Road tripping the Maremma
by Elisa Scarton Detti
The Maremma is Tuscany undiscovered. An intrepid traveller can lose days meandering through its sunflower covered fields, beautifully preserved towns and hidden archaeological treasures.
With no connecting train line and limited bus services, the Maremma is best explored by car. If driving in Italy sounds nerve wracking, don’t worry. This corner of Southern Tuscany is quiet and sparsely trafficked.
With that in mind, here are three mini road trips that can easily be covered in a day with plenty of time for sightseeing and eating… of course.
Itinerary 1 – seeking relaxation in the fiora valley
Length: 19 km
The Fiora Valley is for farmers and foragers. For centuries, its rich volcanic soil provided much of the province’s fresh vegetables and grains, its sunflowers and tomatoes.
In recent years, many farmers have lain down their hoes to open B&Bs and agriturismi, but the area is still vibrant with an agrarian charm and hospitable locals.
Start your road trip early, but unforgettably, with a morning dip in the Saturnia. hot springs. The Times, BBC and Lonely Planet have all named these natural sulphuric springs among the world’s best.
Time and budget permitting, you can soak up the splendour at the luxurious Terme di Saturnia spa for €22 or swim for free at the Cascate del Mulino hot springs. Both are located on the SP10 just outside of Saturnia and both have ample parking and the spectacular 37°C (98°F) warm water that makes them one of Tuscany’s biggest drawcards.
For centuries these hot springs have been purported to have mild curative properties and are considered a great natural exfoliator. Unsurprisingly, they’re extremely popular, so it’s best to visit in the early morning before the crowds arrive.
Once you’ve towelled off, hop back in the car and head down the SP10 and SP159 for Montemerano. This medieval village mightn’t look like much from the outside, but it was recently named one of the borghi più belli dell’Italia (Italy’s most beautiful villages), and for good reason.
Montemerano started life as little more than a garrison for the 12th century soldiers of the Maremma’s first ruling family, the Aldobrandeschi. As time passed and rulers changed, Montemerano managed to maintain much of its original beauty. Piazza Castello is its heart, but the cobblestone streets that are lovingly swept by the elderly residents who have lived here for generations are just as enticing.
Wander down Via Italia for souvenirs or lunch at one of Montemerano’s family-owned osterias. The town’s speciality is tripe cooked in tomato sauce with plenty of Parmesan cheese.
With full bellies and an afternoon ahead of you, make the 11-minute drive on the SP159 to Manciano, the cultural capital of the Fiora Valley.
Its newly renovated Museo di Preistoria e Protostoria is open on weekends or upon request and is one of the few museums in Italy to have something from every era of pre-civilisation. The museum has been designed to excite even the youngest visitors with a special children’s itinerary, led by museum mascot, Lucy. Entry is €2.
As the sun sets, meander up Via Marsala to Piazza Garibaldi and Manciano’s cassero or fortress. From here you can take in views that stretch all the way to the Argentario Coast and Amiata Mountain. End your road trip with a thin-crust pizza at one of Manciano’s many pizzerias.
Itinerary 2 – Hunting history in the Città del Tufo
Length: 19 km
The Città del Tufo breathe an ancient air. Long before the rise of Rome, these towns were home to a civilisation known as the Etruscans. The Etruscans were artists and linguists, perfecting the skills of wine and jewellery making they learnt from the Ancient Greeks and selling their wares all over the ancient world.
Today, the modern Città del Tufo thrive around the roads, necropolises and caves built by their Etruscan ancestors.
Start your road trip in Sovana, the smallest of the Città del Tufo, located on the SP22. To the Etruscans, she was Suana, a city famed for her silks and ceramics. Centuries later, she gave birth to the Maremma’s only pope, Pope Gregory VII, before falling victim to malaria and a slow, but steady depopulation..
Cruelly, its decline is our delight as the town has preserved much of its Renaissance splendour. Lose hours admiring the modern artisans as they work with the same reds, yellows and blues that made Suana an Etruscan artist’s haven or head straight for the Duomo, the only example of Romanesque and Gothic religious architecture left in the Maremma.
From Sovana, it’s a short 13-minute drive down SP22 to Sorano, the second Città del Tufo. If time permits, detour to the Parco Archeologico Città del Tufo, a magnificent open-air park that preserves the Maremma’s most spectacular Etruscan tombs. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as the tombs are located deep in the forest. Entry is €5.
Back in Sorano, park in front of Fortezza Orsini on Via Cavour. The town takes its name for the Etruscan-Faliscan god Pater Soranus who spent eternity in the mountains. It’s a fitting choice as Sorano teeters above a crossroads of rivers surrounded by valleys of trees and open fields.
If military history is your cup of tea, book a guided tour of Fortezza Orsini at the tourist information centre. Sorano is one of the few Maremman cities to have never been invaded, thanks to this fortress and its maze of underground tunnels.
Otherwise sneak in a quick lunch at one of Sorano’s trattorias before taking the SS74 Maremmana to Pitigliano. The last of Città del Tufo has artistic heritage for days, so you want to spend a full afternoon here.
Legends tell of two Roman brothers who stole a crown and hid in the hills of the Maremma, gathering shepherds and farmers for protection. Their names were Petilio and Ciliano and they are the city’s namesakes.
Since the age of the Etruscans, Pitigliano dug its homes and streets straight out of its tufa rock cliff. The effect is enchanting, especially at night when the city looks like it’s floating in air.
In more modern times, Pitigliano provided refuge to a vast Jewish community. For that it was nicknamed, Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem. You can visit what remains of the Jewish ghetto and its museum every day except Saturday. Entry is €5. You can also explore more of Pitigliano’s cultural heritage at the Musei di Palazzo Orsini.
Just be sure to save some time for Pitigliano’s enotecas (wine bars) and restaurants. The city has a vibrant nightlife and some of the province’s best cellars. The DOC Bianco di Pitigliano is the perfect end to the day’s road trip and the perfect complement to the local delicacy lo sfratto – a honey and almond biscuit that blends Jewish and Italian flavours.
Itinerary 3 – Cruising down the Argentario Coast
Finish: Porto Santo Stefano
Length: 18 km son the Strada Provinciale, and 41 km on the Via Panoramica
The Maremma’s coastline mightn’t be as famous as the Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast, but it has its fair share of calm waters and isolated beaches that are perfect for families and solitude-seeking couples alike.
Before you hit the water, start your road trip in Orbetello. This town by the lagoon is the perfect spot for the quintessential Tuscan breakfast, a custard filled cornetto (Italian croissant) and cappuccino on Corso Italia.
Orbetello has some of the Maremma’s chicest home and clothing stores, as well as some of its most beautiful buildings. The city was shaped by the Stato dei Presidi, a stand-alone state ruled by the Spanish kings of the 16th century. On either side of town is the Lago dell’Orbetello, a bird watcher’s paradise and nature reserve.
Head onto the SS440 to reach Porto Ercole. This small, but picturesque port town is surrounded by Spanish-built forts and breathtaking beaches. In the Old Town, you can follow the last steps of Italian painter Caravaggio, who famously died here in 1610 or take to the boardwalk and try the town’s signature gelato, la creola, made from chestnut puree and dark chocolate.
The Argentario Coast is full of afternoon possibilities. You can follow the Via Panoramica, a beautiful, but unpaved road to Porto Santo Stefano with plenty of hidden beaches and photographic points. The road can be tight and winding, so take it with caution and only if you don’t get carsick.
Otherwise you can head back down the SS440 to Porto Santo Stefano. The Maremma’s biggest port town is the departure point for ferries to Giglio Island and Giannutri Island. You can pick up tickets for €14 return on the boardwalk.
If you don’t feel like island hopping, you can spend the rest of the day lounging at Porto Santo Stefano’s beaches, which are on the main road just before town. Or head up the winding streets to the spectacular Fortezza Spagnola and its Museo del Mare, a maritime museum dedicated to the town’s rich sailing history and centuries of shipwrecks, some of which date back to the Etruscan era.
A day on the coast wouldn’t be complete without a seafood dinner and Porto Santo Stefano has plenty to tempt the tastebuds. Don’t go home before you’ve tried spaghetti allo scoglio, a local speciality made with the day’s catch of shellfish.
Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, fell in love (how cliché?) and decided to stick around. Not one to keep amazing holiday destinations to herself, she now writes a blog (www.maremma-tuscany.com) and travel guide about the infinitely beautiful Maremma, Tuscany