The Maremma

 

Sign post in Castiglione della Pescaia

It was Dante Alighieri who introduced me to the Maremma. He referred to this land several times in the Inferno and Purgatory, depicting it as an inhospitable, disease-laden marsh. Located near the border of Tuscany and Lazio, the Maremma hasn’t always been the lovely landscape that it is today. In Dante’s time it was a cesspool of malaria, chocked full of murderous briganti (brigands) just waiting to rob any Florentine who ventured to leave Florence, the epicenter of the of Dante’s world. His depiction of this area was harsh, but he also immortalized the landscapes of the Maremma in his poetry of murder and betrayal. He made his feelings clear in Inferno, Canto XIII, describing the Maremma as the place where “the brute Harpies make their nest” in the part of Hell reserved for people who committed suicide. As a modern tourist, I could no longer see the Maremma through Dante’s eyes, but he had laid the groundwork for me to explore a part of Tuscany where today natural beauty abounds.

Before Dante, in Etruscan and Roman times, the Maremma had been a rich landscape. But over centuries the Maremma had lost the lake of Prile, which later evolved into the infamous marshes depicted in the Inferno. Today this land is known for its migratory and aquatic birds and its nature preserve.

Once we had chosen to visit the Maremma, we decided to save money and craft our own bike tour. We chose the Maremma because it is relatively flat, offered a few set-aside biking paths, and finally because it was an area that we had never seen before. We chose EasyBike Shop & Rental as our bike provider. Its owner, Ulrike, proved to be both helpful and flexible when I contacted him by email. He helped us make the most of our two days in the area. His shop is located right in the center of Castiglione della Pescaia at via Socci 8. He was highly knowledgeable and suggested that a good alternative for two women, ages 62 and 65, could be to use electric bikes in order to make it up a steep hilltop town that offered outstanding vistas of the surrounding countryside.

We took the local bus from Castiglione to Grosseto and then changed buses in order to take another even more scenic journey to Scansano in order to spend our first night in this area in a lovely country inn and spa atop a very steep hill near the village of Scansano, at the Antico Casale di Scansano. The next morning we took the same bus down from Scansano to the outskirts of Grosseto.

Earlier that morning, Ulrike had taken our bikes to Grosseto and left them at a friend’s bike shop, so that we could start our ride on the off-road path that followed the flat countryside to the nature preserve, which is packed with incredibly majestic pine trees. I still regret not pocketing one of the huge and gorgeous pinecones that we saw in the nature preserve. Unfortunately there was not enough time to find the flamingoes that the area is known for.

The second day we crossed the soft foothills of the high Maremma: a scenic, lush landscape traversed by very few cars moving at a reasonable speed and with drivers who seemed to welcome bikers to their road space. We rode up to the summit of a very steep hill in order to visit the Etruscan site of Vetulonia. Known as one of the most important and well-preserved necropolises, Vetulonia was a powerful Etruscan city that ruled this part of the peninsula before Roman domination.

See the following website for more information about how the city of Vetulonia was discovered by an amateur Italian archeologist and detailed information about how the landscape changed since Etruscan times: http://www.maremmaguide.com/vetulonia.html

Actually descending proved to be even more difficult than ascending as we both feared that our brakes might become overheated and give way, but we arrived safe and sound at the bottom of the steep incline. The fast descent was scary but truly exciting.

Later in the afternoon we biked back on a country lane to the lovely seaside resort of Castiglione della Pescaia. This city’s many layers of history extend from Roman occupation through many subsequent rulers: Pisa, Florence, Siena, Naples, Eleanor of Toledo and the Papal State. Inside the urban center, fortified by 15th-century walls, the town and the palace remain well preserved. The four towers rising out of the Castle of Buriano are a highlight. Known as one of the most remarkable examples of military art in Tuscany, this tenth-century castle once belonged to the powerful Lambardi family.

We had two lovely meals in rustic looking restaurants that featured local cuisine at Osteria Sapori di Maremma and Il Cacciatore. I can’t say enough about the hospitality of our inn keepers at La Lucerna, whose friendly dogs made for a memorable stay.

We did this two day journey at a fraction of the price we would have spent if we had decided to use one of the well-known and well run bike tours of this area of Tuscany and had the satisfaction of knowing that we a bit of planning and research as well as outstanding weather we could accomplish our goal of biking in the Maremma and seeing first-hand the Maremma which Dante had introduced us to in Ciardi’s translation of the Inferno about fifty years ago.

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