An Undiscovered Holiday Destination – Maremma, Tuscany, Italy, Europe
When you Google Maremma, Italy you get very little. This small secluded region in the south of Tuscany is not on the top of most people's dream vacation lists – what I thought when first told I would be spending my GAP holiday in the region. Maremma. I'd never heard of it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't shake the image of sparsely populated towns with no electricity or running water.
Yet when I arrived in this small corner of Tuscany, I was pleasantly surprised. Cut off from the better known tourist locations, it is indeed sparsely populated, but in a good way. Far from the bright lights of Florence and Siena, the Maremma is not, like much of Italy these days, choked by a ratio of five tourists to one local. The region is one of the very few territories left in Italy which remains uncontaminated by the tourist explosion and still true to its ancient peasant roots.
The feeling of la dolce vita, the sweet life, still resounded in the quaint medieval towns, spotted throughout the Maremma, separated by thick forests of chestnuts and sprawling green fields of olive groves and vineyards. The people embody the simple life, where their days are not spent in the hustle and bustle of city skyscrapers, but working on the land before returning home to a meal of good, simple local produce and a glass of wine – at least that's how I saw it.
If this sounds a little too cut off from the modern world and its technological advances, don't worry, the Maremma is secluded but not untouched by the comforts of modern society. It still has its shopping centre, restaurants and night life. It also boasts what every vacationer wants: a place to relax in peace and quiet and escape from the stresses and worries of home.
What really amazed me about the Maremma was its history. I had heard about the artists and rulers of Florence and Pisa; I never expected this Tuscan countryside to have such rich traditions and background. Branded by locals as a "striking land of artists and poets, which is blessed with the treasures of the Etruscans and Romans", the region is home to some incredible hidden relics of ancient civilisations. The villages and towns situated amongst fields are charmingly small and lovingly maintained, yet they feel as though they haven't stepped a day out of the Middle Ages. These beautiful communities transport you back to the grand and fascinating past of Italy, and whilst they may not have the beautiful boutiques of Milan, they are a delight to behold because they are, from the grandest churches to the smallest houses, exactly as they were in the Medieval and Renaissance eras.
There are a large number of towns and villages in the Maremma; small on people, large on traditions and customs. Towns like Saturnia, Montemerano and Pitigliano are not only beautiful, but also hide churches, castles, monuments, archaeological museums and ruins dating back to the Etruscans, a civilisation I had never heard of before.
Like Italians, the Maremmans love three things more than anything else: wine, food and parties. The locals have cleverly found a way to mix all three – through festivals. Coming from the sunny shores of Melbourne, Australia, I had not seen festivals like the ones in Maremma, on what seems to be every day of the week. There are massive parties; everybody comes out to celebrate wearing colourful costumes. There is traditional music and beautifully elaborate parades. If you like to party, the best time to come is during Carnival in February. Nothing like its Brazilian counterpart, Carnival in Tuscany overflows with good food and ever better wine. The region is well known for its high quality red and white wines, as well as for its cuisine, best described as simple and delicious, prepared following ancient recipes, using the freshest local ingredients.
The Maremma exudes unpretentious charm and a simple beauty – hills, picturesque villages, fascinating traditions and sweet natured people. A secluded paradise of peace and tranquility, it is not Tuscany's hottest tourist destination, but its reduced population and non existent chaos are a blessing. Once you see the simplicity of its countryside and the richness of its culture and history, it is hard not to fall in love with the region. An incredibly unique territory, this southern Tuscan piece of paradise is simply one of the best holiday destinations in the world.