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Maremma and the Etruscans

The Tuscany of Grosseto, Saturnia, Orbetello, Capalbio and the Argentario

Maremma and the Etruscans

From Grosseto, we take the Aurelia highway in the direction of Rome and after 12 kms we arrive at Alberese, one of the main access points to the Regional Park of the Maremma, known also as the "Uccellina Park": 10000 hectares and 20 kms of coast, a natural paradise with marsh lands, pine and deciduous woods, ancient watch towers, immense beaches. A harmonious union of land and sea, sandy dunes and mountains; where horses roam free and the highly prized cows of Maremma are bred. The park can be visited on horseback, by carriage, by canoe and by bike, throughout the year.

Continuing along the Aurelia, after 17 kms we come to the ancient settlement of Talamone, rising up on a rocky promontory directly above the sea, and famous for its impressive fortress.

A few kilometers further and we reach "Tombolo", a long tongue of sand which divides the Lagoon of Orbetello in the Laguna di Ponente and the Laguna di Levante. Orbetello, situated in the middle of this tranquil lagoon, forms the main transportation hub towards Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano, on the Monte Argentario. A lengthy excursion along this green promontory, linked to the coast by the Feniglia and Giannella tombolos - two narrow strips of sand formed by debris from the sea, accumulated by the currents, is highly recommended; the high rocky coastline opening up to reveal picturesque bays and enchanting beaches. In the 16th century, at the time of the State of the Royal Presides, the Spanish transformed the Argentario in an impenetrable rock guarded by an imposing defence system which included the Forte Filippo, which still dominates Porto Ercole.

From the Argentario we return to the Aurelia and, after 15 kms, a brief detour leads us to the last town of the Tuscan Maremma, right on the border with the region of Lazio: the world famous Capalbio; preferred retreat of members of the Italian political and intellectual classes. A medieval village which jealously guards its ancient traditions; Capalbio is situated on the summit of a wooded hill some 209 meters above sea level. Its 12 km long beach, skirted by lush Mediterranean scrub, extends northwards to the town of Orbetello and southwards as far as the Lazio border.

From Capalbio we head inland, climbing up the gentle hills of Maremma so as to visit the fascinating towns carved in to the tuff: Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana. Pitigliano, the historic center of which rises up on a spur of tuff towering above the Lente and Meleta rivers, was for centuries also known as "the little Jerusalem" for the presence of a significant Jewish community which inhabited the town until the 16th century; traces of which include the remains of an ancient Ghetto and Synagogue. More than worthy of visit; the "vie cave" network of walkways carved into the tuff by the Etruscans, possibly used in ancient rituals and later exploited as practical thoroughfares.

Just 10kms from Pitigliano is Sorano, an enchanting medieval village also perched on a steep tuff spur. To be experienced; a stroll along the winding lanes, past narrow alleyways and charming courtyards, terminating in a visit to the cellars dug in to the tuff and guarded by the magnificent 14th century Orsini Fortress.

So as to reach Sovana we need to travel a further 8 kms. An ancient Etruscan town of considerable importance, its necropolis are amongst the most famous in the whole of Tuscany. Also worthy of mention, is the minuscule historic center, the medieval heart of which located around the Piazza del Pretorio, complete with original fish scale paving stones, the Torre del Architetto (12th - 13th century), the Romanesque church of Santa Maria, and Palazzo Pretorio. Together with Sorano and Vitozza, Sovana forms a gateway to the Archaeological Park "Città del Tufo", where to relive the history of the Etruscan and Medieval eras.

Our journey draws to an end with moments of intense relaxation at Saturnia, a town which, legend has it, is the oldest of the ancient Italian cities. The town exists since Etruscan times when it was known as Aurinia. The Romans gave this famous Tuscan spa town the name Saturnia. Of its ancient past only a few vestiges remain; pieces of the wall which once surrounded the town in the IV and III century B.C, the Porta Romana, and sections of an ancient thermal bath of Roman manufacture. Today the town is visited principally for its excellent health spas, which have developed so as to reap the benefits of the warm sulphurous waters which surge out of the rocks at a rate of some 800 litres per second; promising vitality, beauty and lasting sensations of wellbeing.

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