This is an intriguing part of Tuscany, home to wild scenery and evocative reminders of Italy's Etruscan heritage. Usually referred to as the Maremma, its highlights include the intensely atmospheric Città del Tufo archaeological park, a network of Etruscan tombs and mysterious sunken roads known as vie cave in the countryside around the towns of Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano. Further north, more Etruscan heritage can be explored at the archaeological sites of Roselle and Vetulonia, and in the archaeological museum at one of Tuscany's most charming Renaissance–era hilltop towns, Massa Marittima.
An embarrassment of natural riches here means you can travel from sandy beaches to snowy mountains in just a few hours, passing wildlife-packed marshes and vine-covered slopes en route. The activities on offer are irresistible: swim, hike, horse ride and mountain bike by day before recharging over flavoursome Maremmese food and wine in secluded agriturismi (farm stay accommodation) by night.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southern Tuscany.
At Tuscany's most significant Etruscan tombs, part of the Parco Archeologico 'Città del Tufo', signs in Italian and English guide you around four elaborate burial sites. The headline exhibit is the Tomba Ildebranda, named after Pope Gregory VII, which preserves traces of its carved columns and stairs. The Tomba dei Demoni Alati (Tomb of the Winged Demons) features a recumbent headless terracotta figure.
Twenty-two oversized Gaudí-influenced sculptures tumble down a hillside at this fantastical sculpture garden created by Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930–2002). The whimsical, mosaic-covered creations merge with the surrounding park, creating what the artist called a 'garden of joy'. It’s a colossal effort that depicts characters from the tarot card pack (including the High Priestess, Wheel of Fortune and Justice) and includes a mirror-encrusted sculpture lived in by De Saint Phalle while the garden was being built.
Presiding over photogenic Piazza Garibaldi (aka Piazza Duomo), Massa Marittima's asymmetrically positioned 13th-century duomo (cathedral) is dedicated to St Cerbonius, the town's patron saint, always depicted surrounded by a flock of geese. Inside, don't miss the free-standing Maestà (Madonna and Child Enthroned in Majesty; 1316), attributed by some experts to Duccio di Buoninsegna.
This spectacular regional park incorporates the Uccellina Mountain Range, marshy plains and 20km of unspoiled coast. Access is limited to 12 signed walking trails ranging in length from 2.5km to 13km; the most popular are the easy 7km A2 ('Le Torri') and the demanding A1, a 7.8km uphill hike to San Rabano Abbey and the Torre Uccellina. From mid-June to mid-September you can only visit on a guided tour because of possible bushfires; call ahead to check times.
The picturesque towns of Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano form a triangle enclosing a dramatic landscape where local buildings have been constructed from the volcanic porous rock called tufo since Etruscan times. Known as the Città del Tufo (City of the Tufo), the area incorporates Etruscan sites including tombs and vie cave, sunken roads with high walls carved out of the tufo. All are now protected as part of this archaeological park, which also incorporates local museums.
Set in the wild surrounds of Seggiano, this sculpture garden is the passionate project of Romanian–Swiss artist Daniel Spoerri (b 1930), who created many of the 112 artworks spread over its 16 hectares. The landscape here is glorious – wildflowers carpet the fields and olive groves surround the property – and the site-specific works address the theme of how art should complement nature rather than overwhelm it. The standout piece is Olivier Estoppey's 2001 work Dies Irae (Judgement Day).
Grosseto's major tourist drawcard features an archaeological museum on the ground floor and a museum of ecclesiastical art upstairs. Items unearthed from Roselle are given pride of place downstairs – don't miss the statues of the family of Emperor Augustus. There's also an impressive collection of Etruscan funerary urns. The 2nd floor is home to artworks spanning the 13th to 19th centuries, including Stefano di Giovanni's Madonna delle ciliege (Madonna with Cherries; c 1445), which originally hung in the city's duomo.
Head down Via Zuccarelli and turn left at a sign indicating 'La Piccola Gerusalemme' to visit this fascinating time capsule of Pitigliano's historic but sadly near-extinct Jewish culture. It incorporates a tiny, richly adorned synagogue (established in 1598 and one of only five in Tuscany), ritual bath, kosher butcher, bakery, wine cellar and dyeing workshops.
A rather risqué surprise lurks in the street-level loggia (balcony) of a 13th-century former wheat store close to Piazza Garibaldi. The loggia shelters the Fonte dell'Abbondanza (Fountain of Abundance), a now-decommissioned public drinking fountain built in 1265 that features an extraordinary fresco known as the Albero della Fecondità (Fertility Tree). This portrays a tree laden with penises hanging like fruit and shows women fighting each other for those fruits that have fallen.