There is no shortage of things to do or see in Italy and Romans are spoiled for choice when it comes to weekend getaways. There are many roads out of Rome and plenty of inviting destinations beyond the Eternal City. Friday my family and I set off on the Aurelian Way and headed north to Maremma in Southwestern Tuscany. It’s not as famous as Chianti but lack of fame keeps this low-key corner of Tuscany traffic-free all year long.
My wife handled accommodation and found Azienda Agricola Riparossa after considerable research. It turned out even better than expected. The agriturismo in the heart of the Maremma overlooks a bucolic valley near the Albena River and we loved it the moment we pulled up the gravel driveway.
There’s plenty to make families happy. We spent hours in the panoramic pool, honing our ping-pong skills and playing foosball. Pina Bessi is an unassuming host who cheerily shares recollections, facts and advice about Maremma. Her father once managed the lands around the estate, which the septuagenarian, former schoolteacher, transformed into a family-friendly guesthouse with five comfortable apartments.
Tight shutters ensure darkness and on Saturday we woke well after 9am. There was no need for TV, although there are two, which my children watched for 10 minutes during our entire Tuscan stay. They slept on a comfortable pullout sofa while my wife and I fell asleep on a nice queen size bed. Pillows were slightly soft and if you’re picky about that sort of thing bring your own.
Outside a horse and mule graze in a field. There are stables nearby and Pina can direct you to these. The dogs are friendly and several are prized hunting breeds. Much of the agriturismo is surrounded by olive groves and at night there are plenty of stars in the Maremma sky. Fresh cakes and tarts are served with coffee, tea and juice each morning in the rustic communal area where livestock once lived.
The region is renown for its Maremma cattle, which are a specialty along with wild boar roaming in nearby forests. Fish is another gastronomic highlight and delivered fresh from the sea at the little port in Talamone.
My wife and I scouted eateries and turned up two mouth-watering options. On the Friday night we tried Ittiturismo, which isn’t technically a restaurant. There is no menu, no sign out front and guests all arrive at 8:30pm. That’s when Paolo Fanciulli starts the show. Part environmental seminar, part BBQ demo, it’s all about the Tuscan sea and how to respect it. Paolo tells stories and socializes non-stop with everyone who turns up at his home to feast on the day’s catch. It doesn’t get any fresher and we lost track of what species we were eating over 4 abundant courses served raw, stewed, creamed and best of all grilled over two fiery pits.
Paolo has been fishing the waters off the Maremma coast for three decades and launched the project to prevent harmful drag net fishing. His team of volunteers deposits giant blocks of concrete on the seabed that dissuades renegade fishermen. Marble is donated from quarries in Carrera and artists are invited to transform the rock into sculptures. The result is a unique under water exhibition and scuba tours provide a close up look. Paolo also organizes half-day fishing trips aboard his boat the Sirena (Siren) where anglers can eat whatever they catch.
I’m not a big fan of beaches so Saturday morning I suggested a nearby sculpture park. My wife agreed and we set off down the lovely country roads that crisscross the Maremma. Unfortunately, Giardino dei Tarocchi was closed. Fortunately, we were close to Capalbio. Parking was easy and we wandered the cobbled streets of this idyllic hill town up to an impressive lookout tower. Then we walked along the ramparts with great views of Tuscany. We didn’t stay for lunch but there are half a dozen osteria that looked like they’d been in business for generations.
We ate on the veranda of our apartment. It was peaceful and I could have napped away an hour but the beaches beckoned. There are many options in Maremma but we headed to the closest, 20 minutes away, which happens to be a WWF Oasis. There are several convenient parking areas and sandy paths lead to a long crescent shaped bay.
There was plenty of room and enough space between one set of beach towels and the next. The water was warm and shallow. We claimed a spot near the gentle waves and started having fun. It was 4pm and we spent the next hours in total beach bliss. Everyone lost track of time until I proposed we stay until sunset. My wife vetoed the idea reminding me about the need to shower before dinner and the reverie was suddenly broken.
Thirty minutes later we were hanging bathing suits to dry and changing into evening clothes. My son and I played a quick game of ping-pong and before we set off to Cavalluccio Marino. My wife found the restaurant but unfortunately our phones died after departure and the car navigation couldn’t locate it. I stopped to ask for directions but 20 minutes later we were still searching and getting hungrier by the minute. Eventually we surrendered to our stomachs and stopped at the first eatery we passed. Luckily, it was the place we had been searching for all along. The waiter smiled and led us to our table. The menu was tempting and after some discussion we opted for the mixed starter. Moments later we were enjoying stewed octopus, creamed fish and toasting to our good fortune. Later two crustacean-filled pasta dishes arrived that satisfied four. The main course was a generous portion of fried calamari my wife and I shared while our son devoured a plate of grilled jumbo shrimp.
We debated between beach or pool on Sunday and could have gone either way but the wisdom of my wife prevailed once again and we made the easy choice. Morning was spent frolicking in the pool, practicing dives and perfecting our ping-pong. We had lunch under the pergola while contemplating the Tuscan hillside around the agritursimo. We were under 2 hours from Rome yet a world away. Why hadn’t we done this before? I wondered out loud. No one replied but we did know when we’d be back. Next weekend! We had reserved an apartment with Pina and were already looking forward to more Maremma.
Getting to Maremma (from Rome)
Take the GRA ring road towards Rome Fiumicino Airport and head north up the A12 highway. There are 3 tolls (€2.40 x2, €0.80) along the way and lots of speed traps. The highway becomes a motorway after Tarquinia with a top speed of 90km. Get off at Albinia to reach Maria Grazia, and the beach. The journey takes less than 2 hours.
Azienda Agricola Riparossa (Marsiliana, tel. 0564/606-493, http://www.riparossa.it) is open all year long and rooms can be reserved by email without a deposit. Three spacious apartment (names) comfortably sleep 2 adults and 2 children (€100 per night, light breakfast included). There are also two smaller apartments perfect for couples. Guests have access to a communal area, extensive grounds, swimming pool, barbecue, ping-pong and foosball table.
Ittiturismo (Via Montianese 41, tel. 333/284-6199, http://www.paoloilpescatore.it) only opens on weekends and reservations are required. It’s a little hard to find. Look for the green gate on the right immediately before the overpass leading into Fonteblanda. A four-course fish extravaganza with delightful discourse is €35 per adult and €20 per child. Wine is around €10 a bottle.
Cavalluccio Marino (SS Aurelia km 152, tel. 0564/871-628, daily lunch and dinner) is the last establishment on the left opposite the camping grounds. Here again reservations several days in advance are necessary to avoid disappointment. There is a fixed 3-course meal for €25 or a tempting a la carte menu. A meal for two adults and two children with water and house wine is €85.
The WWF Oasis includes a long stretch of white sandy beach. Parking is 1€ per hour for non-residents and there are a couple of beach clubs where lounge chairs and umbrellas can be rented for €10. Kayaks, sailboats, pedal boats, SUP boards and windsurfing gear are also available for rental by the hour from good-natured staff who also organize lessons for children and adults.
Maremma: Coastal area occupying southern Tuscany and northern Lazio.
Agriturismo: Rustic accommodation located on farms where travelers can experience rural life and the production of typical agricultural products.
Osteria: Tavern-like eatery where local dishes and wine are served at reasonable prices.
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