Right at the heart of the Etruscan Coast, in the province of Livorno, Castagneto Carducci pulls in the visitors with its natural beauty and a varied menu of culture and cuisine. History comes to life here in the medieval towns, which, thanks to the warm welcome offered by the hotels, campsites and agritourism farmstays, are always a joy to discover.
A Wine Trail winds its way through Castagneto Carducci, on the way from San Vincenzo to Bolgheri. This is an area, after all, that produces some of the most prestigious wines in the world, such as Sassicaia; and then there's the superb extra virgin olive oil.
The historic centre of Castagneto Carducci grew up around a castle of the Della Gherardesca family, which was built around the year 1000. The centre is made up of cobbled alleyways and natural terraces that look out over the sea and countryside; elegant squares, old artisan workshops and a great many traditional trattorias.
The town contains important historic buildings like the Palazzo Pretorio (now the town hall) and the churches of San Lorenzo and the Santissimo Crocifisso (which is known for its famous fifteenth-century wooden crucifix). Originally called Castagneto Marittimo, the town changed its name in the early 1900s to honour the great poet Giosuè Carducci, who lived here for a number of years. His house is now a museum, full of artefacts from his life. Finally, you should not miss the Bolgheri Nature Reserve, a gorgeous and exceptional natural environment.
If you leave Castagneto Carducci and follow the gentle green contours of the hills, you will see other important towns and villages, such as Bolgheri and San Vincenzo. The first is easily recognised thanks to its iconic picture-postcard boulevard, lined with cypresses: Bolgheri is in fact given over to fine winemaking and produces high-quality, highly-prized reds, including a number of the so-called Supertuscans.
San Vincenzo, along with Donoratico, Marina di Castagneto and Baratti, is the perfect spot for anyone in search of a relaxing vacation, soothed by the waves of the sea and the slow rhythms of local life. It's worth visiting Sassetta for its thermal waters, which bubble up at almost 50°C.
Cultural and folk events and shows quicken the pulse of this usually tranquil area. In spring, for example, vintage cycling enthusiasts cross the vineyards of Castagneto Carducci for the Etrusca Ciclostorica; around the same time the Bolgheri Run takes place, a race through nature and places full of charm and poetry. But autumn does not want for festivals and exhibitions of its own, not when there's a new olive harvest and olive oil to be celebrated.
The "king" of Castagneto Carducci is wine, without a doubt. So many wineries around here put on tasting sessions, especially Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Masseto, the great reds of the Etruscan Coast. The mild climate also helps bring forth a fruity extra virgin olive oil, one of Tuscany's finest.
Among typical dishes, we find roasted roe deer, hare stew and "pentolo" pigeon, meaning wood pigeon stuffed with a filling made of bacon, sage, garlic, salt and pepper.