Just a few kilometres from the hubbub of tourists visiting Pisa and its splendid piazza dei Miracoli, there’s an island of nature that sits silently and far away from the changes of urbanization. We’re talking about the Migliarino, San Rossore and Massaciuccoli Nature Park, a protected site that includes wet areas, marshes, sand dunes and the large Lake Massaciuccoli, once an ancient salt water lagoon.
The park’s area roughly overlaps with a dune plain formed during the Bronze Age, at the point where the Arno flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The territory encloses 16 nature reserves and 4 Natura 2000 Sites of Community Importance. One of the Migliarino Park’s unique elements is its geographic location: it’s truly an oasis of nature in a densely urbanized and industrialized coastal area, offering a breath of fresh air to this stretch of coast located so close to the intensely trafficked beach.
Since 2003, the park authority has worked to offer the chance for everyone to visit its most valuable environments. For this reason, a few walking routes were designed that are equipped with crossings, bridges, wooden ramps and special structures that can aid sights and sounds, allowing for visitors with limited mobility and sensory disabilities the chance to visit this corner of Tuscany.
The San Rossore Estate is the most important environment in the park: hugged by the Serchio to the north and the Arno to the south, the area conceals dense pine groves and woodlands of deciduous trees from the old-growth forest. The estate’s accessible itineraries zigzags through dunes and tombolos, marshes and woods that hide a wealth of fauna and flora.
Beginning at the San Rossore Estate, take Viale del Gombo for the first stretch of our journey. The Park Authority created an itinerary that covers various environments, from forests with hygrophilous species to the dunes. Along the way, you’ll see dune reliefs and sunken areas, like the Buca delle Ghiande, ideal for immersing yourself in the wealth of biodiversity that the park is known to have. At the same time, this is an excellent place to observing the historic evolution of the area, where you can notice, for example, the dynamics of the dunes’ formation. The route is equipped with two structures for people with sensory disabilities that allow them to listen to noises hidden in the tall branches of the trees that can’t be heard from the ground and to see the colours of nature, playing with visual perception. Following the path marked by small grating, you’ll arrive near the cabin overlooking the Paduletto Nature Reserve. This is an excellent place to observe the avifauna – especially the Anatidae – that nest in this area.
Once you’ve returned to Viale del Gombo, continue toward the sea along the wide avenue surrounded by maritime pines. When you’ve passed via dei Pini, you’ll see a dirt track on the left that leads to Lame di Fuori. This is a wet area covering about 620 hectares and is a very important stop for birds during migration. There is less greenery here, which are instead replaced by ponds just behind the dunes, whose banks are usually dotted with mallards, Eurasian teals, great cormorants and grey herons. With a bit of luck, you might also be able to see some splendid deer that live in the park area as they graze undisturbed. Following the dirt track, you’ll come up alongside Gombo beach, characterized by its petrified forest, a curious stretch of trunks overlooking the sea. Once you’ve reached Lame, head back the way you came on via del Gombo and, from there, continue first to the sea, then to the right on Viale Bicchi. This will take you to the north along the coast and beyond the river Morto Nuovo near a bridge.
Head to Torre Riccardi for the third and final stretch: the Fratino Path, a short itinerary, only 350 metres, which leads from Fortino Nuovo to the beach. Opened in 2015, the path takes its name from the small bird that can usually be found sheltering on the San Rossore’s sandy shore. Also designed for visitors with limited mobility, the path is equipped with wooden bridges from where you can admire the area’s natural resources without risking to damage the dune’s fragile ecosystem. From the starting point, cross a stretch of pine wood and continue into the Mediterranean scrub. You’ll come upon the coastal dunes, which are up to a few metres high, before walking down to the shoreline. Along the way, you’ll see didactic panels and observation points, from where, with some luck, you can see the small bird eggs laying right on the beach. When you’re ready to leave, return along the Fratino Path until you reach Viale Bicchi on the left. After the bridge over the river Morto Vecchio, take the dirt track to the right leading to Torre Ricciardi. This is where you’ll merge with the beautiful tree-lined avenue that passes by the town of Piaggeta as it leads to the Park’s Visitor Centre.