The road south from Volterra over the mountains to MASSA MARITTIMA is scenically magnificent yet little explored: classic Tuscan countryside which is given an added surreal quality around Larderello by the presence of soffioni (hot steam geysers), huge silver pipes snaking across the fields, and sulphurous smoke rising from chimneys amid the foliage.
The outskirts of Massa have been marred by modern development, but the medieval town itself at the top of the hill, divided between two very distinct levels, remains a splendid ensemble. While visitor numbers are much lower than, say, San Gimignano, Massa is the closest hill-town to several coastal resorts, and on summer evenings it fills up with beach-based day-trippers.
Like Volterra, Massa has been a wealthy mining town since Etruscan times. In 1225, it passed Europe’s first-ever charter for the protection of miners; in the century afterwards, before Siena took over in 1335, its exquisite Duomo went up and the population doubled. The trend was reversed in the sixteenth century, and by 1737, after bouts of plague and malaria, it was a virtual ghost town. Massa gained its “Marittima” suffix in the Middle Ages when it became the leading hill-town of this coastal region, even though the sea is 20km distant across a silty plain. Its recovery began with the draining of coastal marshes in the 1830s. Today, it’s a quiet but well-off town, where the effects of mining are less evident than agriculture and low-profile tourism.