Lustignano is on the "solfiti" trail in Maremma Pisana territory - which means that it is set in a landscape you won't expect of Tuscany, of hot rocks, gurgling and spitting black mud pools and natural hissing stinky vapour outlets in the countryside around! Bet that has got your attention!
Still enclosed within its original stone castle walls, this medieval hill top hamlet makes for a perfect day out in Maremma, especially if you have children.
Maremma is full of wonderful things: not only does it have many wine and food trails for you to meander along at leisure and try traditional recipes and a glass of two of some of the best wines in Italy, it also has a trail of altogether another sort: a geothermic sulphur trail!
My young daughter and "photography assistant" and I drove THROUGH the River Cornia to reach it.
Took pictures of a hot stinky bubbling black mud pool.
Spotted piglets running wild down a road and ate our panini in the play park.
Washed our hands in lovely warm spring tap water, and ventured onto private land to explore an enchanting ruined castle that was covered in wisteria in bloom.
Drove down a "strada privata" road to reach a stinky "red lake".
And one of us fell asleep in the car on the way home. Bliss. Pure bliss :)
It also has the strangest bathroom door I have ever seen that would defy all but a rock climber or the most nimble acrobat to open! There's a picture further down this page.
Lustignano may be on a mapped and signposted tour route, albeit a sulphurous one, but no tour major tour company is ever going to add it to its list of destinations as it won't take long to walk each of its medieval streets, see each of its tiny piazza's, or walk the entire circumference of its still intact castle walls.
And there are no souvenir shops, torture museums or other attractions in which a coach load of tourists could be left to their own devices in for a couple of hours.
Which make sit the perfect place for those of you who love discovering out of the way places that hold surprises.
But little Lustignano - for it is a small place - is home to one surprise that gained great attention not so many years ago when, by chance, two large underground silos were unearthed under the historic centre. Walked upon for years, with no living memory that they were there.
The "le cisterne di Lustignano" were discovered under the Piazza degli Alberi in April 1999, when construction began of a new sewer system.
The exploration and survey of the two silos - "silos frumentari" - was put into the hands of archaeologists from Firenze and revealed two cone-shaped tanks that had been carved into the bedrock, both of which were partially damaged in their uppermost parts.
The two tanks are of different sizes, with the largest, and most well-preserved, being the one situated furthermost from the entrance to the square.
The interior of this one had been completely plastered with a white mortar to make it waterproof. It has a brick entrance and a brick wall separated it from its smaller neighbour, which was not plastered.
Based upon the archaeological remains found in the two tanks (ceramics) and the stratigraphic data from the tanks excavation, it is clear that both tanks were built after the final construction of the castle walls in 1290, when it became prudent to store as many supplies as possible within them.
The larger tank was used form the beginning of the fifteenth century and abandoned in the early eighteenth century. Initially used as a grain storage, it was subsequently waterproofed to be used as an underground cistern.
The smaller tank, on the other hand, was always used as a grain store: built in the late fifteenth century and abandoned on the late sixteenth century.
Three other silos have since also been discovered nearby.
But the cisterns aren't the only things to be discovered here. Lustignano has captured the imagination of historians, anthropologists and scientists before with the discovery of a Paleolithic bison painting in an area of local caves known as the "Grotte ai Corvi" - caves of ravens.
It seems little Lustignano is fond of releasing a surprise or two :)
There are four water taps in the village where you can obtain fresh water, but three of them are particular treats for children, for they sit within sculptures made by the local artist Fabio Batini.
The first is next to the sports pitch and a childrens playground as you enter the village carved into a sandstone boulder: the "Fontana del Poggiolo".
This is the best place to park. The walk in will just take a minute. And an ideal spot for a picnic, especially if you have children with you. Sophia and I ate our panini's there. The picnic benches and tables are in the shade and the playground is well tended with swings, a slide and two bouncy animals.
You will need to press really hard the the tap to get any water out - and you will - and it will be a lovely tepid temperature when you do.
But don't be surprised when millions of black ants suddenly arrive too! Because this, residing a little out of the centre of the hamlet, clearly is the less used water "fonte" than the others and the ants have taken-up residence!
You won't miss the second water as it rests inside a really lovely stone sculpture with a compass marked on it as well as the villages coordinates. The "Fontana della Lucertola" - the lizard fountain.
See how many insects and bugs as well as reptiles you can spot - there are lots! The latter caught me out unaware: not sure with my phobia that I would press that water spout!
The third is in the central piazza...
And looks like this! The "Fontana della Chiocciola" - fountain of the snail. Even at this one, the water falls into a serpent cup!
The fourth is in my favourite piazza, that of the enclosed square below, reached by way of a medieval alleyway. The "cinghiale fontana" - wild boar fountain.
I love the mystery of the the missing door and overgrown steps to the one remaining one.
If you are heading to the village from the south and take the most direct route - it is a much longer journey if you don't - then you will need to drive past a boracific acid lake, through a wide river, the Fiume Cornia. Isn't life fun!
Now, the first time that I arrived at this point in the journey, it was on the other side of the river - and I was heading in the opposite direction south on my way home. I needed to get back to collect my daughter from school and didn't have time to retrace my tracks and go the very long way around via either Monteverdi Marittima or Monterotondo Marittima, but the water looked high and our car isn't a four wheel jeep!
Lucky for me there was a really helpful ENEL man parked at the bottom of the hill by the river in his jeep and he "came to the rescue" by offering to go over first and wait for me on the other side: he was sure I would be fine - it wasn't anything like the winter flood conditions, but would wait for me in any event
I did feel more than a little pathetic, but it gave me the courage to return this time with my daughter with me
A word of serious warning though: the last two winters here in la Maremma have seen unprecedented rains and bridges have been swept away in flash floods and undermined with the level and force of the swell waters. So, if in any doubt, take the longer route, won't you.
Driving out of Lustignano towards Serrazzano and Pomarance and you may well be treated to the sight of piglets running wild and amuck alongside the road! As Sophia and I did on our way home.
The farmyard to which they belong - actually it is two as Sophia and I found out when we backtracked to drive down it to tell the farmer that his piggies were loose, is actually two. The first farmer wasn't at all interested in what we had to tell him, as the piglets belonged to his immediate neighbour and it appears that they get out a lot!
Not one to give-up on a goodwill errand, we reversed in the yard and down another track until we met the pigs owner on his mobile phone and told him. He wasn't that concerned but did follow us to retrieve them, only they saw him first and scurried hot foot off and laughing into the woods on the opposite side of the road. :)
That mid-air bathroom door!
I love to take you to places you don't expect: Tuscany doesn't come more undiscovered than this!
Lago Boracifero is also the name of a tiny hamlet built to serve the production of acid and, apart from perhaps one car and one person one foot each time I have driven through on my travels, you probably won't see another soul.
The lake is home to various birds that don't mind its sulphurous and gassy waters.
If you take a little detour along the road to the ENEL plant will enable you to see one of the many "bulicani", in the area: a spluttering boiling hot mudpot or mud pool. It is fenced in, so taking photos isn't easy, but if you love geology, then it is a real treat.
FACT: the geothermic energy plants here are the biggest in Europe :)
Read about the lake and watch a marvellous mudpot in action!
At the bottom of the hill for the river crossing is also where you will find the "strada privata" (private road) for the "Lagoni Rosso" -the red lakes.
Although it is marked as private - it is the road to another geothermal plant - , it is fine to take it as it is also the access to the lake along the "Solfiti strada" in this part of Tuscany.
I was going to write the "tourist Sulphur trail", but that made me laugh and wouldn't have been accurate, as you won't find another tourist along it! For now that is, so enjoy the whole thing with no one else with you whilst you can.
There are three Sulfurous fumaroles - or solfataras, but they are all enclosed in fencing and you can't get close.
The open public areas weren't hissing vapours so I left them for exploring another day.
Note: Sophia and I have since been back and the "interesting" hissing and spitting spots are all out of public reach.
The Lagoni Rossi were originally known as the "Lagoni of Lustignano", from which boric acid was extracted. The few buildings that you will see here - now closed and boarded-up - were purposely built to house the extraction workers. Labourers here would build and stoke wood fires on which they boiled the water of the lakes. A harsh and unforgiving job.
Justifiably, the place was once known on maps as the "Magazzino del Diavolo" - the Warehouse of the devil.
Your best bet for a geothermic under foot experience - with fumaroles you can touch if you have astronaut insulated gloves on that is! - is either at the "le Biancane" at Sasso Pisano or the Parco Geotermico delle Biancane at Monterotondo Marittima.
You can even trek between one and the other, but I wouldn't recommend doing it under a hot sun: two heat sources with you sandwiched in between is a recipe for a bad headache.
Lustignano has not one, but two castles nearby one more modern than the other and for sale if you have a multi-million pound income and just as much if not more available to spend on restoring it.
We asked in the village and apparently you can reach the Castel di Cornia - properly known as the Castelluccio di Cornia on foot, but only through thick macchia and woodland that is a bit hazardous and will get you!
But that will soon change. For when Sophia and I went back to find it a few days later 'cause we love castles and wanted to see this one close-up - so we took dad with us too and a big stick too! - we learnt that the woodland around the castle had been cleared and that work was underway to clear the footpaths to reach it.
Visiting makes for a great exploration afternoon out.
The Castello di Lustignano is the one for sale at around two million Euros! I just loved its wild wisteria covered windows and doors... It has two towers and an internal cloister :)
Explore some more...