While the title of this blog post might seem a little ominous and frankly authoritarian, that was never my intention.
There is nothing dangerous or frightening about the Maremma.
You can photograph anything you want, wander pretty much anywhere you like and eat or drink absolutely everything, unless you get a little queasy about offal or have a soft spot for cute and fuzzy animals… then you should steer clear of trippa (tripe) or conigli (bunnies).
In that light, think of this post as more of an experiential guide to getting the most out of your trip to this undiscovered paradise.
Very holistic I know, but the Maremma is a little different to the rest of Tuscany and a lot different to most of Italy. Most Maremmani don’t consider tourism to be the main source of income for their province, no matter how beautiful it is. Instead they prefer to think it’s agriculture.
In actual fact, it’s tourism, but it’s this local frame of mind that ensures plucky tourists the very rare opportunity to experience an authentic slice of Tuscan life.
So should we start with the dos or the don’ts? I prefer a more optimistic take on life, so let’s hear the good stuff first!
1. Do try the food
We all have to eat, but sometimes the temptation to stick to the familiar while on vacation is plenty strong. I should know, there’s a MacDonald’s in Grosseto that I’m sometimes too weak to resist, even after all these years.
BUT the Maremma is one of the few places where you can still get an authentic Italian culinary experience, so don’t miss it. Unctuously satisfying acquacotta soup, rich game sauces, homemade pasta, fresh ricotta by the bucketful.
And if the thought of leaving the Maremma and all this gorgeous food saddens you beyond words, take a cooking course. There are plenty to choose from, but they’re all taught by locals, so you know the dishes you learn are ‘just like mamma used to make.’
2. Do get out and into the countryside
How ever you do it, hiking, biking, walking or horse riding, do leave your hotel and go for a wander in the Great Outdoors. A very small percentage of the Maremma is inhabited. The rest of it is or should be a nature park, especially when you get to Monte Amiata, where almost every inch of space is protected.
The Maremmani have based their heritage, their culture and their traditions in this landscape. It is what continues to define them, so you can’t say you have seen the province, if you haven’t trekked its oak forests, admired the view from the top of Monte Labbro or simply run your hands through the sunflower fields that paint the countryside yellow in spring.
3. Do visit a beach
You mightn’t think centralised Tuscany is a seaside hotspot, but you’d be wrong. The Maremma has some absolutely gorgeous beaches. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to swim in one of the easy-to-find and bustling family friendly beaches or keep walking until you stumble upon a stretch of sand to call you own.
Just remember that some Maremman beaches are technically privately owned. This was initially a foreign concept to me, coming from Australia where all the beaches are free, but it’s not that surprising when you consider that Italy sold its freeways to Benetton.
So when you find your chosen beach, just keep an eye out for coloured cordons or deckchairs lined up on the sand. These usually indicate that the beach is ‘privately owned’. To swim here all you have to do is pay a small rental fee for the deckchair or umbrella.
… And here are some more quick dos:
4. Do experience a festival or sagra: These are not for tourists, they’re for the locals and there is nothing more colourful, beautiful or enjoyable than seeing the Maremma in festival mood.
5. Do rent a car: The Maremma makes up one third of Tuscany. You can’t hope to see it all unless you stay for a few months, but you can make life easier by avoiding the somewhat restricting public transport system. The roads are pretty deserted, so it’s quite safe.
6. Do read up on the Etruscans before you go: The Etruscans built the Maremma. I’d never heard of them before I came here so it took me a while to catch up on this amazing civilisation. As their ruins make up most of the Maremma’s most beautiful historical sights, you should Wikipedia them at the very least.
Arghh… it seems I’ve run out of space, so I’ll save my don’ts for my next blog post: Part 2: The Dos and Don’ts in the Tuscan Maremma!