Grosseto was my first taste of Southern Tuscany. My uncle and I had stopped to get some paperwork and we couldn’t remember where we parked the car. We walked around for hours lost and I remember I had my nose in the AC Milan soccer magazine my uncle had bought me. It was 2006 and everyone was into soccer after the World Cup!
The city felt so big and so quintessentially Italian, and even though I’ve visited it many times since, I still think of Grosseto the same way I did as a teenager on that gorgeous summer’s afternoon when I was too busy ogling beautiful soccer players to help my uncle find our car.
Grosseto was the capital of the Province of Grosseto until the beginning of the year when the Italian government dissolved all the provinces. Now it’s just the symbolic capital of a part of Southern Tuscany known colloquially as the Maremma.
Grosseto isn’t really a city. It’s more of a large town, which makes me to wonder how my uncle and I could ever have lost our car! I am utterly biased because Grosseto has always enchanted me and even my uncle, who has seen a plethora of European cities, loves Grosseto because it has this sophisticated vibe. I almost want to call it a mini Paris – even though it has none of the attractions or extravagance. It just has this cosmopolitan atmosphere that entices you to join the locals for a stroll down the main strip.
Grosseto is quite an old city, but was destroyed numerous times by invaders, malaria and more recently WWII bombings. The locals like to say the Americani built it – a bitter reminder of the U.S. air force bases that cover the surrounding territory, but Grosseto is not some ’60s mod-city. It stands out for its simple elegance, beautiful shops and lovely green spaces.
Every time I visit Grosseto, I make a beeline for Piazza Dante. The city’s main piazza is at the end of a very long strip of stores. Some of them are your typical shopping centre fare, but there is a bookshop that I absolutely adore. It’s called Libreria Palomar and it’s in this amazing Harry Potter-esque palazzo with high ceilings and wood paneling. It stocks a small range of English books. I bought a beautiful illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland there and then left on the plane a couple of years ago… 🙁
A few stores back is a pizzeria that makes incredible pizza al taglio – giant slices of pizza sold takeaway for as little as €1. I always buy the sausage and potato one, but they also make a delicious onion version! If you’re very lucky, you can also get a slice of mascarpone and nutella dessert pizza, which is my fondest memory of Grosseto.
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Piazza Dante when the giant Duomo rises to your left and you’re face to face with a peculiar statue of a man embracing a child with a snake under one foot. That’s Il Canapone! The saviour of the Maremma or, more historically accurate, the man who financed the 18th century draining that finally cured the Maremma of malaria. The woman hugging his legs represents the Maremma. The snake represents malaria and the baby represents new life. He was called Il Canapone because he had a thick head of red hair, which was very unusual for an Italian.
The Duomo is no Duomo of Florence, but it’s the biggest church in the Maremma and a nice place to sit and genuflect. I usually run straight for Gelateria 0564, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the best gelateria in Tuscany. Everything is homemade and the flavours are utterly left field. On my last visit, I had chocolate and chilli and passionfruit for just €1.80! I’m still dreaming about it.
Most tourists end their visit here, but if you wander through the streets around the back of the Duomo, you’ll stumble across some really cute boutiques and jewellery stores and one of the cutest card stores in the area. If you keep walking, you’ll hit the outer walls. Parts of them can be walked and the watchtower has become an open garden/exhibition space and is also the tourist information centre. The wall was built by the Sienese in the 15th century in a vain attempt to turn the city into a fortified bastion. It didn’t hold up to the Medici’s assault and was effectively a waste of gold coins!
Grosseto has the Maremma’s biggest and best museums. The art and archaeology museum is the highlight and is a complete history on the Etruscans and Ancient Romans who inhabited the area. Even if you’re not into history, there is a fantastic room filled with statues of all the Roman emperors. They make some pretty impressive busts.
Grosseto deserves at least a day, but if you want to stay overnight, there are plenty of gorgeous beaches within arm’s reach, not to mention the Maremma National Park.