12 things to do in Maremma Tuscany

Personal picks from a part-time local

Alexandra Korey
July 4, 2018 - 21:53

Maremma is what you make it. It’s not an area with a ton of must-sees, which may be why this busy art lover finds it so appealing. On crossing the invisible border past Siena, moving towards Grosseto, during my almost weekly drives from Florence to Maremma, I instantly feel happy and relaxed.

Maremma has a fascinating history: the numerous Etruscan, and later Roman, settlements were abandoned in the Middle Ages, and the swampy land became malaria-ridden and impossible to cultivate. The bonifica, or draining, began in the 18th century under Hapsburg-Lorraine rule, but was only completed after World War II. This makes for an area that is still rather wild and undiscovered; the landscape is primarily agricultural and the only large city for miles around is Grosseto. Summer visitors clog the coast, enjoying the clean water when it’s too hot to think about doing anything else but going to the beach. But I’m not one for lying still, and so have made a habit out of finding other things to do in Maremma Tuscany. This is my very personal list.

 

My personal Maremma to-do list

 

1/See the pink flamingos

Ph. Fabio Cianchi

 

This is not the Caribbean. You’re at Diaccia Botrona provincial nature reserve, a flat saltwater wetlands right near the beach area of Castiglione della Pescaia. Birds of every sort flourish here, but the biggest draw is the pink flamingos, which gather in large groups and hang around on one leg waiting for you to spy on them from the birding huts that are conveniently located nearby. Start your visit at the Museum of Casa Ximenes, a landmark red building that houses an interesting multimedia explanation of the geography of this part of Tuscany. Then take a guided boat tour of the reserve (daily at 5pm in the summer) where the knowledgeable rangers, armed with binoculars, will show you some of the area’s amazing wildlife. Don’t worry about mosquitoes: the saltwater and birds keep them away!

Maremma is what you make it... it’s not an area with a ton of must-sees.

 

 

2/Time travel

The Lago di Pellicone at Vulci | Ph. @arttrav

 

Granted, the heat of the summer is not the best time to explore Etruscan ruins; it’s more of an off-season activity. But if it’s cloudy enough, take your pick of Vetulonia, Roselle, Vulci or Populonia (depending on how far up or down the coast you are) and step back into more mysterious times. Cumulus tombs, Roman roads, pottery shards and other features hint at life in Maremma more than 2,000 years ago. At Vulci, don’t miss the “devil’s” bridge, one of many medieval bridges locally with this name.

 

 

3/Read your cards

Niki de Saint Phalle's mosaic park | Ph. @arttrav


You don’t have to be psychic to fall for Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, an insane art park in the southernmost part of the Tuscan Maremma. The French-American sculptor famous for her large-scale mosaic pieces was inspired by Gaudì on a visit to Barcelona’s Park Güell in 1955 and for years dreamed of creating a magical place for her sculptures on the Tarot theme. Her wish came through when friends with land in Maremma gave her the opportunity to build there. The park draws large crowds and is only open in the afternoons; it’s wise to arrive before opening time, armed with a sun hat and water.

 

4/Drink it in

Petra Winery |ph. Alexandra Korey


Maremma offers a more temperate climate than further inland thanks to its closeness to the coast. Being a relatively recently developed part of Tuscany, its wines are less famous than the likes of nearby Montalcino. But they’re catching up quickly: in Maremma there’s one DOCG, seven DOCs, two IGTs and three wine roads. Two summertime whites to try: Bianco di Pitigliano and Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario.

Wine tourism might just be getting started here, but down the coast there are wineries with regular tours and a few spectacular archistar buildings have cropped up, amongst them the dazzling Petra at Suvereto and Renzo Piano’s Rocca di Frassinello, near Gavorrano.

 

 

5/More birds

Bee-Eater Birds in Maremma | Ph. Fabio Cianchi


Check out the two WWF-managed nature reserves, Lago di Burano and Laguna di Orbetello, although it’s better in the winter when Maremma is a winter migration stop for numerous bird species, mostly from Northern Europe, which appreciate the area’s warmer climate. From autumn to spring, you’re likely to see ducks of every type, graceful herons (white and grey), black cormorants, falcons, kingfishers and the always appealing pink flamingo. The parks are involved in an important project to breed and release into the wild the Northern bald ibis, which was on the verge of extinction 400 years ago and is beginning to make a slow appearance again. Guided tours are available in both parks year-round.

 

 

6/Tufa towns

Pitigliano | Ph. @arttrav



Pitigliano is one of the most picturesque small towns in Tuscany. While many are perched on a hilltop, this one appears to be growing out of the tufa stone that supports it. This is Etruscan territory, just a few kilometers from the Vie Cave; the tufa caves that were once Etruscan tombs were later re-adapted as wine cellars, and some can be visited on special walking tours. History shows in layers in this town, with a medieval church, a 16th-century aqueduct and an important Jewish ghetto. Sample a few local delicacies: sfratto dei goym is a nut and honey filled loaf, while migliaccio are crepes served with various fillings.

 

7/Attractive Aperitivos

Il Frantoio, Capalbio | Ph. @helencfarrell



If nightlife and fruity drinks are your idea of a good time, fear not: there are plenty of options for aperitivo time with a sea view. The cool kids sport their tattoos at Nano Verde in the Sterpaia natural park, halfway between Follonica and Piombino. At Castiglione della Pescaia’s central Lo Skipper, come sundown, the chic bathing establishment on the boardwalk serves prosecco (and more) while you lounge on their faux-leather couches on the sand. A visit to Capalbio would not be complete without a refreshing Spritz or niche local wine at the town's popular hangout, Il Frantoio.

 

8/Hop on board(s)

Ph. KiteBeach Fiumara


If playing “beached whale” isn’t your thing, there are myriad board sports that make the best of the sand and water. Kite surfing is the top activity at Fiumara (Kitebeachfiumara is a school on the beach between Grosseto and Castiglione della Pescaia), where the wind is pretty much guaranteed after 3pm. This sport’s worth watching, from a distance. Most of the larger resorts down the coast have surf and sailing schools where you can rent or learn how to use small sail boats, windsurfs and SUP boards.

 

9/Beach food

The best fried calamari spot in Castiglione della Pescaia | Ph. @webtommy

 

When on the beach, eat beach food! For me there’s no better fried calamari than that of the fishmonger (Mauro e Andreia) who sets up in the parking lot adjacent to the market of Castiglione della Pescaia. The ample portions of deep fried goodness are served scalding hot from 11am to 1pm Monday through Saturday. Grab one of the sought-after plastic chairs near the fish hut or stake out a perch on the water-less cement fountain behind. Resisting long enough to reach someplace with a decent view is not humanly possible.

 

 

10/Soak in sulphur

Terme di Saturnia - Cascate del Mulino


Visits to the thermal baths are winter rituals that date back to Roman times. Saturnia, Sorano, Venturina and Petriolo are the main natural warm pools. Saturnia is the most developed, with a luxurious hotel and numerous water features, but also a famous free bathing area that has crowd control issues. Further up, the warm stream at Petriolo is nestled in woods under the Siena-Grosseto highway and attracts a bohemian crew. (Plans are underway to develop the Petriolo spa resort.)

 

 

11/Wildlife and where to find it

Ph. Linda Norcini

 


Any night-time drive in Maremma is an occasion to count the wildlife that crosses in front of the car, testing the speed of your reactions and the quality of your brakes. Wild boar might make a special appearance, while red foxes, deer, occasional wild goats and porcupines are par for the course. Wildlife that doesn’t risk being killed can be visited in the Parco della Maremma.

 

12/Eat locally

Asparagus from Maremma | Ph. @arttrav

 

Finding local producers requires time, effort and research. Numerous farmers sell direct, without signs and down unpaved roads, but you need to be tipped off by people in the know.


Irma the asparagus grower and Rita the flowers-and-whatever’s-in-season lady are two of my “suppliers”. A recent find is the buffalo mozzarella farm and cheese shop La Maremmana (on the road towards Principina Terra from Grosseto), whose ricotta is among the best in Tuscany.

 

 

Errata corrige, July 4, 2018: A version of this article appeared in the summer 2018 print edition of The Florentine, with photo credits erroneously omitted. 

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