The Maremma has a heritage that’s all her own. She is so different from her Northern neighbours, from Florence and Siena, that you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were in different regions. This has everything to do with the people who ruled the Maremma through the centuries, from the Etruscans to the Aldobrandeschi family, the Spanish and the Gran Dukes of Lorraine.
One of the best and, admittedly, remaining ways to truly appreciate the unique beauty and humble charm of the Maremma is through her festivals. The territory holds hundreds of them each year from grand celebrations of Renaissance art and medieval flair to the tiny country fetes that have been frequented for generations and whose main entertainment is the heartedly received local accordion player.
There are some events that stand out from the rest. These annual happenings are not to be missed.
Balestro del Girifalco
Massa Marittima, fourth Sunday of May and second Sunday of August
Siena has her palio. The “Little Sister” (as Massa Marittima is known) has the Balestro del Girifalco. Started in the 14 th century when Massa was a free commune, the event was a way for the town’s young men to hone their skills in case of invasion. The event is essentially an archery competition between the three historical districts of the city. The teams use a 15 th -century style bow that is very heavy and very temperamental, taking it in turns to hit the girifalco or a beautifully elaborate painting of a falcon. The event is in every sense of the word a medieval festival, so be prepared to see gorgeous costumes and amazing performances from the city’s flag wavers.
Festa delle Cantine,
Manciano, second weekend in September
September arrives and so do the wine festivals. You could easily spend every day of the month wine glass in hand, celebrating at a different one, but Manciano is an affectionate and local favourite. The town’s choice tipple, the Morellino di Scansano, is served abundantly from cellars in the Old Town. A strong and fragrant red, the Morellino is very similar to Chianti, only packing a punch. Along with the wine is plenty of local fair including the town’s renowned pecorinocheese and acquacotta, a vegetable and bread soup that can be traced back to the Maremma’s peasant heritage when the farmer’s would bring it to the fields as a nourishing meal.
Castagna in Festa
Arcidosso, second week in October
Winter is coming, but in Arcidosso everyone stays warm by the light of huge bonfires, a glass of red wine and a handful of chestnuts. If you’re not European, you mightn’t see the appeal of chestnuts. To be honest, I think they taste like clumps of flour. But the locals are enamoured with their sweet taste and crumblytexture. Arcidosso celebrates them in all forms at this food festival from chestnut breads and pasta dishes to the traditional favourite – roasted over an open fire or boiled in red wine.
Notte dei Pirati
Porto Ercole, first week in May
It’s not all food festivals and traditional celebrations. Porto Ercole’s Notte deiPirati tops my list because it’s so unusual. A symbol of the Maremma’s ability to surprise you with things that you would never expect to find in its countryside. The Festa dei Pirati is a big parade, followed by a treasure hunt and fireworks. The various districts in town go to great lengths to make sure they have the best pirate costumes and makeup, and everyone lends a hand to transform this port town into a pirates’ cove. Keep an eye out for the huge corsair that docks in Porto Ercole especially for this festival.
Morellino Classica Festival
Around the Maremma, weekends from May to September
Don’t let its name deceive you. The Morellino Classica Festival is actually an international piano festival. It wouldn’t have been right to finish this article without at least once mention of a classical music festival. This event attracts the best names from around Europe to perform in some of the most breathtaking locations in the Maremma. Forget concert halls, these musicians delight audiences in medieval churches, sprawling castles and Etruscan settlements at sunrise. Tickets can be bought online and most concerts end with a free tasting of local wine and other treats.