You can easily find big baskets of chestnuts on sale in supermarkets and greengrocers all over Tuscany. All you have to do is pop them in your padella da castagne (a frying pan studded with holes) and enjoy. But one of the Maremma’s favourite autumn pastimes is chestnut hunting. It’s called hunting, not picking because the ripe chestnuts are gathered from the forest floor and not from the trees. Chestnuts grow abundantly in Monte Amiata’s forests. All you need are sturdy shoes, a bucket and some gloves to protect your hands from the chestnut’s spiky outer shell. As a guide, the most plentiful chestnut trees are in the forests outside Castel del Piano and the neighbouring towns of Arcidosso and Santa Fiora. You have free range to gather as many as you want and unlike mushrooms, you don’t have to worry about picking up anything poisonous. The top local tip is to go for the biggest chestnuts you can find. They’re much easier to peel and cut.
For the best chestnuts offerings that you don’t have to pick yourself, head to Monticello Amiata for the annual Festa della Castagna. A stone’s throw from Castel del Piano, this small town has the Amiata Mountain as its backdrop and the proud tradition of baking the best castagnaccio in the Maremma. Castagnaccio is a type of cake made from chestnut flour and flavoured generously with pine nuts and raisins. It’s the festival’s highlight, served with plenty of traditional music and a few hands of briscola, the quintessential Italian card game. There is no denying that summer in Tuscany is beautiful, but there is something to be said about the cooler seasons. They offer a rare glimpse into local life, the festivals they love and a dolce vita that has nothing to do with beaches, but everything to do with good food, enjoyed in sight of some of the most magnificent natural scenery in Italy.