A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me how I could stand living in such a small country town like Manciano.
I admit I was taken aback. Manciano might not have the shopping and dining scene of my home, Melbourne, Australia, but it’s a beautiful place to live.
The atmosphere is unparalleled. That heady mix of history and culture, fierce pride for your roots and a generosity that you just don’t get in the ‘New World’.
Even if you don’t plan on moving to the Maremma, I think you can learn a lot about what makes a place an attractive holiday destination from its adopted residents.
After all, much of the tourist experience is determined by the atmosphere of a place and the atmosphere of the locals. Most of my horror vacations seem to link back to rude restaurateurs and shop owners, and dodgy scenery.
The Maremma had me in her clutches in a few short days. No matter how many times I try, I can never properly explain exactly what fascinates me about this place.
To put it simply, I am inspired by the identity of this place. An identity that comes from centuries of different rulers – each of whom have left a slightly different history to their town.
Over the years, this history has manifested in the peasants’ hands and become the sharp accents that separate neighbours.
The obsession with botarga or poor man’s caviar in Orbetello. The tales of St George’s dragon in Montemerano. The almost cult-like reverence of Italian painter Caravaggio in Porto Ercole.
These accents draw you to the Tuscan Maremma and its towns. They goad you into visiting them all, just so you can say you’ve dipped your feet in the hot springs at Saturnia and experienced the fervour for chestnuts in Arcidosso.
The Maremma’s beauty is in her diversity. Even if you don’t go in for all my ruminating about identity, the landscape speaks for itself. Forest-capped mountains blend into sunflower fields and Etruscan cities before petering out into spotless beaches and barely inhabited islands.
And the people who call the region home are icing on the cake. I’ve lived in Italy for a while now and I can tell you, Italians are jerks. Even when you speak the language, they still manage to roll their eyes at your pronunciation or complain for the one hundredth time about having to deal with their main source of income – tourists.
The Tuscan Maremma still has plenty of these types of locals, but for the most part, the people here are generous, kind and eager to share their home with you. I think it comes from pride. They are proud residents of Massa Marittima/Follonica/Giglio Island, then they are proud Tuscans and finally they are proud Italians.
With so much pride for their town’s identity, they protect what’s theirs. That might mean you have to listen to endless chatter about how good the Morellino di Scansano wine is in its namesake town, but I think it’s refreshing to be in a place where the locals embrace their individual heritage so fiercely.
No matter how fluent your Italian is, the Maremmani will treat you like a guest. They’ll know immediately that you are a guest – hell, they can still pick me as foreigner after almost five years – but that won’t stop them from going out of their way to help you.
Places like the Tuscan Maremma are rare. It’s hard for tourist towns and cities to keep their identity whole and it won’t last forever.
The experience of the true Maremma is not infinite.