Near Livorno, there are charming villages characterized by paved streets, hushed churches and craft shops that seem to belong to another time. Here is an itinerary to get off the beaten path and see the hidden gems of the Etruscan coast.
Sassetta is located about 50 kilometres southeast of Livorno, inland between Cecina and Piombino. Mentioned in documents dating to the 11th and 12th centuries, it is surrounded by chestnut woods and Mediterranean scrubland. Here you can visit the Museo del Bosco (‘Woodland Museum’), an interesting museum spotlighting local daily life and professions through the centuries, including chestnut and blackberry pickers and ancient coal merchants. The park in Poggio Neri is a beautiful oasis of uncontaminated nature. Among the other places of interest are the remains of the Orlandi castle in the town centre, the Palazzo Ramirez de Montalvo, the Church of St. Andrew and the Oratorio di San Rocco. Going south, towards the river Cornia, you can take a hiking trail in a wooded area of natural interest, which includes Mount Calvi and the hills north of Castagneto Carducci.
Castiglioncello is an ancient Etruscan village overlooking a small promontory, an offshoot of the Livorno hills. This village became famous around the second half of the nineteenth century thanks to Diego Martelli, an art critic and patron who built Castello Pasquini. Here he hosted the famous group of Macchiaioli painters, founding the school of Castiglioncello. In the 1960s, Castiglioncello became famous worldwide thanks to the film "Il Sorpasso" by Dino Risi with Vittorio Gasmann. Over the years, celebrities and public figures such as Pirandello, Zeffirelli, Sordi, Mina, and Spadolini have bought many villas here and Castiglioncello has become an élite tourist destination. Castiglioncello is a well-organized summer destination with yacht clubs and excellent service. There are red cliffs overlooking the sea, sheltered bays, beaches, coves lapped by crystal clear waters and a splendid promenade crossing the Pineta Marradi. Also check out this post.
3. Castagneto Carducci
Castagneto Carducci takes its name from the family of the famous Italian poet Giosuè Carducci, who was born in Valdicastello (Pietrasanta) in 1835 and was the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1906. Castagneto Carducci is a village perched on a hillside at around 10 kilometres from the sea and it has a number of panoramic viewpoints. You can visit Giosuè Carducci’s home and see the rooms where the poet lived, along with a museum housing an archive of poems and documents. At the beginning of Via Marconi you’ll find the Palazzo Comunale standing tall near the Carducci archive. Continuing to climb through the streets of the village, you will come across the Church of San Lorenzo and the Castle of Castagneto. There have been several renovations over the centuries, but these two buildings are the original nucleus of the city. The nearby Church of the S.S. Crucifix is interesting due to the wooden crucifix preserved inside, which dates back to the 15th century. The surrounding countryside is an important wildlife oasis; it’s also the area where Bolgheri wine is produced, along with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
We can’t mention Bolgheri without pausing to reflect on this ‘town that time forgot.’ It is famous for its tasty wines and for the tiny centre, which has cobbled streets and pretty houses adorned with flowers. The red brick castle welcomes tourists at the village entrance, while restaurants, wine shops and craft shops complete the picture. Other places of interest around the village are the San Giudo oratory, the olive grooves and vineyards in the town outskirts and the Viale dei Cipressi, a road lined with 2600 cypress trees immortalized by the poet Giosuè Carducci. Also check out this post.
Bibbona has the charm of a medieval village surrounded by nature. The town centre has cobbled stone streets and winds within the perimeter of the ancient castle, and it’s home to some buildings of great artistic and historical importance. Noteworthy civic architecture includes the old Town Hall, the Palazzo Gardini and the Fonte di Bacco. Bibbona also preserves numerous traces of ancient fortifications, such as the so-called Rocca at the highest point of the town, probably built around the thirteenth century as a noble family’s residence. Marina di Bibbona is an international tourist destination well-equipped for fun and relaxation, with many sports and entertainment options. Crystalline sea, thick pine forests and a nice beach with a medieval fort where cultural, photographic and food exhibitions are organized are all part of the picture at Marina di Bibbona. The wood of the Macchia della Magona is a well-preserved natural stretch with many paths and a biogenetic oasis.
Suvereto is a small village dating to the year 1000. Situated on the slopes of the hills overlooking the Costa degli Etruschi, set in the green valley of the River Cornia, it is rich in history and art and was named one of the most beautiful towns in Italy (I Borghi più belli d’Italia.) Suvereto is home to major wineries and also produces good olive oil. The town’s architecture is striking; its ancient walls enclose paved streets lined with stone houses, historical buildings, beautiful churches and cloisters. Visit the Rocca Aldobrandesca, the Town Hall, Forte degli Angeli, the Church of Santissima Annunziata, San Giusto parish church and the futuristic Petra winery, designed by the architect Mario Botta. When in Suvereto you can also visit the nearby Natural Park of Montioni, part of the Parks of Val di Cornia system. It’s a park rich in fauna, rare examples of typical Mediterranean flora and important monuments of the Napoleonic era, many of which have recently been renovated.
7. Campiglia Marittima
Campiglia Marittima is one of the hill towns overlooking the sea of the Etruscan Coast, situated in the heart of the Val di Cornia. Thanks to archaeological evidence in the area, we know that the village existed even before the Middle Ages. The area was already inhabited by Etruscan and Roman settlers due to the presence of minerals, as demonstrated by the Val Fucinaia furnaces and the San Silvestro Archaeological-Mineral Park. Read more about the Archaeological Mining Park of San Silvestro. The village has a medieval castle that you can reach through three historical gates in the walls. At the highest point of the village, you can admire the beautiful Rocca di Campiglia, which dates back to the tenth century. The fortress was reopened to the public in 2008 after a lengthy restoration. It now houses a museum in which some interesting archaeological finds are preserved. Several events are organized here, like Apriti Borgo, a street theatre festival held throughout the medieval town, which takes in mid-August. In Venturina, a hamlet near Campiglia Marittima, there are the thermal baths of Calidario, well-known since the Etruscan times, with a natural thermal spring and 36-degree water.
8. Populonia and the Gulf of Baratti
Populonia or Populonia Alta is part of the municipality of Piombino, especially noted for its Etruscan remains, including one of Italy’s main necropolises. This area, stretching between the slopes of the promontory of Piombino and the Gulf of Baratti, has been well-known since antiquity for its intense metallurgical activity, linked to the production of iron. Populonia is the only example of an Etruscan town built on the sea. The famous Archaeological Park is divided into different areas and surrounded by a wooded shoreline facing the Tuscan archipelago and Corsica. Modern Populonia is located within a small portion of the walled acropolis of a large ancient city on a promontory. Climb the tower of the castle to see the beautiful Gulf of Baratti.