Over the past month, we’ve taken a virtual stroll with our top guides through some of Italy’s most important cities – both ancient and modern – but now it’s time for a turn through the Tuscan countryside!
If you’ve missed our past posts in this popular “Meet Our Guides” series, make sure you go back to visit Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, and Rome with Alessandro… all among our most beloved guides who have revealed the hidden sides of Italy with scores of our clients over the decades.
We’ve missed being able to meet up with these and other of our trusted guides this year to soak in their passion and knowledge about Italy’s historic and cultural treasures. In the meantime, however, we’ve been enjoying reading about how they chose this line of work and the pleasure they find in it and in the travelers they meet.
Our featured guide this week is Roberta Marioni, who is not only a cultural guide for southern Tuscany but also leads guided hikes through the countryside and, as a certified sommelier, wine tours! In addition, she’s a passionate photographer, so be sure to admire her stunning photos posted below…
Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, what did you study, and how long have you been a tour guide?
I was born and grew up in southern Tuscany in an area called Maremma, the wildest part of this great region. There are no highways or factories, only rolling hills, country roads, woodlands, medieval villages, natural parks, archaeological sites, and vineyards.
When I was 12 years old, I began joining my father on his walks in the Tuscan countryside to explore the natural parks, archaeological sites, and medieval villages, which he loved to film and photograph, as I do now! My love for Tuscan history and nature began in those years
I studied law at the University of Pisa, but after graduating, I realized that I could not live without the passions that had steadily grown stronger over the years, including art, medieval architecture, photography, wine, nature, and hiking. So I went to the University of Siena to study art history and passed a first exam to become a licensed tour guide and then a second to become a hiking guide. In 2000, I also became a certified sommelier and wine taster.
During the last 30 years I have been working with joy as a tour guide across southern Tuscany, including the towns of Siena, Pienza, and Montalcino, as well as the area of Maremma. I also lead wine tours and hiking tours in the countryside.
What attracted you to becoming a guide?
Near my grandfather’s farm where I was born, there is an important Etruscan archaeological park called Roselle, where I spent many afternoons playing as child. I knew all the secrets of that place and I remember that I loved explaining the history of these ancient ruins to the few visitors who would stumble upon them at that time. Keep in mind that I was 6 or 7 years old!
Over the years, the opportunity to combine all my passions and turn them into a job, along with the possibility of helping people see and discover Tuscany through my eyes and experiences, persuaded me to leave my career as a lawyer and become a tour guide.
What is the one thing all visitors to Tuscany should see in your opinion?
They should have the chance to wake up one April morning in a house in the middle of nowhere, open their bedroom window, and view the rolling hills of Tuscan countryside.
What is your favorite secret treasure that you love to share with visitors?
The best angles to photograph a monument, a village, or a landscape! I think it’s important to have good travel photos, because they help you better remember the emotions you felt in a place – Tuscany in this case – and great pictures increase your desire to return.
Name a sight or activity that visitors should avoid in Tuscany.
Lunch in a very touristy restaurant or shop that has a row of tired sandwiches in the window! Tuscany has an incredible gastronomic wealth and I always say that if you want to know a country, you have to taste it. Tuscany offers a large selection of high-quality local delicacies and great wines that are worth the trip. Having great experiences with food and wine is very important and helps forge unforgettable memories of a place.
What is your favorite local dish, and is there a specific place visitors should try it?
In Val d’Orcia in southern Tuscany, I love pici all’aglione: thick, handmade spaghetti served with a tomato sauce flavoured with a rare sweet giant garlic, which only grows here. The best place to taste pici is Pienza, a fantastic little UNESCO-listed village and milestone in the history of Renaissance architecture. In the nearby village of Montalcino, I love the local Brunello wine, since I’m a sommelier. A great experience is tasting this wine after a nice walk in the vineyard; easy wine walks are one of my favorite activities.
Complete this sentence: If you really want to experience the spirit of Tuscany, you should
- be in Siena during the Palio horse race to feel the heartbeat of the town
- sit on a wooden bench beneath the porch of a family-run winery while the owner earnestly insists that you have to taste wine from every single barrel
- visit the UNESCO-listed Val d’Orcia to enjoy amazing views: the vivid colors of flowers and wheat fields in the spring, the striking colors of the naked soil in the autumn
- walk in the Tuscan countryside at the sunset
- visit a little-known medieval town like Pitigliano, with its ancient underground ghetto and mysterious Etruscan “Vie Cave”
Share your favorite memory from a tour you have given.
Over 30 years, I have accumulated so many beautiful memories of experiences with my clients that it’s difficult to choose. I hold in my heart a lady who had, after her divorce from a cheating husband, indulged in a luxury tour for her and her best friend. I took them to Siena, we visited beautiful places, we had funny and crazy experiences, and we laughed and cried together. My experiences with children are also touching, including a sweet 6-year old Russian girl with whom I played all day in San Gimignano, without speaking the same language.
Can you recommend a book or film for those planning of visiting your area?
The south of Tuscany is a natural film set and many award-winning movies have been filmed here; the most iconic photos of the Tuscan landscape are also taken here. Montepulciano, one of my favorite places, has played backdrop to countless movies, including “I Medici”; Pienza was featured in “The English Patient” and Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliette”.
What changes do you foresee in Tuscany’s tourism due to Covid-19?
Tourism will undoubtedly change all over the world. This summer, we had many Italian tourists in southern Tuscany – on the coast, in Maremma, in Siena, in the small inland towns, or hiking the trails – but without the crowds. That will probably be the trend in the future. People will prefer less crowded places like the countryside, the mountains, country walks, wine hikes, pilgrim trails like the Via Francigena, and cultural tours of charming villages. Luckily, there is a lot to discover in Tuscany.