease. It sits on an outcrop atop a wooded gorge, seemingly set apart from Tuscan neighbors. Yet the natives are friendly and its Teatro Castagnoli is a much appreciated music venue throughout the summer.
Castiglione della Pescaia
A charming seaside village on the Tyrrhenian coast, Castiglione is a summer 2nd home for many Sienese. Deservedly so, for its delicious seafood, lively harbor, crystalline waters and long stretches of sandy pine tree-lined beaches make it a mecca for anyone yearning for the sea. Being a seaside town, in previous centuries it was vulnerable to roving pirates, hence its towered walls and 15th century castle.
Magliano in Toscana
Encircled by monumental walls, intact and dating to the mid-15th C, the charming Magliano in Toscana has restaurants, wine bars and summer festivals that keep it lively. In its setting of timeless oaks and Mediterranean shrubs, one has feet in both the past and present. And despite the vineyard and olive groves that surround it, it lies less than 20 minutes from the coast.
Two stretches of land connecting Monte Argentario to the mainland have transformed it from an island to a promontory. Already of interest to the Etruscans in the 3rd C. B.C., its exquisite beaches, warm waters and two ports – Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole still attract. Orbetello, an elegant small town sitting on a narrow strip of land between the mainland and Argentario is delightful for its shopping as well of the lagoon which surrounds it, home to pink flamingoes and white herons alike.
Sorano & Sovana
Close in geographical distance, these towns leave very different impressions. Sorano (pictured) is grand and its countryside is the mecca of archeologists. Tiny Sovana instead is a gimmick-free time capsule of the Middle Ages. The ‘Vie Cave‘ nearby is a walk not to be missed for it takes you through deep cuts in the tufo stone where weathered ruts in the road and carved walls let you know people trod the same path in past millennia.
The highest mountain in southern Tuscany, Monte Amiata is a long dormant volcano dome whose gentle slopes are known for its chestnuts, grapevines, olive trees and fascinating towns home to miners, artists, religious zealots and those who love the great outdoors. Towns to visit between 600-800 metres include
Abbadia San Salvatore, Arcidosso, Castel del Piano, Piancastagnaio, Santa Fiora and Seggiano.
Known as the ‘Noble daughter’ of Pisa and Siena, this powerful medieval city was valued for the mineral hills that surround it as well as its architectural beauty. Massa Marittima is an elegant city which views its setting from on high and happily shares its festivities with all visitors. A must for opera-lovers are the summer open-air performances, Lirica in Piazza, held at the base of the Cathedral.
Isola del Giglio
Though the Island of Giglio, which sits in the center of the Tyrrhenian Sea, is easily reached from Porto Santo Stefano on Monte Argentario, in many senses it is a self-sufficient island. With 28 kms. of coastline and a landscape that is 90% unspoiled, this is a refreshing retreat to the best Nature has to offer.
Food & wine
Mare e monti, or ‘Surf ‘n Turf’ is the order of Maremma cooking, for this territory offers the best of both meat and seafood dishes. Depending on where you find yourself, a menu might include these favourite Maremma dishes:
Appetizers– Coldcuts featuring sausage of cinghiale (wild boar) or finocchiona, fennel-flavoured.; Maremma pecorino, sheep cheese, with amber Marruca honey from Maremma shrubland; Anguilla affumicata, smoked or marianated eel which comes from the lagoons of Orbetello. As always, the important thing with an appetizer is that it awakens taste buds for what is to come.
First courses– Acquacotta, literaly ‘cooked water’, is a hearty vegetable soup topped with eggs; Ravioli Maremmani are the generous pillows of pasta filled with ricotta and lathered with ragù or dressed with butter, sage and parmesan; Cacciucco or fish stew; Spaghetti allo scoglio, featuring clams, mussels and shrimp; Zuppe di cozze, mussels with tomato sauce over bread; Penne all’astrice, short pasta with lobster; Spaghetti alla Bottarga, pasta with shavings of salted/dried mullet roe.
Main courses– Scottiglia, a mixed stew of veal, pork, chick, turkey rabbit & lamb; Buglione di agnello, lamb stew from Pitigliano; Palamita, a fish in the tuna/mackerel family often served as a slice on fennel and orange salad dressed with wild fennel sauce; Frittura di mare, freshly fried shrimp and squid rings; Various fish, including: Branzino (Sea bass), Orata (Sea bream), Pesce spade (swordfish), Dentice (Red snapper)
Desserts– Ciaffagnone, a crepe especially popular in Manciano served with powdered sugar; Castagnaccio, flat cake of chestnut flour from Mt. Amiata; Panficato, a traditional Giglio Island loaf of wine-soaked figs, nuts, and chocolate; Sfratto, the cigar-shaped biscuit from Pitigliano’s Jewish bakeries with unleavened dough, around a filling of chopped walnuts, honey, orange peel and nutmeg.
Wines: Viticulture has gained more importance in this area as people realize the potential of the favorable climate and rich soils that produce good-quality wine. In 2011 the Maremma Toscana DOC was created and most recently there are two ‘wine roads’ or itineraries one could follow: The Montecucco or Colli di Maremma itineraries.
The Montecucco DOC wines include reds, whites, pre-dinner Vermentino and Rossato wines, as well as Vin Santo and Occhio di Pernice dessert wines. In the Colli di Maremma or Maremma hills, you come across REDS such as Morellino di Scansano, Sovana DOC, Capalbio DOC, Parrina DOC in the Orbetello area, whereas WHITES include Bianco Pitigliano, Capalbio White and Vin Santo, Parrina White and Vin Santo, Ansonia DOC from the Argentario coast.
MONDAYS -Porto Ercole, Capalbio Scalo, Massa Marittima
TUESDAYS – Albarese, Capalbio, Porto S. Stefano, Sorano
WEDNESDAYS – Pitigliano, Magliano in Toscana, Fonteblanda, Civitella Paganico
THURSDAYS – Grosseto, Isola del Giglio, Talamone
FRIDAYS – Albinia, Scansano, Isola del Giglio, Vetulonia
SATURDAYS – Castiglione della Pescaia, Orbetello, Paganico, Manciano
Locanda nel Cassero – Civitella Marittima, Tel: +39 0564 900680
Aurora – Magliano in Toscana, Tel: +39 0564 592030
Da Caino– Montemerano, Manciano, Tel: +39 0564 602817 or 327 3594882
Osteria Sapori di Maremma– Castiglione della Pescaia, Tel: +39 0564 933629 or 340 2643541
Gambero Rosso – Porto Ercole, Tel: +39 0564 832650
Trattoria Il Moletto– Porto S, Stefano, Tel: +39 0564 813636
La Tavernetta– Campiglia Marittima, Tel: +39 0565 838853
La Porta – Capalbio, Tel: +39 0564 896311
Antica Fattoria La Parrina – Parrina, Orbetello, Tel: +39 0564 862626
I Pescatori, Orbetello, Tel: +39 0564 860611
Trattoria Il Grillo– Pitigliano, Tel: +39 0564 615202
La Locanda de’ Medici– Grosseto, Tel: +39 0564 410744
La Vecchia Pergola– Isola del Giglio, Tel: +39 0564 809080
Rifrullo– Scansano, Tel: +39 0564 507183
Cantina L’Ottava Rima– Sorano, Tel: +39 349 8024196
Caffe Sant’Angelo–S,ant’Angelo Scalo, Tel: +39 340 8305269