Maremma holiday guide

Written by Donald Strachan, Italy specialist and Travel Writer for The Guardian.

Art & architecture

For centuries, the Maremma was a provincial backwater—and it still is. Isolation kept many of its ancient sites safe from builders in search of ready-made materials.

The Tomba Ildebranda, is a large Etruscan tomb and ritual complex carved from the soft tufa rock during the 2nd or 3th century BC. A well-signposted network of vie cave—walkways cut deep into the rock—radiates from the site.

There are further Etruscan remains, including monumental tombs, at the open-air archaeological site of Vetulonia. At Roselle, a once-powerful Etruscan city was invaded and developed by Romans—evidence of both occupants remains.

  • Don't miss

    Exploring the steep streets and unusual museums, then eating in one of Italy's smallest Slow Food restaurants, in Massa Marittima

    Bathing—for free—in turquoise sulphurous hot springs of Saturnia

    Discovering a unique mix of Etruscan and Jewish heritage in and around Pitigliano

    Tomba Ildebranda, beside SS22 west of Sovana, tel. 0564/633023

    Vetulonia, address, tel. 0564/949587; closed Tuesdays and Sundays in winter, Tuesdays and Thursdays otherwise

    Roselle, Via dei Ruderi, Roselle, tel. 0564/402403

Eating and drinking

Most trattorias and small-town restaurants in the Maremma serve a mix of local and classic Tuscan dishes. Acquacotta (literally, 'cooked water') is a typical Maremman first course, a peasant stew made with seasonal vegetables.

Game is at the heart of traditional Maremman secondi (main courses); cinghiale (wild boar) is a favourite. Don't be surprised to find olives in stews as well as in oil—some versions of hunters' stew cinghiale alla maremmana include them.

The best place for a refined-rustic take on Maremman cooking is at La Tana del Brillo Parlante, in Massa Marittima. The place seats fewer than twenty diners—booking is essential.

The Alta Maremma's best wine comes from the hills around Scansano. Morellino di Scansano is a DOCG (Italy's highest rating) wine made from Tuscany's native, robust red grape, Sangiovese.

  • Don't miss

    La Tana del Brillo Parlante, Vicolo Ciambellano 4, Massa Marittima, tel. 0566/901274; closed Wednesdays

Local towns and villages

Like Orvieto, in Umbria, Pitigliano perches dramatically on a ridge of honeycombed tufa rock. (Approach it from the south-west, from Manciano for an unforgettable first sight of the place.) Its buildings are tightly stacked, like a stone house of cards. The bottom layer seems to grow from living stone.

Even in the height of high season, its narrow Medieval lanes offer an escape from the crowds, despite the Etruscan remains in the surrounding countryside.

The town has an unusual back-story. The Orsini nobles welcomed a large Jewish community to Pitigliano, after Papal Bulls in 1555 and 1569 effectively expelled the Jews from Rome. The nickname La Piccola Gerusalemme—'Little Jerusalem'—stuck, and Jews made up around 12 percent of the population by the 1800s.

The former ghetto remains, a tight, multi-storey warren of lanes and houses, a matzo oven (last used in 1939), the Museo della Cultura Ebraica, and its synagogue, established in 1598 and restored in the 1990s.

The split personality of Massa Marittima was established in the 1330s, when Siena invaded this prosperous mining town.

Built before the invasion, the Città Vecchia (Old Town) centres on Piazza Garibaldi and the Cattedrale di San Cerbone. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Cerbonius, a former Bishop of Populonia who led a gaggle of geese to St. Peter's, in Rome. The saint's story is told in stone, on an abundantly carved Romanesque façade.

Up a steep hill, the Sienese laid out their Città Nuova (New Town) like a small grid, behind vast Gothic fortifications. The Torre del Candeliere originally dates a little further back—to 1228—and was originally built to help keep the Sienese (and others) out.

  • Don't miss

    La Piccola Gerusalemme & Museo della Cultura Ebraica, Vicolo Marghera, off Via Zuccarelli, Pitigliano, tel. 328/1907173; closed Saturdays

    Cattedrale di San Cerbone, Piazza Garibaldi, Massa Marittima

    Torre del Candeliere, Piazza Matteotti, Massa Marittima, tel. 0566/902289; closed Mondays, except in summer

The ourdoors

There is no shortage of peace and quiet: you'll probably have the Maremma's walking trails to yourself.

Over two thousand years ago, the Etruscans dug a network of sunken roads—the vie cave—into soft tufa rock around Pitigliano. Quite what the routes' original use was, no one is quite sure. They are open to walkers today.

A layer of geothermal waters underpins much of the region. The waters surface at thermal spas all over the Maremma.

Just outside Saturnia, the sulphurous waters emerge, at 37C, in a turquoise waterfall pockmarked with bathing pools. It's open-air and free (and therefore busy at weekends)—the ideal spot to soak weary walkers' feet.

From pretty much anywhere in the Maremma, the beaches of the Tuscan coast are a short drive away.

  • Don't miss

    Saturnia hot springs, beside SP10 about one mile outside Saturnia, on road to Montemerano

Museums

For such a small town, Massa Marittima has a rich crop of museums. At the Museo d'Arte Sacra, prize exhibit is a Maestà by the leading Sienese painter of the Medieval period, Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

The hills around Massa are rich in metal ores such as copper and silver—hence the name, the Colline Metallifere, or 'Metalliferous Hills'.

Massa was a mining centre for centuries. Its Museo della Miniera operates a tour of the town's mining heritage—one of history's first mining codes was drafted here in the 1200s—as well as a walk along a convincing 700m stretch of replica mining tunnels.

At the Museo degli Organi the extraordinary collection of mechanical organs and pianofortes dates back to the 1600s. The instruments are restored to working order on-site—you might be lucky enough to get a demo.

Grosseto's Museo Archeologico della Maremma exhibits finds from the Maremma. The nucleus of the collection is discoveries from the former Etruscan (and, later, Roman) city of Roselle.

  • Don't miss

    Museo d'Arte Sacra, Corso Diaz 36, Massa Marittima, tel. 0566/901808; closed Mondays

    Museo della Miniera, Via Corridoni, Massa Marittima, tel. 0566/902289, www.coopcollinemetallifere.it/musei; closed Mondays

    Museo degli Organi, Corso Diaz 28, Massa Marittima, tel. 0566/940282, www.museodegliorgani.it; closed Mondays, and altogether from mid-January to the end of February<7

    Museo Archeologico della Maremma, Piazza Baccarini 3, Grosseto, tel. 0564/488750, http://maam.comune.grosseto.it; closed Mondays

Maremma map Maremma Maremma Maremma

Key contacts

Most of the major towns in the Maremma have a tourist office. In Massa Marittima, it is at Via Todini 3, tel. 0566/902756, www.altamaremmaturismo.it, e. info@altamaremmaturismo.it. The tourist office in Pitigliano is at Piazza Garibaldi 51, tel. 0564/617111, e. iat@comune.pitigliano.gr.it (usually open Friday to Sunday only in winter).

Airports

Pisa (PSA - Galileo Galilei) is Tuscany´s international airport, located about 40 minutes´drive west of Florence. Florence (FRL - Peretola), north-west of the city, is a smaller airport receiving domestic and European flights.

If your villa is in southern or eastern Tuscany, one of Rome´s two airports may be a more practical option: Fiumicino (FCO) is the larger, for international flights; Ciampino (CIA) has a fewer facilities and caters to the discounters and smaller European airlines. Both are just off Rome´s ring road, the GRA, and convenient to all the motorways.

The little airport at Perugia (PEG - Sant´Egidio), in Umbria, is convenient fr eastern Tuscany and receives domestic italian flights and discout airlines from UK.

Insider tip

The Maremma's crop of small-town museums is quite different to the Tuscan norm, wall-to-wall painting and sculpture. For more ideas, see www.museidellamaremma.it.