Have you ever met someone who is unwilling to return to Italy? Do you ever think you have seen enough? Twirled your last strand of spaghetti? Had your last excellent glass of wine? Admired your last beautiful sunset? No?
Neither have we.
One of the great marvels of Italy is discovering more and more layers of its colorful history and vibrant culture. To sensitize ourselves to the nuances, the slight variations in its different regions.
This is how we feel about promoting the Alta Maremma. We know most people will ask ‘what is there to do there?’… its towns do not have familiar names; you won’t find them on magazine covers or in chapters of guidebooks. We know that oftentimes when investing in international travel there is an urgent sense of ‘we must’ as far as visiting important, historic, famous places like Italy. We understand. And yet, we feel there is another approach entirely that might actually give you the vacation you really crave, the vacation that takes a bit of courage. That is to visit a part of Italy that is less famous, less notable in the guidebooks you’ll peruse and yes, less crowded by other visitors from foreign lands.
Here is a brief what to know about visiting this quieter corner of Tuscany
The beaches are sand and the coastline is accessible.
Most of Italy‘s coastline is rocky cliffs or narrow pebble beaches. But the Tuscan coast has a long stretch of sandy beach accessible across low dunes of ‘macchia mediterranea’ – the kind of scrubby low-land woods you find growing in sandy places. This makes it ideal for families with young children because when children are happy at the beach all day, parents can relax and be on vacation.
Your choices along the Alta Maremma coast are beach clubs like La Pineta, with its own famous restaurant servicing superb fish dishes, or taking a house with its own private beach access. La Civetta, for example. The beauty of this arrangement is the staff will send you off with a picnic and you have your own private access point so you can be relaxed and casual for as long as you like, with room to spread out and enjoy. From your private beach access at Tombolino, you can walk the coast to the village of Marina di Bibbona and treat the children to a post-lunch gelato before looping back on the beach or through town. Are you on vacation yet?
There is a great deal of excellent wine.
This is the land of Super Tuscans and the charming medieval village of Bolgheri. If you know wine, these fields grow the grapes that become Guado al Tasso, Sassicaia and Ornellaia plus Argenteria. If you don’t know wine, you soon will. From La Civetta you can walk less than one kilometer to the award-winning winery of Colle Massari and their organic Grattamacco farm for tastings and re-stocking your larder. Don’t forget to take home some of their EVVO and grappa for after dinner.
Yes, there are medieval hill towns to visit.
One of our personal favorites is Castagneto Carducci. The town was built around the castle, which is still intact and still a home, occupied by descendants of the family that built it. [Among the extended family happens also to be the owner of La Civetta so if you like, when you stay at their home we can arrange a visit if they are in town and not entertaining foreign dignitaries.]
Castagneto Carducci is a majestic stone village with an everyday modern life tucked within its still impressive walls. Visit in the evening for a passegiata and aperitivi before dinner when people emerge again after a hot summer day. Here, the activity is concentrated on the pedestrian-only center of town. Stop at Rita’s Peperita store for chili products from her farm, there is superb olive oil, jams. There are a number of good places to eat, Hannibal Ristomacelleria is a favorite if you appreciate a witty, outspoken owner who cares about the food he serves. Our personal favorite spot is the humble tailor shop where you can have a custom-made cashmere jacket constructed and shipped home. We love Italy, no?
Terme and the Etruscans
You are going to Europe and you feel some kind of cultural note is essential. We say go soak. Literally that is…in the thermal baths that have been constructed around the natural hot springs that still flow from Monte Amiata. This magnificent mountain – a hulking, brooding presence across most all of southern Tuscany, still feeds these hot springs some 300,000 years since it last erupted. Fun fact: Monte Amiata is Italy’s highest volcano after Mount Etna on Sicily.
The closest thermal bath to La Civetta is Terme di Sassetta, a decidedly casual affair tucked around a hill past a farm. The signage is minimal, the atmosphere a bit of Esalen. The food in the restaurant is superb and the entire experience is utterly relaxing and easy.
For families with particularly energetic and imaginative children, visits here are a chance to map out and dig into the mysterious vanishing Etruscan culture. Aesthetically sophisticated – maybe a little bit Egyptian? – they left stone behind but not much else. Except of course their influence on early Roman culture and we know how that went. The Maremma is crisscrossed by evidence they were here and yet, where did they go? What happened? Maybe you want to make a map of the places you visit on your vacation — in the hills of ancient Populonia and Volterana.
If you are looking for a taste of authentic Tuscany, where food and wine, fun and recreation plus some local culture are on the agenda, Alta Maremma is the place to visit now.