When people say that the Maremma is a secluded paradise still true to the traditional way of life, they really mean it. Search for it on Google and most of the results will be about the Maremman sheepdog. It’s a mystery destination, concealed in the glow of the big cities that surround it.
For an Australian girl like me, the Maremma presented an enigma. 18-years-old, I’d spent all my life in the bright lights of Melbourne in south-east Australia, where the supermarkets are open 24-hours and nobody knows when tomatoes are in season.
Walking through the streets of towns like Manciano, all alone and with limited Italian, I was in awe of the antique stone houses and castle. It’s nothing like Australia, where the oldest building are 19th century ones and the only castles are the colourful blow-up kind you find at a kid’s birthday party.
My first week in the Maremma as the kindergarten English teacher took me to Manciano, Montemerano, Saturnia and Poggio Murella. If teaching five-year-olds the colours when all they wanted to do was cover themselves in paint wasn’t strange enough, the incredible differences between these towns was.
Despite being within kilometres of each other, the diversity in history, cuisine and even speech shocked me. In my part of Australia we don’t have towns, we have suburbs and they all look alike. Each one was built in the 20th century and you can go from one suburb to another without noticing it. There are no signs saying, ‘Welcome to Berwick’ and no local history or cuisine. To my surprise, towns in the Maremma aren’t like that.
All neatly contained on its hill and closed off from the world, Manciano doesn’t look anything like say Pitigliano. Pitigliano is built almost completely out tuff rock and has its own Hebrew ghetto, Manciano has a incredible view but its architecture is completely different…and they hate each other. During my time in the Maremma I was constantly asked which town was better… Manciano or Pitigliano? Fiercely proud and jealous of Pitigliano’s popularity, the Mancianesi would always expect me to say Manciano, the Pitiglianesi the opposite.
If someone asks the Montemeranesi where they’re from they proudly answer Montemerano. Back home, if anyone asks me where I’m from, I don’t even say my home-suburb Berwick, I say Melbourne, our state’s capital…and the only city we hate is Sydney because they’re always rubbing in just how great they are.
But even to someone who had never seen towns so diverse they could be in different countries, I knew this was something that Maremma should be proud of. Whenever I go home I always laugh about the Manciano-Pitigliano rivalry or the pride the people of Castell’Azzara have for their local mushroom tagliatelle.
Driving through the suburbs of Melbourne, each one like the last, I admit that Australia could use some of the Maremma’s diversity. When you’ve seen one suburb in Melbourne, you’ve seen them all and nobody goes on day trips to the neighbouring town. In Maremma you can spend endless Sundays visiting Sovana, Montemerano or Pitigliano and it never gets boring. For me this diversity is a thing of beauty. For the longest time, I simply enjoyed this quiet beauty. I took for granted what it meant to live in a natural paradise where beautiful beaches and snow-capped mountains were almost within walking distance.
I soaked up the warm weather and even warmer welcome. The pleasures of eating out in restaurants that didn’t cater to tourist palates and served the same dishes Maremman parents and grandparents cooked after a day in the vineyards and olive groves.
I swapped gossip with my neighbours, kicked up my heels to folk songs and gorged myself sick at the traditional sagre (food festivals), regardless of whether they were cooking barbecued lamb, homemade pici pasta or snails.
I even recovered from my aversion to the Great Outdoors to discover nature parks and archaeological parks, to walk through the necropolises of the Etruscans and the ruins of Roman towns, to while away a day in medieval villages where the locals can pick a foreigner from 100 kilometres.
And then I thought, why should a dog, however cute he may be, claim top spot over a destination that can only be described as idyllic? So I started to write. To share the love for my adopted home.
Every year, the Maremma Tuscany gets just a little better known and I get a few more emails from other besotted travellers who are tired of the bright lights of Florence, who have seen the charm of Siena and have already posed while pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
They want authenticity, a taste of the true Tuscany, the quiet of country life and the splendour of a territory that hasn’t been marred or over marketed. So I started a website and wrote a guidebook and I reached out to the intrepid travellers of the world!
Discover the undiscovered Tuscany at www.maremma-tuscany.com