I haven’t chosen Monte Amiata randomly. As the weather cools, the Terme di Saturnia hot springs start to look less appealing and thoughts turn to mushrooms, chestnuts, nature walks and skiing – all things that the Maremma’s highest mountain has in abundance.
Monte Amiata is actually shared between the Maremma and neighbouring Siena. On our side of the border, the towns are quaint and honest. Ex-mining settlements, they were the last to embrace tourism and are the most authentic places to visit in the Maremma, renowned for their homely winter cooking and down-to-earth truffle hunters! Here are my favourite towns:
Monte Amita’s biggest town is a place of mystery and intrigue. In the 19th century, it was home to self-styled Jesus reincarnate, David Lazzaretti. He had quite a following before he was gunned down and there’s a museum dedicated to his sect in the town today. Arcidosso is also rumoured to be covered in Templar Knight symbols and other cultish markings, so keep an eye out as you wander its beautiful streets.
top sight: The Parco Faunistico del Monte Amiata is a huge nature park where you can see everything from wild donkeys, Appennino wolves and the remains of David Lazzaretti’s Zion.
best eats: Aiuole: no menu, amazing fried polenta and fantastic prices. You can’t get better than this traditional trattoria, located outside of Arcidosso.
castel del piano
My personal favourite, Castel del Piano is the haven of mountain artists and poets. Its palazzos are grand and its churches are numerous. Castel del Piano was home to Monte Amiata’s most famous art family, the Nasini, whose paintings are everywhere in the Maremma.
top sight: The very small art gallery and its most precious work, a self-portrait by acclaimed Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera.
best eats: Cafe Corsini for homemade bread, biscuits and fantastic local pastry and sweets. Keep an eye out for anything made with chestnut flour, the local delicacy.
Everyone else’s favourite town in Monte Amiata, Santa Fiora is the most famous of the mining towns. Its local mining choir actually performed at San Remo, the Italian singing competition, and has numerous CDs. Santa Fiora is beautiful for its hidden alleys and tiny churches and the sense of utter peace that seems to permeate the entire town.
top sight: A toss up between La Peschiera, the once private medieval garden of the ruling Aldobrandeschi family and now a walled garden that will take your breath away, and the Madonna delle Neve church next door, which has a glass floor, allowing you to see the stream that runs underneath it. This was once used by the priests to baptise people.
best eats: Rosticceria Tavola Calda Putano Marcello. It’s not beautiful on the inside or even fancy. It’s a simple cafeteria-style restaurant where you order what’s available that day. The roast chicken is out of this world.
monte amiata ski resort
Not exactly a town, but a must. If you’re going to be in Monte Amiata then you really should give these slopes a shot. They’re not as grand as the ones you’ll find in Northern Italy naturally, but they’re a fantastic introduction for novice skiers. You can rent everything you need on the slopes and a daily ski pass is very reasonable. I think under 20€, even on the weekends.
honourable mentions: art parks
There are two amazing art parks in Monte Amiata. The Giardino di Daniel Spoerri, a beautiful open garden filled with a hundred statues by artists all over the world, and Arte e Parte, a less spectacular, but delightful none-the-less, private art garden by one very eccentric artist.