This itinerary takes you through two very different territories within the Maremma, the Tuscan littoral south of Grosseto - the finest untouched coastline in Italy - and the unique Tufo area in the hills - an extraordinary mix of archaeological, medieval and natural beauty.
The coastal area once contained vast expanses of marshland, the breeding ground of malarial mosquito and was scarcely inhabited until draining of the marshes began in the fascist regime. Apart from a few beach resorts it is still amazingly unspoilt. Parts of this coast have become protected areas including the Monti dell'Uccellina hills which have been designated a regional park.
Just south of Grosseto, off the main Roman Aurelia road, Alberese is the main entry point to the Maremma Regional Park, the Monti dell' Uccellina. Access to the park is strictly controlled, no cars being allowed. To explore the reserve you go by bus, canoe, bike or on foot or on horseback. Here beautiful beaches give way to dunes and maquis, to hills with vast tracts of pine and, in the south to cliffs and bays. Rare birds are found here (flamingo, osprey peregrine), and white oxen and semi wild horses roam the grasslands tended by cowboys, known as the "butteri".
Another access point to the park is the charming old fishing port of Talamone at the southern tip of the Uccellini, dominated by its 16th century castle. A trail from here will lead you to the Punta del Corvo from where there are amazing views of the coast and of your next stop, Monte Argentario.
Once an island, Monte Argentario is now joined to the mainland by two narrow sandspits, or "tomboli" which were built up by inshore currents over thousands of years forming a lagoon - the Laguna di Ortobello. The Romans created a causeway from Ortobello, an ancient settlement on a peninsula in the lagoon, to the mainland, so dividing the lagoon.
Travel along the causeway to visit the Argentario'' and the villages of Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole. Porto Santo Stefano is a fashionable resort with a marina full of mega yachts''. Porto Ecole is a quieter fishing village, dominated by two Spanish fortresses, facing each other across the harbour, and a third, above the town. The mountainous "island", partly protected by WWF, is "as near to wilderness as Southern Tuscany comes", with rugged crags, quiet stretches of coast, coves and beaches. The Argentario shelters the lagoon, the largest on the Tyrrhenian seaboard (2600 hectares) which being only one metre deep attracts hundreds of birds and has become "the bird watching capital" of Italy.
South of Ortobello is another important nature reserve, Lago di Burano, on the coast below Capalbio. Built upon a 217 metre high hill, with its peaceful maze of unspoilt medieval streets, Capalbio is a favourite haunt of Rome's cultural and political elite.
With drainage and irrigation the Etruscans turned this coastal area into one of huge agricultural potential. With the disappearance of their civilization, most of the towns bordering the sea dwindled slowly in the Middle Ages, but inland towns flourished. A succession of war lords, Aldobrandeschi, Orsini, Medici, dominated the area, superimposing mighty fortifications upon the Etruscan and Roman centres. Your journey now takes you inland to explore four of these towns - Pitigliano, Sorano, Sovana and Saturnia, in the area known as the Area della Tufa.
Pitigliano stands high on tufa cliffs, seemingly a wall of medieval houses. The many burial caves hollowed in the undercliffs are evidence of man's presence here since prehistoric times. Fortifications and an aqueduct, built by the Orsini, dominate the town. There are interesting exhibits of Etruscan finds to be found in the Museo Etrusco, housed in the Palazzo Orsini within the fortress. In the tightly packed old town a synagogue and a ghetto are reminders of a significant event in the town's history - the arrival in 1569 of Jewish refugees fleeing Rome. Given sanctuary here, the highly organised Jews came to dominate the town's life. After proscription was lifted in 1735, there was even a Jewish University here which attracted students from all over Europe. Today, however, few Jewish residents remain but their influence lives on in many ways - for example the town is a major producer of kosher wine.
Besides carving into the tufa rock on which Pitigliano and other towns of this area are built to form tombs and cellars, the Etruscans hollowed out pathways joining their centres - these are known as the "Via Cave". Many of these amazing roads - some as deep as 10 metres - can be explored around Pitigliano.
The road circles around Pitigliano's fortress and on to another Orsini fort, at Sorano. The route is lined with caves and tombs cut into the hillside. The medieval village, 379 metres high, is visible long before you reach it, dominated by the Fortezza Orsini and the Masso Leopaldino. The fort, built in 1552 was often besieged but never captured. Beneath the town is an intricate labyrinth of cellars, the most interesting of which is at the northeastern end of the town. Here a series of rooms extend 9 to 12 metres into the tufa.
The third town on this itinerary, Sovana was one of the most important Etruscan and early medieval towns of the area. Dating back at least to 7th century BC. The town flourished under Pope Gregory VII, who was born here in 1020, but declined in the 15th century. The original fishbone paving in the main street, Via di Mezzo and the Piazza del Pretorio has been restored. The Piazza is dominated by the church of Santa Maria, built in the 13th century to a Romanesque Gothic plan. The adjacent Torre del Architetto houses an ancient, weight operated clock. In the 13th century Palazzo Pretorio a museum traces the history of the area.
Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana form a triangle in which lies the protected area the "Città del Tufa", this unique Archaeological Park was opened in 1998 and is one of the most interesting Etruscan sites. The park is divided into three areas - Sovana, Sorano and Vittozo. Amongst the fascinating sites to see here are the necropolis area around Sovana, where there are many elaborate tombs, and the most important cliff settlements in Italy, 200 rocky caves, found in the Rocca di Vitozza.
The journey ends at another Etruscan, and later Roman centre, Saturnia. The town's hilltop location on the Via Clodio made it vitally strategic to both Etruscans and Romans. Today, the only indication of the past of this quiet village, set amidst deep valleys, with magnificent views over the Albegna valley are Etruscan tombs and Roman ruins, including a Roman thermal bath. It was the Romans who first exploited the nearby natural hot springs which are a major attraction today.
Below Saturnia, at Le Terme, the sulphurous, intense turquoise springs which bubble up at a temperature of 37.5 degrees, form streams, waterfalls and pools which have brought visitors here for thousands of years. The past of this area links with the present in the large spa complex and many luxury hotels which have developed around these curative waters.