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Hidden Tuscany: A Maremma road trip, Part 2


Early evening on the Spiaggia di Rimigliano
Early evening on the Spiaggia di Rimigliano

At one time or another we've been just about everywhere in the Maremma except for the higher elevation towns around Monte Amiata, which we will get to in due course. The Maremma is spread over such a large geographical area that it would be impossible to cover it all in one article or even one road trip so the scope here is to describe a manageable itinerary around what is perhaps our favorite part, a roughly 15 mile wide coastal strip from Massa Marittima south to Magliano in Toscana, a distance of about 50 miles outlined in pink below.



Inside this rectangle starting from the north are the Spiaggia di Rimigliano, Gulf of Baratti, Populonia and (skipping Piombino) the coastal towns of Follonica, Punta Ala, Castiglione della Pescaia and Talamone together with large swathes of regional park lands that protect beautiful isolated coves like Cala Violina, Cala di Forno and many more. Campiglia Marittima somehow found its way inside our poorly drawn zone but we will save it for another article because it fits more naturally into an easy one day excursion with nearby Suvereto and Castagneto Carducci.


Pizza
Dining all'aperto is the only way to eat in the Maremma

Moving inland from the coast there are lots of other great places to stop, including Massa Marittima, Scarlino, Vetulonia, Grosseto and Magliano in Toscana, with Scansano just a few miles outside this zone. Some of the more interesting towns will get their own dedicated articles in due course; Vetulonia already has, because that's where Il Baciarino is situated and just below Scarlino is where the winery Il Pupillo is located that we wrote about here.


Looking north from the medieval fort of Populonia across the Gulf of Baratti to the northern Maremma hills
Looking north from the medieval fort of Populonia across the Gulf of Baratti to the hills of northern Maremma

Commenting briefly on the highlights in this 5o by 15 mile rectangle we'll start with Populonia and move south along the coast. Populonia was an important Etruscan city and has one of the most impressive and extensive archeological sites set in a large outdoor area with tombs, temples and an Acropolis. It was the only Etruscan city built on the sea and there are also Roman ruins here.


the beach on Gulf of Baratti, empty except one fisherman
Gulf of Baratti

One of the rewards for walking up the hill to see them and climbing to the top of the nearby medieval fort are the 360 degree views of the coastline with the various islands of the Tuscan archipelago easily visible and on a clear day even the Corsican mountains 65 miles away. Populonia today is a very small and charming village and it would definitely be a worthwhile lunch stop on this itinerary, but for us it's too small for an overnight stay.


Just below Populonia there's a wide and very long public beach that curves around the Gulf of Baratti and just over a mile further north, past the headland in the above photo, there's another very attractive beach, Spiaggia di Rimigliano, backed by dunes and pine trees. It's about four miles long, completely undeveloped because it's within the Regional Park nature reserve and very accessible with parking at the side of the road the whole way along. Right at the southern end where the road is just a few yards from the sea is the most convenient place to park.


A typical old Maremma driveway near the sea
A typical old Maremma driveway near the sea

Piombino we would skip entirely because it's not very attractive and is always snarled up with traffic in the summer because it's the main ferry terminal for Elba. There are three different ferry operators and three separate Elba destinations so there are constant departures and arrivals, long queues of cars and it's chaotic all day. Elba itself is a wonderful place to visit but that's a separate article for another time.


Follonica beach facilities
One of the many Follonica beach facilities

There's a six mile coastal path between Baratti and Cala Moresca (just before reaching Piombino) called La Via dei Cavalleggeri which we haven't done yet but is on the list for this winter. There are only a few dirt roads on this isolated stretch of coastline with no facilities or much shade so this is not a walk to be undertaken during the hottest part of summer. This walk also forms the final stage of a 6 or 7 day hike called the Via Etrusca Volterra - Piombino that has been planned and promoted by the Tuscan regional tourist board. It's now a marked path broken into stages of 6-14 miles each and every stage ends in a small town with accommodation and restaurants. It's best described as a hilly route but not a mountainous one.

Continuing on east from Piombino the next town, Follonica, is a bit of a mixed bag. It's certainly not as attractive as most of the Maremma seaside towns (having been bombed extensively during the war and shoddily rebuilt) but it's convenient, easier to park than most and the actual seafront is fine and has some charm to it.


Castiglione della Pescaia harbor entrance
Castiglione della Pescaia harbor entrance

I'd be happy spending a day at the beach there (Elena less so) but we wouldn't pick it for an overnight stay. The Mollica's food truck is based there so that's one other small thing it has going for it. Just before you arrive in Follonica from the north there's an accessible free beach called Torre Mozza, its name derived from the fact that right on the beach looking somewhat incongruous there's a defensive tower dating back to about 1500 built by the Lords of Piombino to protect their mineral shipments from Elba from marauding Turkish pirates. Apparently there's also a submerged Roman road by the beach that reappears from time to time but we saw no sign of it when we were there.


The Maremma coastline
The Maremma coastline in autumn

Continuing the sequence of hits and misses we're also not fans of Punta Ala, for exactly the opposite reason to Follonica. It's quite a new resort with very little character and is just too damn swanky and exclusive, full of luxury villas and expensive yachts that make it reminiscent of a private country club in the US. Not our thing at all and not really typically Italian.

However before you get to Punta Ala there is the famous Cala Violina beach nearby that requires you to walk a kilometer through the pine woods after parking your car. It's not particular convenient if you have too much to carry but in a cooler month when you don't need to take as much water, then it's probably worthwhile. Its fame makes it too crowded in the peak summer months for us.


Talamone
Talamone

Between Cala Violina and Punta Ala there is a less famous beach but more accessible and bigger, called Spiaggia di Capanna Civinini. It's long and mostly public and sometimes used for horseriding. Continuing south, Castiglione della Pescaia is one of our favorite coastal towns in the Maremma. It has Roman origins and there's an old medieval part of town up on the hill with a fortress at the very top, a pleasant newer part of town and a decent beach. An ideal Italian summer seaside town.


Massa Marittima dominating the surrounding countryside
Massa Marittima dominating the surrounding countryside

Then there's a very long stretch of beaches backed by pine forests, some fairly accessible but the ones further south by Alberese not always easy to reach, especially the other famous one called Cala di Forno. At fairly regular intervals along this stretch of coastline there are numerous camping and caravan sites as always seems to be the case in Italy when you have lengthy areas of flat land, beaches and pine woods. We mostly avoid these places as they tend to lack character and interest.

However the pine forests themselves throughout the Maremma can be delightful, especially on an undeveloped part of the coastline as in the photo below. These umbrella pines (pinus pinea) form an almost unbroken carpet of emerald green when viewed from above and provide the expensive but essential domestic pinoli (pine nuts) for pesto genovese and other dishes. Italians will picnic under these trees in the summer to gain a welcome respite in the cool air and everything below the canopy is clean and refreshingly scented.


The beach and pine trees on the Gulf of Baratti

There's a very large accessible beach just south of Marina di Grosseto called Principina a Mare which stretches south towards the mouth of the Ombrone river and then after that you're into the Maremma Regional park (also known as Parco dell'Uccellina) with a much less accessible shoreline. On the southern side of the Ombrone river mouth you'll find the wild and mostly empty three mile Spiaggia Alberese, on many people's list as one of the most unspoilt in Italy, and then the coastline becomes rocky and elevated all the way to Talamone, interrupted only by the quite remote Cala di Forno beach.

This is a perfect part of the Maremma coast for hiking and you can take your pick between the miles of empty beaches, refreshingly devoid of the ubiquitous stabilimenti balneari, or start from Talamone and take the short but quite challenging hike north to Punta del Corvo at 700 feet where you will be rewarded with panoramic views in every direction.


Looking west from Scarlino with Follonica on the right, Piombino beyond it and Elba barely visible through the haze on the left
Looking west from Scarlino with Follonica on the right, Piombino beyond it and Elba barely visible through the haze on the left

The final seaside destination in our rectangular slice of the Maremma is Talamone itself. It's very small but it's a fabulous spot with an atmosphere that is immediately appealing. There's a fortress at the top again with a well preserved old town below that's becoming a little chic but not yet spoiled. There are steps down to the rocky coves for swimming in the very clean waters in this part of Tuscany and the lack of a beach right below town is a blessing I think.


The view looking out from the old walls of Magliano in Toscana

Moving to the inland part of this area, Massa Marittima is also one of our favorite places in the Maremma and a place we have been to several times. It has an impressive location high above the surrounding countryside with the sea clearly visible and it's a bustling attractive town with some good restaurants serving local wines.



Scarlino is the next interesting town south not far from Follonica with equally good views and nearby there are lots of smaller towns that we stop at from time to time because every one is slightly different and there are always new things to discover.


Gavorrano doorway depicting Pia de Tolomei and Dante

Close to Scarlino is Gavorrano, not as attractive as Scarlino but it has a interesting connection to the 5th Canto of Dante's Purgatory, in which Pia de Tolomei is murdered by her husband here in 1297 so that he could marry into the powerful Aldobrandeschi family. Legend has it that he pushed her to her death from the nearby Castel di Pietra. A little bit of history and cultural knowledge is always useful in helping you understand clues that abound in odd places in Italian towns and in Gavorrano this historical tidbit is the key to recognizing the significance of the relief over the doorway to the local art shop.

Continuing south, Vetulonia we've already covered and two other hill towns, Tirli and Buriano, are perhaps worth stopping at for a coffee or something if you happen to be nearby.


Montemassi in the Maremma in Tuscany
Montemassi from the road. Sometimes you just have to pull over quickly and seize the photo opportunity. See below.

On our most recent trip to the Maremma we left the Siena to Grosseto highway prematurely, drove through Roccastrada (no need to stop there would be my diplomatic way of describing it) and headed for Massa Marittima by way of Montemassi. The reason for doing so was because, as something of an amateur art historian, Elena is an admirer of the 1330 painting by the renowned Siena painter Simone Martini that depicts the condottiero Guidoriccio da Fogliano.

The painting is quite famous and shows him at the siege of Montemassi in 1328, a siege that took 7 months during which Guidoriccio was being paid handsomely by Siena. The term 'condottiero' refers to a mercenary soldier of high rank who commanded troops and fought battles in the employment of the city states of medieval Italy. They had no higher allegiance than their employer as they were typically from a region not involved in the fight at hand and had no scruples about changing sides when their contract expired.


Guidoriccio da Fogliano in front of Montemassi
Simone Martini's painting of Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the siege of Montemassi

Montemassi doesn't really look worth spending a lot of money laying siege to, but it may have been to encourage the rest of the Maremma towns to submit more expeditiously because within a couple of years Siena had control over Massa Marittima, Scansano, Arcidosso and most of central Maremma.

Moving on to Grosseto, like Follonica it was also heavily bombed during the war as a legitimate target and though there are some very plain suburbs the centro storico is really quite nice with a fair amount of the old walls still intact. Then from Grosseto the whole southern Maremma opens up to the east with lots of interesting towns, some quite small and others simply tiny. It takes time to drive around this area and we'll save our recommendations for another time.

The last place in our self-imposed zone for this article is Magliano in Toscana, directly inland from Talamone. Perhaps we saved the best for last because this is a jewel of a place and the further you get into the Maremma the fewer tourists you will meet which only adds to the pleasure of a road trip like this. We've written a separate article on Magliano in Toscana which you can find here.


My turn to get out of the car to take the photo. But worth it I think for the Montemassi shot above.