26 May 2009

Italians go to the beach. That’s what they do. Visitors to Tuscany should take a day trip to the beach. Here are some suggestions and ideas for a day on the coast, including day-cruises to the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago.

A day at the beach in Tuscany… maybe on a cruise?

coasttuscany

Italians go to the beach. That’s what they do. From late May until late September, most people regularly go after work if they are so lucky as to live near the coast, or commute from the inland cities (Arezzo, Florence and Siena) to the coast of the Maremma every weekend. Those of us who live relatively close to the coast, call them the “Arfisi”, from the codes for these cities on the old Italian license plates (AR for Arezzo, FI for Florence and SI for Siena).

Since we are located at an equal distance from Siena, the Val d’Orcia, Monte Amiata and the coast of the Maremma, most of our guests plan at least one day trip to the beach. When they ask, I can never decide if I should recommend the most popular destinations among the local people or the most scenic areas.

So, here’s the thing. Most local people either go to Marina di Grosseto, Castiglione della Pescaia or Follonica, but Principina and Punt’Ala are also popular.  The most scenic part of the coast of the Maremma, though, is the coast of the Nature Park (e.g. Marina di Alberese and the Argentario peninsula).

Donna Pallanti, author of a lovely blog, called maremmaguide.com, has a long list of beaches in the Maremma, with stunning photos.

Some people worry about the crowds: there will be crowds in some popular areas on the weekends, but there are plenty of much less crowded spots to enjoy and, if you plan a day trip during the week, it is generally not bad at all.

In choosing a destination for a day at the beach, several things should be taken into account:

  • Do you like sandy beaches (sabbia in Italian) or rocks (scogli in Italian)?
  • Do you want to go to one of the “spiagge libere” (free beaches) or do you prefer a “stabilimento balneare” (serviced area)?
  • Do you want to be away-from-it-all or do you want to be close to a town for some entertainment too?
  • Do you travel with kids or dogs?
  • Do you want to do some water sport activity?

Sandy vs. rocky beaches

Personally, I do not know why people would want to go sit on a pile of rocks under the Italian summer sun to roast like a steak on a grill, but then, I am not a big beach person. However, for those who cannot put up with sand in their bathing suit, there are some lovely coves near Scarlino, such as Cala Martina. Castiglione della Pescaia has some rocky areas too, including at the popular cove called Le Rocchette.

beach

If you prefer sand, the Maremma has many wide beaches to enchant you. The stretch between Marina di Grosseto and Castiglione della Pescaia is amazing, free and not crowded at all. There is a wide sandy beach, backed by dunes and by thick pine tree woods. It’s perfect for those who want to take a quiet day on the beach. You might have to walk for a while to get to a really quiet spot, but it is well worth it.

The beaches of the southern Maremma are also sandy. Two of the most impressive are certainly the beach at Marina di Alberese, in the Maremma Nature Park and Ansedonia (which is very popular though, and quite expensive) on the Argentario.  If you choose Marina di Grosseto, you can just park by the “pineta” and walk to the beach. If you choose Marina di Alberese, you will have to buy a ticket to enter the park, and only a limited number of cars are allowed in, so it’s better to go early in the morning.

Serviced or free?

Here is one of the most cultural specific aspect of Italian beach life. Most beaches are private, or rather, rented for the season by a “bagno” or “stabilimento balneare”, essentially a bar on the beach which rents out chairs and umbrellas.

libera

People tend to stick with their favourite “bagno” for life, always going back. It’s not uncommon to see photos of your parents playing “biliardino” (table football) and dancing to the music of a jukebox in the same wi-fi spot that you now use to check your email or where you take an aerobics class!

These bagni nowadays are not just shacks on the beach: they have bars, restaurants, sport facilities, live entertainment, etc. (Here is a link to one of the most popular and most central ones in Marina di Grosseto: Bagno Capri.) They generally occupy the entire “lungomare”, the boardwalk along the town coastline. In the town centers free beaches are virtually non-existent. In theory, there should be free sections of beach between the bagni and up to 10m of free beach by the water, but in practice, that does not happen. If you want to go to the beach in a town, you will have to rent a spot for the day. Prices vary remarkably according to the towns and sometimes to the row you choose: the most expensive spots are those closer to the water of course. Generally the price for one day for an umbrella with two chairs is around 15 euros. Except for maybe in August, there is no need to book ahead of time. Just walk into the bar and ask for an umbrella and a couple of chairs or loungers. In the evening the bagni organize different types of events, such as shows, concerts, or disco nights.

If you don’t need an umbrella or chairs, and are just happy to lie in the sun on a beach towel, then you can go to a “spiaggia libera” or free beach. You just walk there, put your towel down and sunbathe. You can also bring your own beach umbrella. Spiagge libere are generally outside the center, between towns.

An important thing to remember is that BBQ grills are not allowed, nor are bonfires. You will have to bring a picnic lunch or go back into town to the nearest “bagno” for a snack.

Something you should expect while you are trying to relax on the beach are vendors: they walk by trying to sell you bracelets, cigarette lighters or clothes. A recent thing is to have people coming by offering massages.

Away-from-it-all or close to entertainment?

If you just want to relax and be away-from-it-all, you should definitely go to the large stretch of beach between Marina di Grosseto and Castiglione. There are numerous spots where you are likely to be alone.

If you want a nice day at the beach and a nice night out too, you should rent an umbrella, chairs and a cabin at one of the bagni, enjoy your day at the beach, take a shower and get changed there and go out to dinner in one of the nice beach towns. In this area, your best bet is Castiglione della Pescaia if you want to enjoy some nightlife. If you are travelling with children, Marina di Grosseto is more family-oriented.

Travelling with kids or dogs?

People travelling with kids should go to one of the “bagni”, because it can be difficult to have no comforts at all on a hot summer day on the beach with children.  Moreover some bagni also offer children’s activities.

cane

Dogs are generally not allowed on the beach, with the exception of some equipped areas. In the Maremma dogs are allowed at the beach of the Gulf of Baratti, and between Marina di Grosseto and Castiglione della Pescaia, on a beach between “le Marze” and “Fuori Rotta”.

Water sports

If you want to practice water sports, you have to choose your day trip destination carefully. You should not go scuba diving in Marina di Grosseto or in Castiglione della Pescaia if you don’t want to be run over by a boat!

Marina di Grosseto is however perfect for surfing, kite surfing and sailing. On the other hand, those who like diving will find some of the most incredible ocean floors in the whole Mediterranean by the coast of the Argentario and by the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago (Isola del Giglio and Giannutri or the Isle of Elba).

The Tuscan Archipelago

Most people don’t know that Tuscany is not just home to some of the most beautiful heritage cities but also to the largest marine park in the Mediterranean: the Tuscan Archipelago.

The archipelago includes 7 islands: the Isle of Elba is the largest, Isola del Giglio, Capraia, Montecristo, Pianosa, Giannutri, and Gorgona.

archi

Most of these islands are protected and cannot be freely accessed. However, an interesting way to plan a day trip to the beach is to go on a minicruise of the Tuscan Archipelago.

There are several companies that organize day cruises to the islands. The departure is in the morning around 9am from one of the coast towns, generally Castiglione della Pescaia or Porto Santo Stefano. The passengers are taken to two or three of the main islands, with stops for them to visit the islands or to take a swim. Lunch is generally included. Passengers are brought back to the mainland in the evening.

The price is quite low, and the chance to visit places like the Island of Giannutri, with the Roman ruins and the blue waters is priceless.

An example. Etruria Navigazione offers two cruises on Sunday May 31 and on Monday June 1.

On Sunday May 31Tour of the Southern Archipelago (Giglio, Giannutri, Talamone and Argentario).
The cruise sails off at 9 am from Castiglione della Pescaia or at 10 from Talamone. Passengers are taken to the two islands, where they can actually get off the boat. There is a 2 hour stop at Isola del Giglio, during which passengers can visit the islands or go to the beach. In Giannutri the boat docks at Cala Maestra by the ancient Roman ruins. The rest of the tour consists of sailing close to the coast of the Maremma Nature Park and the hill of Talamone: a different perspective on one of the most beautiful areas of Tuscany.

The price is 25 euros per person without a meal. People can have lunch on board: the restaurant serves simple snacks and more refined meals such as lobster for as little as 15 euros per person.

On Monday June 1, Etruria Navigazione is offering a tour of the Isle of Elba and the minor islands of the archipelago.  The boat sails from Castiglione della Pescaia at 9, goes along the coast towards Punt’Ala and then sails by the islands of Sparviero, Cerboli and Palmaiola where there is a big lighthouse. The cruise continues towards the Isle of Elba. There passengers have a 5 hour stop in Portoferraio, where they can visit the town, the museum dedicated to Napoleon, or just go to the beach to one of the most popular coves on the island, “Le Ghiaie”.
The price is 20 euros per person. Reservation is generally necessary.

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There are other companies organizing day cruises:

If you want to know more about the coasts of Southern Tuscany, you can download the brochures for the Islands of Giglio and Giannutri and for the Argentario from the Maremma Visitor Center Website.

Comments

  1. Legambiente has just released its Guida Blu 2009 which rates the best coastal destinations in Italy. Isola del Giglio is n.1 this year, followed by the Marine Park of the Cinque Terre.

    For the lakes, another destination in the Maremma is n. 3: Lago dell’Accesa near Massa Marittima.

    • Annie Patricia

      Hello Gloria,

      This is Annie uncertainly, i read your blog the way you have described was really lovely and i m impressed while reading this article i feel like traveling through all these places and an audio behind me narrating everything to me. your words took me to a dream tour. i just have shared some of my Tuscany videos here if you don mind and post your valuable comment to me.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUG-qCaW_nY And do visit my channel http://www.youtube.com/traveltuscany

      Thank you in advance
      Annie

      • Thank you Annie!

  2. cynthia

    This entry is just perfect. Honestly at this point of our vacation your blog is our best and favorite resource! Thank you for making our trip more full of local flavor and therefore, richer!

    • Thank you Cynthia! Too kind!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Maremma Nature Park and the Tuscan archipelago (Isola del Giglio is amazing!) You can take day cruises from Castiglione della Pescaia. The dunes in Marina di Grosseto are also a unique spot. [...]

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