And, these days, full of people like Mick Jagger.
Maremma, from the Latin word meaning “of the sea,” is a long stretch of land along the Tyrrhenian coast that starts about a two-hour drive north of Rome. It’s a part of Italy where my wife spent her teenage summers, where friends hoisted us up on chairs at our wedding and where our daughter plucks tomatoes from the garden with her grandparents. But nowadays, it’s also a destination for both wealthy Italians and the internationally fabulous, so that running into rock legends like Jagger is increasingly likely. (“BONO e gli U2 in Maremma” blared an August headline in the local newspaper, Il Tirreno).
More than anything, Maremma owes its present bloom to its longstanding reputation as Maremma l’Amara (Bitter Maremma), the place that Dante dissed as the stomping ground of thieves and wild beasts, the coast that mosquitos cursed with malaria until the 1950s. All that has changed as new hotels and luxury resorts have sprung up over the years. But as a result of its centuries of squalor, Maremma is thankfully less up to speed than the rest of the country’s prime destinations. Its main artery, despite endless talk of a super highway, is a two-lane road along the ancient Via Aurelia that follows the sea, past old Etruscan towns, medieval abbeys and dense woods.
Maremma’s present position off the beaten or well-paved path has protected it from the overexposure of other sun-kissed Italian shores and imbued it with an authenticity equally accessible to those with or without platinum albums on the walls. Its appeal lies in the contrast between Michelin stars and plastic plates, starchitect wineries and family-run cellars, private pools and public beaches. For now, it occupies the fleeting space between the overly opulent and the underdeveloped. It is, in other words, ripe for a visit.
On an otherwise secluded side of the Argentario promontory in Porto Ercole, a port town where the painter Caravaggio died and to which Rome’s radical chic now flock, Roberto Scio, the owner of the luxury hotel Il Pellicano, and his daughter, Marie-Louise, regaled my wife and me with semi-apocryphal stories about Scio’s accidental discovery of the hotel in 1974. Seasickness led to the search for shelter, which led to a meeting with Charlie Chaplin, which led to his encounter with the British couple who owned the small hotel and his decision, years later, to buy the place. All this led, as we sat there, to his pausing to call over a guest he had spotted walking up from a swim.
“Mario!” Scio called out to the acclaimed chef Mario Batali. Scio had just opened up a good bottle of wine and wanted to share it with his guests. Batali, wearing Hawaiian shorts and flip flops (not his trademark Crocs) came down the stairs with Mike Mills, a member of R.E.M., whose bandmates were resting in their rooms (U2 arrived the following day). Batali and Mills then added their own lore to the conversation, recounting their afternoon trip to the nearby island of Giglio, one of the southernmost islands in the Tuscan archipelago, where they tasted the local Ansonica wine. Batali enthusiastically reported that the local winemaker professed that he could never leave Maremma because he was “like a stone.”