Maremma Toscana – The Undiscovered Part of Tuscany
Maremma Toscana, Italy
Tuscany, the land of yearning: for centuries the
former European cultural center has held its many
visitors spellbound. Most tourists however, visit only
the famous and much traveled region between Florence
and Sienna. We, on the other hand, traveled into a
vastly unknown, wild and remote Tuscany region: the
Maremma. The riding tour offered by the Hotel
Prategiano was an unforgettable experience for us.
“Maremma maiala.” Damn Maremma – curses the Butteri
riding in front of me, as the white long-horned cows
once again attempt to flee down the hill. The two
Butteri, Tuscany’s very own version of the cowboy,
chase the renegades and bring the herd under control
Real cowboys in Europe? In Maremma Tuscany, a
traditional horse country, this is still a daily
reality. We are on the huge Filetto farm where in a
project sponsored by the Italian agricultural ministry,
Maremma cattle is bred on a large scale. As breeding is not
economically viable in times of agricultural mass
production, the government has invested in the
preservation of this tradition.
Glued deeply into their heavy working saddles, the
Butteri gallop all around our group. Apparently not
only to control the herd of cattle but quite
evidently, in another age-old tradition, to impress
the blond girls riding just ahead of me. Being
forewarned by our guide Marco to always keep an eye
on the potentially aggressive Maremma cattle, I have
eyes only for the long and very pointed horns.
Marco urged us to get moving.
The previous day we learnt what it means to spend five
hours in the saddle riding through the Alta Maremma,
low-hanging branches, dense brush of petty whin and
juniper. Today we are prepared: sunscreen on our
noses, long-sleeved shirts to protect against the
blackberry brambles, comfortable hiking boots and
chaps instead of polished riding boots.
Huge centuries old chestnut, oak and pine trees verge
our path. Nature has recuperated the ancient paths,
once the only connection between the very few villages
in the area.
A large fallen tree forces us to plunge into the dense
and thorny bush which flanks the path. Suddenly, the
bush opens up to a clearing covered with red poppies.
After several hours in the dense bush it is a great
feeling to be out in the open once again. The horses
shake their manes, and are obviously just as happy to
leave the restrictive bush, immediately galloping to
the far side of this red ocean.
The dense chestnut forest recedes and the landscape
changes almost imperceptibly at first to low scrubs,
heather, overgrown fields and old orchards. After
riding for hours through a vast, apparently deserted
area, it is only at midday that we encounter the first
signs of past settlement. In the ruins of an old
farmhouse, a mighty oak tree grows out of the former
kitchen and a few piglets run around the old
courtyard. Further along the way, a shepherd crosses
our path with his herd of sheep, the fact that we are
riding through this area on horses for the pure
pleasure of it has him shaking his head in amazement.
Really just for the fun? The traditional use of the
horse for labour is deeply rooted in this area. He
tells us of the old times as most people in this area
still earned their living in one or the other of the
many mines. Since the Etruscans, silver, copper and
zinc had been mined in the area. In the past decades,
more and more mines closed, and large proportions of
the population were forced to move away. The numerous
deserted farms and villages are a silent witness to
better times. Listening to the shepherd’s stories, we were transplanted into a former time we rode on in a
slightly more pensive mood.
After an hour-long ride up a steep incline, we finally
reach our midday target. The ruins of a small miners
village. Anja was already waiting for us with a picnic
in the shade of a gigantic cypress tree. Overlooking
the ocean far below we dined on pasta, grilled
wildboar, and Pecorino cheese and drink some fresh
Chianti. Not hard in these moments to appreciate the
Italian lifestyle – endless rolling hills, the ocean,
wonderful food and great wine pure Tuscan bliss! Lying
in the sun with the second glass of Chianti in the
hand, the last English-Italian-Swedish-German
linguistic barriers are surmounted.
Leaving the silver mine behind us, we followed a narrow
twisted path to the Fosini castle, pasted to the cliff
face above us. The former resting-place on the road to
Florence is a perfect site for a coffee break. The
break is cut short by distant thunder and rolling
clouds on the horizon. Marco presses on. On the last
few meters to our night camp, a wonderful Renaissance
villa, we are drenched with lukewarm raindrops. Before
running for cover we release our horses onto the
Count’s vast pasture. The Haflinger horses that are
supposed to be on the same pasture are nowhere to be
seen. This didn’t really worry us and it was only the
next morning that we found out what it means to
recapture one’s horse in the dense scrubs The Macchia.
The administrator waved to us as we walked down the
cypress alley past the impressive Count’s residence.
Though we unfortunately never met the Count, we were all
deeply impressed by the beauty of this property. We
rode on over fields, past olive and wine plantations.
We picked up the ever-present scent of rosemary and
mint. Here in the hills, the centuries old traditional
farming has defined the landscape. All morning the sun
had been burning in our faces.
The ruins of the San Galgano cloister appeared on the
horizon. This cloister, built in the 13th century, used to be the cultural and economic center of the
region. Nowadays it is only visited by a few cultural
explorers. When one sits in the shade up against the
massive walls, one has the impression that the former
monks are still nearby, striding through the gigantic
well-preserved gothic arches, their songs drifting up
towards the sky above.
With yet another chianti, we sat joking in the garden
of the former abbey. Looking at the faces around me, I
could tell, the first few days have already changed
everyone in a little way. The group has become fused
together; the wildness and beauty of the Maremma, the
insights into the past, all this has brought about a
new zest for life. The proverbial yearning for
the Tuscany Maremma has now also got hold of all of us.