Summer School in Massa Marittima 2010

Dec 06

As part of my work at The British Institute of Florence I am helping prepare for their annual Summer School which takes place in the beautiful medieval hill town of Massa Marittima in the heart of the Maremma area of Tuscany. The historic square in Massa Marittima

I participated in the Summer School last year and couldn’t believe how this part of Tuscany which I had never visited is surprisingly still little known to mass tourism.

Surrounded by dense luxuriant woods, with ancient fortresses, churches and castles, many dating back to the Middle Ages, Massa Marittima is only twenty minutes from the Tuscan coast and is within easy reach of many places of interest, including particularly the ruined Cistercian abbey at San Galgano – and it is little more than an hour from one of my favourite places, the historic city of Siena.

The Institute’s Summer School offers a complete immersion into Italian language and culture. Every weekday morning there are intensive Italian language classes at different levels. Everyone, whatever their level, is encouraged to communicate in Italian from the very first day. The Institute’s delightful and very experienced team of Italian language teachers uses an interactive method aimed at developing confidence in the spoken language and broadening knowledge of day-to-day Italian life. Last year there were some absolute beginners and they soon felt confident in conversing with the locals many of whom speak very little English.

In addition every day there is an opportunity to experience more about all things Italian. For example each year there is a course – and several tastings! –  on Tuscan wines. This year the School is introducing classes on the art of making home made pasta, and the production of olive oil. There will also be a visit to the ancient and very pretty seaside town of nearby Castiglione della Pescaia.Casteglione della Pescaia

Best of all however, the  Summer School is timed to coincide with Massa Marittima’s famous open-air opera festival, which takes place in the Piazza Garibaldi, a tour de force of medieval city planning. This year is the turn of Puccini’s Tosca and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. The operas are performed against a backdrop of the magnificent Cathedral, one of the finest religious buildings in Tuscany.

The Balestra del Girafalco which takes place on the 2nd Sunday in August each year is a famous re-enactment dating back to medieval times with villagers in colourful historical costumes, representing the three districts engaging in a crossbow competition seeking to pierce the heart of the “corniolo”, the heart of the gerfalcon, the bird of prey that symbolically represents the enemy.

And if that isn’t enough there is San Lorenzo’s feast day on August 10th with Calici di Stelle – the night of falling stars when everyone takes part in the traditional nighttime wine festival in the streets of Massa Marittima and samples locally produced wines and olive oils.

The classes are held at Massa’s old seminary building right at the top of the hill with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. Last year the whole course was tremendous fun with a really interesting group from the UK, the US, Germany and Japan.

I am really looking forward to this year’s Summer School which promises to be even better. For further information do have a look at the Institute’s website.

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