Hidden Tuscany: Baratti and Populonia

Not only does Tuscany have beautiful and important medieval and renaissance cities but it has a majestic coastline. One of my favorite areas of the coast is about 120 km south of Lucca in the Province of Livorno known as Baratti/Populonia. Baratti is the beach area and Populonia is the Etruscan town just 3 km above Baratti along a winding scenic road. Many remains of the Etruscan tombs have been uncovered in the area.

The winter may not seem like the time to post about the beach, but even in winter the sea is beautiful. If planning a trip in the spring or summer, allow yourself a day to travel here and enjoy the Italian coast at its finest.

The beach in Baratti is a gulf of about 5 km. It has a beach with darker sand than that you find in Viareggio, for example.  The reason for this is because the Etruscans worked the iron collected from Isola d’Elba. The water is crystal clear and so inviting for a nice long swim. The natural beauty is mostly undisturbed by very few buildings, only farmhouses that have been around for decades. There are many, many pine trees.

Populonia is a small village on the hill above the gulf. If you go, it might be hard to leave the beautiful sea, but take a trek up to visit the castle of Populonia and of course relish in the views of the area and the Gulf of Baratti.  This is really worth a day trip and maybe even more!

Hidden Tuscany: Yes touristy, but try Certaldo Alto

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times regarding Tuscany. In a few words, the article said Tuscany is overrun by tourism. It suggested other areas of Italy that are just as beautiful. For example, the article suggested visiting Le Marche in place of Tuscany.

“Others are heading to the calf of Italy’s boot, to Le Marche,” the author wrote, “a small, diverse province rising from the Adriatic Sea to the 6,000-foot peaks of the Apennines. In between lies a Tuscan-like rumple of lavender fields, sunflower fields and vineyards spread across hills that hump off toward every horizon like a patchwork quilt on an unmade bed. In 2003, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Le Marche had just 7 percent as many visits by foreigners as Tuscany.”

The article is partially right. Yes, cities like Florence and Pisa have the problem of mass tourism, but it’s not all Tuscany. You just have to find the hidden gems of Tuscany.  Just this past Christmas season, my friends and family had one of these delightful experiences.

We first took our little group to Siena and San Gimignano. Yes, there were tourists (mostly Italians on holiday) but nothing like the spring and summer months. We then decided to go for lunch in a new town which no one had ever seen, including my son.

The place is Certaldo Alto, which is not far from San Gimignano. You will never find it overrun by tourists but you will find the magic of Italy’s medieval era.

My son loved it. It has the same feeling as many of the hilltop towns near our home in Lucca: beautiful landscapes with a medieval village at the top, with magnificent views from all sides. We walked around and found a place for lunch despite many being closed. Everything was traditional. It was an excellent afternoon.

Certaldo Alto is home to one of Italy’s greatest 14th-century writers, Giovanni Boccaccio. His most famous work is Decameron.

Yes, it’s true Tuscany can get too crowded in some areas especially certain times of year. Well, those are times to discover the unknown parts of #hiddentuscany and believe me, there are many!

Hidden Tuscany: The views of Garfagnana

Recently we were asked by good friends if we would go with them to Garfagnana to see Parco dell’Orecchiella, a wonderful regional park. We have visited it many times and we always enjoy beautiful views. The park is located high in the mountains north of Lucca, about a one hour drive. Going past the many medieval towns and villages we reached our destination just in time for lunch. I had made a reservation at La Greppia, a very well-known restaurant located just outside the park. We had a wonderful lunch and then walked around the park to enjoy the magnificent views, the trees, a small lake, and some of Garfagnana’s tallest peaks.  It’s also a hikers paradise with the many marked trails all around.

On our way back to Lucca, I told my friends about Il Castello delle Verrucole. They had never been to this wonderful gem. Even though they realized that there would be a bit of a steep hike up to the Castle, they decided it was worth it. Upon entering the castle (not really your typical castle but a defense system of the 11th century) a guide will take you through the what was the living quarters of the structure and describe the history in a very fun and interesting way. Of course, the views from here are spectacular too. The tour lasts about one hour and it’s interesting for both young and old. Our friends told me that the steep walk was worth every step!