an insiders suggestions for your holiday
Creating New Memories
I've always been particularly fond of the Maremma area in southern Tuscany. I have wonderful childhood memories of summer vacations spent in the area between Follonica and Castiglione della Pescaia in particular. Several years had passed since I was last there in June (2009), I decided to head back to the Upper Maremma area and discover once again its aromas, beaches and charming towns.
Choosing your Accommodations
where to Stay...
» farmhouse or agriturismo
» family style villa rental
For our vacation I chose a small rental apartment near Buriano about 10 minutes driving distance from Castiglione della Pescaia. It's a very nice strategically placed area close to both the seaside to the inland villages. I'd like to point out: prices vary considerably on the beach...look for one that fits your budget, there are plenty of farm houses and holiday homes in Castiglione della Pescaia and its surroundings.
Splashing Around on the Beaches
The weather during our vacation wasn't great so we didn't end up visiting all the beaches I had planned. BUT. We did get to go to the beaches at Rocchette in Castiglione della Pescaia, Punta Ala and Cala Violina (located between Follonica and Punta Ala).
The area of Rocchette is really nice, with a long free access beach and with crystal clear water. I recommend you get there by bike or on foot because parking spaces at the beach are a bit expensive. The beach at Punta Ala, on the other hand, was very small (almost microscopic) and water was fully covered with algae - a real shame, but that is not a permanent situation, it changes with the tides! I was near Belmare private beach area so maybe near there is more space near the rocky end of the beach.
Cala Violina is simply gorgeous. In the last ten years it has changed a lot. In fact, I remembered it a little more wild and untamed, and definitely not so busy, but luckily it hasn't been ruined. The Cala Violina beach can be reached on foot, by bike or by car. Cars can be parked in a large parking lot about 2 km from the beach. From there you can walk - it isn't difficult, many families with children and strollers make the trek. The beach is not too big (during high season it will likely be packed), but the water is really clear and the panorama just by itself merits the visit. The entire beach is free access, no establishments with their umbrellas or deck chairs (no peddlers either!). There are toilets, a small equipped area with picnic tables and a truck-bar offering ice cream, drinks and snacks to make the day out a success.
Small Towns to Visit
Castiglione della Pescaia
The old city center and the castle are both really nice, especially for a romantic evening walk. There are many restaurants and several pubs but they are a bit on the expensive side. I suggest you visit the center after dinner for an ice cream as you stroll or a delicious crêpe.
The city is cute and tidy. There are a few interesting museums, I wanted to visit the Mining Museum and the bell tower but both were closed when I arrived. Shops are open at night, the beautiful piazza Duomo is lit up and a large selection of restaurants make Massa Marittima the perfect destination for a pleasant night out.
The Mine of Gavorrano
This was a real discovery. A short distance from the center of Gavorrano is one of the largest mines in Maremma (this area is known as the Metalliferous hill area of Grosseto) from which pyrite was being extracted up to 1981. Since 2003, the mining area has been reclaimed and transformed into the Mining Park of Gavorrano where you can visit the Mine of Ravi Marchi and the Theater of the Rocks. One of the tunnels in the mine can be visited with a guide in the search to learn of the mine's history, and the tour is interesting for both adults and children alike. During the summer the mine is open almost every day and guided tours start as soon as a small group of people is formed (schedules can be seen on the official park website).
Scarlino, Buriano and Vetulonia
These three small towns are located on the top of equally small hills from which you can admire gorgeous panoramas. Scarlino is well cared for and at its top you can visit the beautifully restored fortress which hosts small events during the summer. Even Buriano has a fortress, not yet restored but you can still visit it paying attention where you step.
In Vetulonia the Etruscan sites deserve a visit, especially the two barrows at the bottom of the town that have been recently restored and which are in perfect condition. Unfortunately there are no guided tours to learn more about their history and the findings. Many items of the necropolis are now stored in the local Archeological Museum at the beginning of the village, and which we unfortunately couldn't visit because of lack of time but which I was told is interesting.
Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana: the tufo cities
These three particular cities are located in southeast Maremma (close to Lazio) and because I had never been there before, I decided to include them in my vacation. These are probably the most famous cities among the tufo or tuff cities in this area of Maremma where you can find this particular volcanic rock.
The ancient village of Pitigliano is absolutely the most scenic and beautiful, entirely carved out of tufo on top of a cliff. Walking around I thought it wasn't exactly well looked after, I got the impression I was in a ghost town. Many houses were on sale and probably all these "on sale" signs contributed to my impression. Locals confirmed my thoughts declaring that they don't pay attention to tourism because the area itself attracts a lot of visitors with no many special efforts needed on their part. It's a real shame because the scenario is fantastic and could be enhanced much more.
Sorano is smaller but more "alive". The old center is defended by the massive Orsini Fortress built on a tufo cliff. Exploring the center you reach the Masso Leopoldino, the old fortress built in 1700 where you can enjoy the beautiful panorama from a terrace.
What struck me the most about Sovana was the splendid Cathedral from the XII-XIV century. A few kilometers from the village is an Etruscan necropolis that I wasn't able to visit but I think it deserves a visit. The whole area would deserve at least a couple of days to explore (nearby are the thermal baths of Saturnia with warm and health-promoting sulphuric waters) so I'll be back soon!
Roccastrada, Roccatederighi, Montemassi
These small villages are really close to each other and can be easily visited all at the same time in 2-3 hours. What impresses the most when you arrive at Roccastrada are the huge rocks on which the village was built. The fourteenth century Clock Tower overlooks the town and forms a distinctive outline.
Rising up the steep and narrow streets of the center you reach several terraces from where you can admire the great surroundings and view toward the sea.
Roccatederighi has the air of a fairy-tale village. The medieval village was built on a volcanic cliff that can be be seen throughout the narrow streets. What surprises and catches your attention is that all of the buildings were adapted to fit the cliff's natural outlines so that it isn't just part of the background but the main star of the village. When I was there the village was desolated because many of the homes are used for as holidays homes and inhabited only during the high season. The quiet and still atmosphere truly contribute to the fairy-tale image of the village and walking around its narrow streets is really pleasant. In July and August, especially at night, the village attracts many visitors from the coast. In August, the beautiful Medieval Feast of Roccatederighi brings out thousands of people.
Over the small village of Montemassi, just 10 minutes from Roccatederighi, stands the ruins of a charming castle. The restoration works are still in progress, but you can admire the beauty of the restored part of the castle. When the works will be finished it should be even more impressive!
In a weeks time I had the opportunity to visit many beautiful places and relax as well. Maremma is truly a maginal place and hope you'll get a chance to discover it as well!