Tuscany the land of yearning: since centuries the former European cultural center holds its many visitors spellbound. Most tourists however, visit only the famous and much traveled region between Florence and Sienna. We on the other hand traveled into a vastly unknown, wild and remote Tuscan region: the Maremma.
"Maremma maiala" damn Maremma - curses the Butteri riding in front of me, as the white long-horned cows once again attempt to fleedown the hill. The two Butteri, Tuscany's very own version of the cowboy, chase the renegades and bring the herd under control once again.
Real cowboys in Europe? In Maremma Tuscany, a traditional horse country this is still a daily reality. We are on the huge Filetto farm where in a project sponsored by the Italian agricultural ministry Maremma cattle is bread on a large scale. As breeding, this many hundred years old species of cattle, is not economically viable in times of agricultural mass production, the government has invested in the preservation of this tradition.
Glued deeply into their heavy working saddles the Butteri gallop all around our group. Apparently not only to control the herd of cattle but quite evidently, in another age-old tradition, to impress the blond girls riding just ahead of me. Being forewarned by our guide Marco, to always keep an eye on the potentially aggressive Maremma cattle I have eyes only for the long and very pointed horns.
Marco is urging us to get moving this morning. Yesterday we all learnt what it means to spend five hours in the saddle riding through the Alta Maremma, low-hanging branches, dense brush of petty whin and juniper . Today we are prepared: sunscreen on our noses, long-sleeved shirts to protect against the blackberry brambles, comfortable hiking boots and chaps instead of polished riding boots.
Huge centuries old chestnut, oak and pine trees verge our path. Nature has recuperated the ancient paths once the only connection between the very few villages in the area. A large fallen tree forces us to plunge into the dense and thorny bush which flanks the path. Suddenly the bush opens up to a clearing covered with red poppies. After several hours in the dense bush it is a great feeling to be out in the open once again. The horses shaking their manes are obviously just as happy to leave the restrictive bush, immediately galloping to the far side of this red ocean.
The dense chestnut forest recedes and the landscape changes almost imperceptibly at first to low scrubs, heather, overgrown fields and old orchards. After riding for hours through a vast, apparently deserted area it is only at midday that we encounter the first signs of past settlement. The ruins of an old farmhouse, a mighty oak tree grows out of the former kitchen and a few piglets run around the old courtyard. Further along the way a shepherd crosses our path with his herd of sheep, the fact that we are riding through this area on horses for the pure pleasure of it has him shaking his head in amazement. Really just for the fun? The traditional use of the horse for labour is deeply rooted in this area. He tells us of the old times as most people in this area still earned their living in one or the other of the many mines. Since the Etruscans silver, copper and zinc had been mined in the area. In the past decades more and more mines where closed, large proportions of the population were forced to move away. The numerous deserted farms and villages are a silent witness to better times. Listening to the shepherd is stories - transplanted into a former time - we rode on in a slightly more pensive mood.
After an hour-long ride up a steep incline we finally reach our midday target. The ruins of a small miners village. Anja is already waiting for us with a picnic in the shade of a gigantic cypress tree. Overlooking the ocean far below we dine on pasta, grilled wildboar, and Pecorino cheese and drink some fresh Chianti. Not hard in these moments to appreciate the Italian lifestyle: endless rolling hills, the ocean, wonderful food and great wine - pure Tuscan bliss! Lying in the sun with the second glass of Chianti in the hand, the last English-Italian-Swedish-German linguistic barriers are surmounted.
Leaving the silver mine behind us we follow a narrow twisted path to the Fosini castle, pasted to the cliff face above us. The former resting-place on the road to Florence is a perfect site for a coffee break. The break is cut short by distant thunder and rolling clouds on the horizon. Marco presses on. On the last few meters to our night camp, a wonderful renaissance villa, we are drenched with lukewarm raindrops. Before running for cover we release our horses onto the Count's vast pasture. The Haflinger horses that are supposed to be on the same pasture are nowhere to be seen. This didnС‹t really worry us and it was only the next morning that we found out what it means to recapture ones horse in the dense scrubs - The Macchia.
The administrator waves to us as we walk down the cypress alley past the impressive count's residence. Though we unfortunately never met the count we are all deeply impressed by the beauty of this property. We ride on over fields, past olive and wine plantations. We pick up the ever-present scent of Rosemarie and mint. Here in the hills the centuries old traditional farming has defined the landscape. All morning the sun has been burning in our faces. TonyС‹s horse uses a river crossing for a quick bath. His girlfriend canС‹t stop laughing and shoots one photo after the other. A few moments later she joins him, drenched in the riverbed! The next picnic site is not far away and the sun quickly dries the wet clothes.
The ruins of the San Galgano cloister appear on the horizon. This cloister built in the 13 Th. century used to be the cultural and economic center of the region. Nowadays it is only visited by a few cultural explorers. When one sits in the shade up against the massive walls one has the impression that the former monks are still nearby, striding through the gigantic well-preserved gothic arches, their songs drifting up towards the sky above.
With yet another Chianti we sit joking in the garden of the former abbey. Looking at the faces around me, I can tell, the first few days have already changed everyone in a little way. The group has become fused together; the wildness and beauty of the Maremma, the insights into the past, all this has brought about a new zest for life. The proverbial yearning for theTuscany Maremma has now also got hold of all of us.