It is no secret that I am in love with Tuscany. Its cities, its beautiful coastline, its people, all conjure to make this beautiful land my favourite bit of Italy and this is before I even mention its wineries and romantic rolling hills that make Tuscany appear in all lists of best places to see in Italy!
International tourism discovered Tuscany many years ago, but while the area around Florence and the Chianti wine region are well known to overseas visitors thanks to some of the prettiest villages in Italy, there is a stretch of land that is still more popular with locals and that is at least as beautiful if not more than the rest of the region. This area is called the Etruscan Coast and we had the pleasure to explore it last weekend when we vacationed in the stunning eco-resort Paradu (you can read my review about it here)
- Tuscany coast: location and a bit of history
- 5 reasons to visit the fabulous Etruscan coast
Tuscany coast: location and a bit of history
The Etruscan Coast is a stretch of land that goes from the town of Piombino, its Southernmost point, to the city of Livorno, about 70 km farther North. As it name suggests, this area of Italy is where the Etruscan civilization flourished between the IX and the VI century a.C. and still retains important and beautiful vestiges of this mysterious and fascinating people: many Etruscan necropolis can be visited in this area and the gorgeous ancient town of Populonia, perched on a hill overlooking the Baratti coast, is the only example of Etruscan coastal town and an archaeological site of incommensurate values.
[box] Practical info:
- Location: 70KM of coast in Tuscany, between Piombino and Livorno.
- Accessibility: well served by local trains, but better explored by car. International airports nearby are Pisa, Florence and, farther South, Rome.
- Recommended accommodation for families: for families looking for campsites in Tuscany, I recommend Paradu Eco-Resort (you can read my review here, equipped with lovely wooden cabins next to the beach.
- Perfect for: people looking for a family vacation in Tuscany close to nature, historical sites and the sea; families looking for a sandy beach suitable also for young kids within easy distance from Pisa airport; families looking for a kid-friendly base to visit some of the best places in Tuscany including historical towns and pristine beaches. [/box]
5 reasons to visit the fabulous Etruscan coast
1. Tuscany coast: clean, crystal clear waters and sandy beaches
The beauty of the coast and the crystal clear sparkle of the Tyrrhenian waters are at the top of my lists of reasons to visit this incredible area. I have always loved going to the sea and maybe because I’ve never been a strong swimmer or maybe because I like lounging with a book in the sun, sandy beaches have always been my top choice (you may remember my post about Sperlonga, South of Rome).
On this account, the Etruscan coast left me spoilt for choice: localities like San Vincenzo and Rimigliano have incredible, almost white coloured beaches of soft, inviting sand, while the stunning Golfo di Baratti has a peculiar, darker coloured sand, rich with the same iron component that made the wealth of the Etruscan civilisation.
Top tip for families travelling with children: while white sandy beaches might sound more appealing, the iron on the Baratti coast is a source of endless entertainment for younger kids. If you bring with you a small magnet and a cup, the kids will be able to lift teeny-tiny grains of iron-rich sand which will create incredible shapes in their hands!
A lovely part of the coast is the Nature Reserve of Sterpaglia, with localities such as Torre Mozza and Carbonifera. The beaches here and sandy and light and the area is perfect fro families because of the gently sloping beach and shallow waters, safe even for very young kids.
If you prefer a more rocky coast where little explorers can snorkel and collect shells and treasures, the Etruscan coast will not let you down: head to beautiful Castiglioncello for easy access to the beautiful sea.
2. Hilltop medieval towns
Tuscany is world famous for its medieval villages and towns perched on top of gently sloping hills and many of these can be found in this area. Towns like Castagneto Carducci, Bolgheri and Suvereto usually do not appear on the maps of international tourists but are, to me, the kind of place that makes me fall in love with Italy over and over again every time I visit.
These little villages all date back to the early Middle Ages and developed around imposing castles:over the course of the centuries, they were often in the centre of proxy wars between the bigger cities in the area (Florence, Siena and Pisa just to name a few) and while their castles still wear the scars fo these battles, they also retain the charm of this long history.
Suvereto is the first village we explored in the area and one we loved: it had an imposing, now ruined castle that can be visited with a short climb and is a lovely town for an evening meal. The village is made of small, cobbled streets climbing up a steep hill and is full of restaurants, watering holes and, of course, ice cream shops! Despite this, it has an authentic feel to it and, in the evening, has a very pleasant local atmosphere.
Food in Tuscany is incredible (see below) so you won’t find a bad meal here, but we were particularly happy wth two restaurants: I’Ciocio and La Loggia (this last one hasn’t got a website but is at the top of the main street, you can’t miss it)
Another gorgeous little village that you can easily reach from the coast is Bolgheri (pronounced with an accent on the first ‘o’). This is a tiny medieval town located on top of a small hill just inland from the main coastal road and it is famous for a couple of reasons: lovers of Italian poetry might remember it from a famous lyric by Carducci, the Nobel poet who grew up here, and lovers of wine might remember this name from some world renowned bottles of Vino di Bolgheri (Bolgheri wine).
Bolgheri is gorgeous and well worth a visit: when driving up from the coast, note the impressive cypress trees framing the road and then park the car at the parking just outside the village: to reach the main gate, you will have to walk uphill for a couple of minutes but the reward is worth it: the village is lovely and local wine bars and restaurants will make all tiredness disappear!
Top tips for families travelling with kids: the ice cream shop at the top of the main road is delicious, especially if you choose the house specials (the name is, I believe, ‘La posta’ or ‘bar della posta’: unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo and can’t be sure of the exact name)
Top tip for families travelling with children. You can visit each of these villages in a couple of hours and, to me, the best way to enjoy them is to make them your location of choice for an early dinner.
After a long day at the beach, wait for the sun to start setting and for the light evening breeze to start blowing and head toward one of this little towns. Slowly, you will see the medieval centre come to life: first it will be the cats, coming our of their hiding places to stretch in the evening shade; then it will be the local elderly, slowly placing their chairs outside their front doors to see life passing by; finally it will be the turn of families with young children, who will pace the streets with strollers finding relief in the evening breeze and heading for a light meal on one of the many outside terraces. As much as possible, avoid visiting at lunchtime or during the hottest hours of the day as shade is limited
3. Tuscan Food: what to eat on the Etruscan coast
I have a confession to make: out of the whole if Italy, I believe Tuscany has, hands down, the best food of all. There is nothing I do not like about it: its flavours are simple but rich, the ingredients are local and bursting with freshness and the local wine to wash your meal down is delicious.
You cannot go wrong with your order here: start with a slice (or two, or three) of the local law-salt bread and tip it into the local olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then order some pasta (meat based sauces are my favourite) and, if you are a meat eater, don’t skip the juicy beef tagliata (steak) served with rocket salad and fresh tomatoes: it’s a meal to die for! If you like fish try baccala (cod), palamita (oily fish) and of course do indulge in platters of local cheese and cured meats – especially with wine, they are a very special corner of foodie heaven.
If you like wine, this area is known for the Super Tuscan wines and is sure to leave you satisfied: the area around Suvereto had award-winning wineries that produce delicacies such as Val di Cornia Rosso DOC e DOCG e Suvereto DOC e DOCG
4. What to do in Tuscany with kids: Activities and children attractions in Tuscany
Beach and food are all I need to be happy on holiday but if you are more active than this you will be happy to know there are many activities are available on the Etruscan coast for adults and kids. Local accommodation providers and independent organisations offer the opportunity to rent bikes, learn how to surf, sail or ride horses and you can choose paths and equipment to suit all levels.
Our kids adored the popular theme park in the area ‘Il cavallino matto‘. Located in Donoratico, on the coast, the park is perfect for an afternoon out and has rides to suit most ages: my kids had their very first go at a rollercoaster here and had a ball, while my stomach wasn’t quite as happy as theirs! I guess there is a reason why theme parks are more popular with kids…. personally, I prefer an afternoon at
I guess there is a reason why theme parks are more popular with kids…. personally, I prefer an afternoon at thermal waters of Venturina, famous since Roman times and a short car ride from here!
5. Amazing surroundings: best places to visit in Tuscany
If local attractions are not enough to entice you, the Etruscan coast is also a fantastic base to visit the rest of Tuscany and see some of the most charming villages in Italy. To give you an idea of possible day trips, here are some suggestions:
Siena and Lucca are among the best places to see in Italy and are all less than 80 km away, making them a perfect destination for a day trip. World famous Pisa is also nearby and can be visited as a day trip, as described here by our friend ‘I am Voyager’
Florence and its magnificent art is less than 100 km away, connected to this area by a large, well-kept road and if you want more sea, you can head over to the Elba island, connected to the mainland by regular ferries.
So, between sea, food, history, activities and relaxation, the Etruscan coast has something for everyone: what would you like to do first?