From the wild Tyrrhenian Sea to the soft hills of Maremma, let’s take a virtual walk down the Tuscan Coast to explore its prettiest historical towns.
The fascinating Etruscan civilization settled in Tuscany around the 8th century BCE, giving birth to one of the most advanced cultures of Western civilization. The Etruscans tended to settle in the most beautiful locations, and in fact they priviledged the coast of Tuscany. Today we’ll explore a section of that coast now called the “Costa degli Etruschi”, Etruscan Coast, which extends from the wild blue Tyrrhenian sea below Livorno, all the way down to Piombino – though most of the time the area slightly below is also included under this umbrella – embraced by the soft green hills of the Maremma area. Let’s take a virtual walk down the Tuscan Coast to explore its prettiest historical towns.
This multi-sensory trip will take us down the Aurelia, the Roman road down the coast, from the white beaches of Rosignano to the gravity-defying cliffs of the promontory of Piombino, to the thick pine forests of Castiglioncello to the poetic cypress trees of Bolgheri. An adventure in history, landscape, nature, wine, and cuisine.
A Castle at Calafuria
The promontory of Calafuria is a protected nature reserve in the western part of the Livornese hills. It’s possible to take a beautiful walk through this uncontaminated area, so green it hurts, scented in the spring by yellow-flowered broom trees. The area proved essential for defense, so the Medici family in Renaissance times built two lookout tours here. The water below offers a rich ecosystem ideal for scuba-diving.
Quercianella: fishing, diving, and villas
To the south of Livorno, Quercianella is a tiny town just below the Torre del Romito, the highest point of a promontory that extends from Antignano to Castiglioncello. This rocky coastline made of charming coves features sea of the darkest blue, particularl rich with maritime life, making it ideal for both divers and fishermen. Beyond the beach, it’s worth checking out the area’s 19th-century Castello Sonnino, also known as “del Romito” and not to be confused with the Chianti winery of the same name. Unfortunately you can only see it from a distance as it’s a private residence, only open on rare special dates. Other villas in the area include Villa Jana, an 18th-century residence with a medieval-style tower, and Villa Pavolini of the same period.
Sea, Art and pine forest at Castiglioncello
Castiglioncello is an attractive beach town some 30km south of Livorno. In the 19th century, this city became famous, at least at a local level, when Diego Martelli, an important Italian art critic, chose it as his residence, attracted by the beautiful landscape and seascape. This drew the period’s artists, namely the group called the Macchiaioli, who were Italy’s answer to France’s Impressionists. In the 1960s it was a beach destination for numerous VIPs who appreciated the shade provided by the town’s thick forests of maritime pine trees. Still a popular summer destination, the town holds a dance festival, Inequilibrio Festival, and a literary prize called the Premio Letterario Castiglioncello-Costa degli Etruschi. If visiting outside of the hottest months, the hiking trails that lead to Poggio Pelato are a lovely way to explore the area’s typical greenery, the macchia mediterranea.
Bolgheri Wine and poetry
Most Italians will associate the town of Bolgheri with a poem by Giosue’ Carducci – Italy’s first Nobel prize for literature winner – who lived in Bolgheri between 1838 and 1848. Carducci immortalizes the “cypress road” that leads to Bolgheri, surrounded on either side with numerous hectares of of prestigious wineries. For what to do in this area, see our article here.
Within the Bolgheri wine producing zone, closer to the town of Castagneto Carducci, Dievole has two wineries. Tenuta Le Colonne is the property that is closer to the sea; its vines are delicately caressed by salty wind and reflected sunshine that creates memorable wines. At a higher altitude is Tenuta Meraviglia, where the harmonious wines are full of character.
Here in the Bolgheri area, you can do wine tasting and wine tours to discover the beauty of this territory. From a veritable “wine safari” to a romantic cin-cin on the beach at sunset, these wine tours are a must if you want to understand what makes Bolgheri so renowned a name in the wine world.
Populonia, Etruscan town
The Etruscans established the Dodecapoli etrusca, twelve independent city states in Italy. A rather smart populace when it came to choosing locations, they usually went for the most scenographic! Populonia is a great example. A little borgo conserves traces of the ancient town, such as an Etruscan wall and remains of Roman houses, that some two thousand years ago dominated this part of Maremma. It’s possible to visit the wonderful archaeological site of the Parco Archeologico di Baratti e Populonia, where there are necropoli of different periods, always with a fantastic view.
Piombino, historic port fown
The southernmost part of what is officially recognized as the Etruscan Coast is the city of Piombino, an important port both for goods and for passenger ferries to the Tuscan Archipelago, including to Elba Island. Its historic center is small, but with a concentration of history and beauty. Its medieval door, the Torrione, dates to the 13th century and is the oldest monument in Piombino. Next to this is a semi-circular defensive structure called the Rivellino, which helped protect the city against enemy attack. Walking down the elegant Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you arrive at the City Hall (Palazzo Comunale) and its belltower (Torre dell’Orologio). Head towards the sea, where Piazza Bovio provides an excellent panoramic view towards Elba. A nearby panoramic road takes you uphill to the fortress and to the Castello Mediceo.
Legendary food on the Tuscan coast
Tuscany is a land of art, history and culture, and as you know, the latter includes its excellent enogastronomic traditions! In the area of the Tuscan coast, of course there is always a lot of fresh fish, and numerous local dishes build on this. Amongst those to try: the bordatino livornese, a bean based minestrone with kale and cornflour, or the cacciucco, the Livornese fish soup that is incredibly rich (read more about this dish and others in this article). Try palamita, a blue fish celebrated particularly in San Vincenzo, a coastal town that dedicates a whole weekend of festivities every May to this inexpensive and delicious treat.
Main image by Jacopo on Flickr
Translation and update by Alexandra Korey