Italian composer Giuseppi Verdi said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” Most visitors echo the same sentiments after visiting Italy’s idyllic region, Tuscany. Tuscany is known for its laundry list of attractions, home to Florence’s Renaissance masterpieces, Pisa’s forever Leaning Tower, the villages of Siena and Lucca. However, many visitors to Tuscany tend to miss the lesser-known reaches of the region, namely the province of Grosseto in Southern Tuscany.
Grosseto stretches from the Colline Metallifere to Tuscany’s border with Lazio. Encompassed in this southern corner are the incomparable landscapes of the Maremma region. Grosseto is a scoop of pine forests, crystal clear coastline, authentic local products, rich traditions, excellent wines and a pure and wild nature. For a slice of Tuscany away from the coach tours and crowds, Grosseto lends your sampling of the Italy Verdi described, one you just might give up the universe to have to yourself.
Where To Go
To explore Grosseto, most journeys begin in the capital of the province, Grosseto. Considered the largest town in Southern Tuscany, Grosseto is not on most tourist’s radars, mostly because it was rebuilt after much destruction in World War II. The centro storico is still worth strolling for peeks at the Romanesque cathedral, palazzi from the Middle Ages and of course, its imposing 16th century walls.
For those searching for a bit more charm, the small towns of Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana offer three pockets of pretty in Grosseto. The villages are characterized by their construction atop tufa, a volcanic rock. Pitigliano perches on a ridge and is often referred to as, “Little Jerusalem” mostly for its ancient Jewish Quarter. Sorano is small, but nonetheless worth stopping to see its Etruscan, Medieval and Renaissance remains. For a sliver of pint-sized Italy, Sovana answers with its ruined castle, Romanesque cathedral and cobbled main street hailing from Roman times.
Seeing Grosseto also involves getting out away from the cities to unearth ruins and sink your toes in its sands. One of the best spots to feel a bit like Indiana Jones uncovering Etruscan treasures is at the Cittá del Tufo Archaeological Park. The site sits just outside of Sovana and boasts a number of preserved Etruscan tombs and temples, dating back from the 8th to 7th centuries B.C.E.
For travelers looking for rest and relaxation on a beach in Grosseto, the province is littered with sandy spaces to sprawl with your beach towel. One of the most unusual beaches is Cala Violina. It derives its name from the sound the sand makes when you walk on it. While making violin music with your feet, you can bask in what has been dubbed one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy. Even if you can’t make it to Cala Violina and its noisy sands, most of the beaches lining the coast of Grosseto offer fine white sands and the clearest of water for swimming.
What To Eat
The Grosseto province is like being invited to the ultimate Italian feast each an every night. Much of the Slow Food movement was born out of this area. All dishes pay their respects to the land and the traditions of the ancients for cooking, eating, wining and dining. Common dishes include acquacotta, a soup comprised of fried onion, celery, tomato and spicy pepperoncino. The province is also particularly known for its wild boar dishes, in particular stews. Closer to the coast, you can sample more fish dishes. To sweeten the deal, Grosseto is known for a number of desserts including cavallucci, a cookie hailing from the town of Massa Marittima and castagnaccio, a tart composed of chestnut flour.
What To Do
One of the best activities in Grosseto is merely adventuring into the Parco Regionale della Maremma. Located within the Monti dell’Ucellina range, the park stretches toward the sea. Comprised of mountains, steep sea cliffs, sandy beaches, the Parco Regionale della Maremma requires ample time to explore. From the main visitor center in Alberese, travelers can seek out one of the thirteen walking trails ranging from as short as 2.5 kilometers to 13 kilometers. One of the most popular strolls is the walk to the beach, stretching 5.8 kilometers. In addition to hikes, visitors can also go on guided mountain bike and canoe tours. In total, Maremma Natural Park includes a 600-hectare pine forest, a marshy plain and 20 kilometers of coastline.
To soothe those aching, tired feet, Grosseto answers, naturally. The area is also rich in hot springs, specifically the Saturnia natural thermal springs. Around an hour from Siena, the hot springs are linked to legend. It is believed that the Roman god of Saturn blew his top, striking down a lightening bolt into the Earth. Thanks to Saturn’s temper, travelers can relax and unwind in a series of rock pools where temperatures average around 37°C, often lauded for their curative powers.
Where To Stay
Due to the nature of Grosseto, the area welcomes its anonymity. As a result, travelers can find very private accommodations. Castello di Vicarello is one of those corners where you can become king or queen of the 900-year-old castle without busloads of tourists coming in and out with their snapping cameras. Located in the small village of Cinigiano, right in the heart of the province, the castle sits on a hill overlooking the valley of Maremma, just twenty-five miles from the city. Built over 900 years ago, Castello di Vicarello now spends its days as a luxury hotel and wedding venue.
Visitors can select from seven different suites, all with their own unique look and character. Some suites either look out on the castle’s courtyard or the olive groves and the gardens on site. For honeymooners, one of the most romantic suites is the Suite I Sassi. Surrounded by windows, newlyweds can bask in the views of the Tuscan hills and the sea from their suite. To stay in a piece of the property’s history, the Suite Villa Chiesina lords over the site of the castle’s former church. It is furnished with pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries.
In addition to the luxurious accommodations, Castello di Vicarello in essence offers a window into eating, drinking and staying well in the area. Meals are prepared for guests with fruits and vegetables from the garden. The property has also garnered acclaim for its wine and olive oil. Other amenities on site include a wellness center complete with a sauna, steam bath, massage services and two swimming pools. Castello di Vicarello is ideal for romantic getaways but it can also be rented out for completely customizable wedding celebrations.
How To Get There
While Grosseto does boast a private airport, those who aren’t arriving by private jet can easily each Southern Tuscany either by rental car or train. The province perches within reach of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Driving time from the airport to the Grosseto Province takes about two hours. Both Florence’s main airport and Pisa’s main airport are around an hour and half away from the province. For those arriving by train, you can reach Grosseto either on the Rome-Florence, Rome-Pisa or the Siena-Grosseto lines. A direct train ride from Siena takes less than two hours. Of course, going by car is recommended to see all of the breathtaking landscapes change before your eyes and to reach the most private corners of Grosseto.
Have you been to the Province of Grosseto in Tuscany? Share you favorite experiences with us in the comments below.