Tuscany may not look very big on a world map but its size is deceptive. Mountain roads lengthen journeys and the only real way to visit many parts of perhaps Italy’s most beautiful, and certainly most varied, region is to locate a base and stay there for some days.
We found Manciano fitted the bill perfectly. Equidistant from the mysterious ‘tufo’ towns of Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano, the natural beauties of the lagoon of Burano and the wild beaches beyond it is located among the rolling hills of southern Tuscany – a region perhaps as neglected by the impatient tourist as our part of northern Tuscany once was.
We chose an agriturismo a little distance outside Manciano with a very good price and a friendly ambience. This morning, for example, we had breakfast in the garden which overlooks a deer park, part of the animals kept here which also include chicken and goats. It was lovely to see the deer, with some prized horned specimens having their breakfast too.
Our room was well-appointed and it was amazingly booked just a few days before the mad rush of Ferragosto, the Italian Bank holiday, when it’s impossible to find anything decent, especially if it’s near the sea.
After a standard drive down the Via Aurelia we branched inland at Albinia and reached our base after a journey of around four hours. Traffic was light and the countryside of La Maremma quite glorious with irs rolling hills, vast panoramas, umbrella pines and golden fields. It was difficult to believe that this area was once considered ‘maledetta’, cursed, because of the lack of proper drainage and the high incidence of malaria.
Yesterday we started off with an excellent continental breakfast of home-made ricotta, peach jam, cake, yogurt and caffé-latte served in the delighful early morning sunshine of the farmhouse’s garden.
We then set off to Manciano’s centro storico. The steep narrow streets led us to the main church and, near the top, to an excellent museum which gave us an insight into the history of the area. There has been a settlement here since the Old Stone Age and Manciano became an important centre under the Etruscans and Romans.
The castle keep (cassero) at the top is the home of the town council and it was very windy on the terrace surrounding it, giving us splendidly clear views of the surrounding country.
There was an interesting art exhibition nearby.
We proceeded to Capalbio, an even more spectacular southern Tuscan hill town with its ultra-steep streets and charming corners.
The Romanesque parish church has some beautiful old frescoes and the views from the town extended towards a truly blue Mediterranean.
There was a great walk around the town walls. I wonder if Capalbio was ever captured with such strong defences which included an outer wall as well?
The climax of the day, however, was yet to come!