Even for those who live in Italy, there are always new Tuscan villages to explore. You can visit Tuscany many times, and still find out that there are places you haven’t been yet, borghi that you have heard of but not seen. In the Southern Maremma, far from the beaches, the hills are golden in the summer, after the harvest. Spelt (farro) is cultivated here, and has been one of the typical products of this Italian region for centuries. The hills melt with the mountains; Mount Amiata is the highest peak in Tuscany. Etruscans developed a strong commercial net and founded many cities in the area of Grosseto, which is dotted with Medieval towns and charming villages.
The wild beauty of Southern Maremma
Arcidosso, on Mount Amiata, is a Tuscan comune that exists from the year 860. The town developed around an old fortress, the Aldobrandeschi castle, with a tower that raises beyond the rooftops and dominates the village. Among the houses are Medieval churches containing frescos and paintings, and the town is accessed through three gates. According to a local legend, Merlin, the enchanter from the Arthurian cycle, lived nearby, in a cave in the village of San Lorenzo. The hamlet has the typical structure of other Tuscan villages, with picturesque views and narrow alleys, cobbled stairs and flower pots everywhere.
The same atmosphere can be found in the near village of Santa Fiora, where the Aldobrandeschi family built another castle and walled the hamlet. Once you step through the main gate, you get lost in the maze of alleys going up and down. You will bump into old churches where you’ll find beautiful works of art, such as Della Robbia glazed ceramics and terracotta. And you’ll be mesmerized.
In a less interesting but quiet town nearby, Castel del Piano, there’s a beautiful hotel where we stayed for a night, Grand Hotel Impero. In the historical center we also found a good restaurant, Taverna delle Logge, where I hat pici, one of the typical Tuscan dishes. Pici are a type of pasta that is usually decorated with tomato and pecorino cheese, and are delicious. Chickpea hummus, bruschette (grilled bread with fresh tomatoes, garlic and extra virgin olive oil) and cantucci (almond cookies) are also typical of Tuscan cuisine.
Sorano & the Tuscan canyons
Under the shining Tuscan sun, we head South-East and drive on a winding road, passing by cliffs and forests. Roads, tombs and villages are carved into the soft tufo rocks (limestone). As we approach the village of Sorano, we find ourselves in an unexpected canyon that leaves us breathless. I didn’t expect to find this type of landscape in Italy.
Nestled on the top of a tufo hill, Sorano is definitely worth a visit. On top of the mountain stands the fortress, which was built in the Middle Ages and then modified in the Renaissance. This imposing military complex survived many battles, and is now home to a collection of pottery found in the wells of Sorano and other towns.
In the village below are the typical narrow alleys, artisans’ shops and art galleries, restaurants and stone houses. By the way, there’s a nice hotel in Sorano (Hotel della Fortezza), if one should want to spend a romantic night in this secluded, charming place. We prefer to go on and head to Pitigliano, which I will write about in a new post.