This is the 16th post of a guest series. We ask friends and colleagues to share with us what the expression to “feel at home” means to them. We believe that to truly enjoy a place, you need to really experience it, to make yourself at home. This means different things for different people, but it is an essential part of our lives, both as travelers and travel professionals. The idea came from a post I published in March 2010 and that you can read here.
Maremma, my home
Five years ago, I would have told you to run from the Maremma as fast as you possibly could lest you get sucked into the monotony of country life.
In my defence, I was young, reasonably foolish and utterly spoilt. To think that I could have looked at this magnificent corner of Southern Tuscany and moaned about the lack of after-dinner entertainment! Not my finest moment, for sure. But I had come to the Maremma to teach English and take a year off before starting university. I never expected to find my home.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, home always begins with a sense of belonging. For me, feeling like an outsider in a small Italian town called Manciano was enough to consider abandoning my post and returning to my family in Australia.
And then I met a boy. There’s always a boy isn’t there? Sure he was cute, but more importantly, he showed me just how amazing, unforgettable and enchanting the Maremma could be.
If you’ve never heard of my home then you’re missing out. In my mind, the Maremma is small, picturesque and cosy. In reality, it actually makes up a quarter of Tuscany. But it does have a small town atmosphere, a sense that everyone knows your name (and your business) and an infectiously warm welcome, gratuitously extended to anyone who visits.
Its landscape is a mixture of pure natural beauty and a historical legacy that begins with the Etruscans and embraces Romans warriors, Medieval masters and Renaissance kings. From one end to the other, the countryside looks like its from the pages of a picture book and there are few other places in the world where you can go from paradisical beach to snow-flecked mountain top in a matter of hours.
In the midst of it all, the Maremmani maintain the very best of their agrarian roots, an unconscious respect for the environment and an appreciation of simple homecooked meals, where seasonality is king and everything is better with a good glass of local wine and a noisy dose of family.
I admit, I’ve become eccentrically besotted with the Tuscan Maremma. But it didn’t happen immediately. Instead, my adopted home snuck up on me. Surprised me completely. Beat some sense into my bratty brain and left me with an unexplainable, but unbreakable, affection for a landscape I stumbled upon completely by accident.
(Saturnia Hot Springs)
I’m now married to that cute Tuscan boy, who is really a born, bred and slightly over-patriotic Maremmano with a secret love of Thai cooking. He’d never admit it, but I think he’d swap a bowl of tortelli maremmani for a pad thai any day.
And me? There are days when I crave the Australian summer sun and Christmas at the beach, but I couldn’t possibly imagine myself living anywhere else. When it all boils down, home is so much more than where your heart is, where you hang your hat, or where all your stuff is, it’s also where you see yourself whenever you close your eyes.
I close my eyes and I see the countryside that’s immediately outside my bedroom window. Oak-covered plains the colour of acid, clusters of hills masquerading as mountains and the indeterminable Argentario Sea, which everyone insists they can see clearly, but which I am yet to get a glimpse of.
(The view from Elisa’s window)
And with this sight, comes a million mixed emotions. Affection for the locals of my small Italian town who call themselves Mancianese first, Maremmani second and Tuscans last, and only if they’re forced. Astonishment that I didn’t appreciate the small pleasures of a quiet day spent enjoying country life sooner. Amazement at just how much the Maremma has to offer its visitors. And pride for the effort made to preserve local tradition and the cultura contadini (farming culture) no matter what.
The Maremma is without a doubt my home now and while it isn’t always la dolce vita, it’s pretty darn spectacular. Especially since I’ve finally accepted that I will always be asked whether I eat kangaroo, have ever seen a crocodile or watched ‘Le Sorelle McLeod‘ (‘McLeod’s Daughters’) when it was on television. I’m no longer an outsider, but curiosity gets the best of everyone!