Summer Highlights on the Tuscan Coast

About halfway through a Tuscan summer the heat begins to really take its toll. Oppressive heat, like a hair dryer pointed in your face. Stone piazzas that bake all day in the sun, trapping the heat like an oven. Crowds. Rare air-conditioning. You begin living off things that don’t need any cooking at all: paper thin slices of prosciutto from the butcher and thick slices of fragrant melon. Fresh mozzarella or wobbly ricotta. Tomato salad, over and over again. Gelato.

Capo d'Arco Elba Island

The locals deal with it in two ways: a midday siesta, where from about lunchtime until 3:30pm (but in many places, even 4 or 5pm) shops are closed. And escaping to the seaside. It’s still hot there, but at least you can cool off in the water and cool evenings by the sea give you a bit of respite from the hot day.

Tuscany is blessed with beautiful coastline — about 400 km of it. And luckily all of it is quite easy to get to from the cities. Here are a few highlights (and tips) of my favourite holiday spots along the coast:

Castiglioncello — a pretty beach town not far from Livorno with rocky and sandy beaches and easy access thanks to the train station that is walking distance to the beach and the town. It’s about an hour and a half from Florence and a 30 minute bus or train ride to Livorno. Have breakfast or aperitivo at the classic Caffe Ginori in the middle of town and a wonderful meal of homemade gnocchi with vongole and pesto or crostini with marinated anchovies and stracchino cheese (my favourite) at Dalla Wilma. Next door is the natural gelateria Bar Vittoria, which is worth going back to for seconds. Station Gallery is an eclectic spot for a spritz before dinner, but if you want to be by the sea, Il Cardellino is in prime position. Find yourself a patch of free beach between Bagno Roma and Bagno Nettuno (or pay around 30 euro for an umbrella and 2 chairs for the day). When you’ve spent too much time in the sun, young children will love the playground in the cool pineta (pine forest) that separates the train station from the seafront.

CastiglioncelloA meal at Dalla Wilma

Bolgheri — it’s not on the beach but it’s only 4 kilometers from it and makes a nice afternoon or evening trip if you’ve got a car. The little town is charming and quaint and clearly dedicated to food and wine. Gelato at Caffe della Posta is lovely and will keep the kids quiet while parents are wine tasting. To keep everyone happy, though, head to Bar U on the Via Aurelia just before you turn off for Bolgheri. It’s cheap, cheerful, with the feel of an outdoor pub, but the food is fun and clearly made with love (think an odd mixture of Tuscan burgers, homemade crisps, delicate 61 degree eggs and crostini with anchovies. And really good cheesecake) [update: Very sadly this seems to have closed, I’m leaving this information up here in the hope that they decide to reopen though! In compensation, though quite a different vibe, try Bolgheri+, it’s more a bustling, modern restaurant but right in the heart of Bolgheri]. Not far is another pretty country town, Castagneto Carducci, on a hill top surrounded by olive trees. We stayed at a rustic and friendly organic agriturismo called Colle Donatucci.

Breakfast al fresco at Colle DonatucciPeach walls in BolgheriBolgheriPorto Azzurro

Isola d’Elba — the largest of Tuscany’s 7 islands is full of beautiful beaches and towns worth exploring. Most ferries depart from the port of Piombino, which can be reached by train to Campiglia Marittima and then a shuttle bus. Taking a car onto the ferry can be quite costly in the high season, so consider renting a scooter once you’re on the island. I recently visited Capo d’Arco near the ultra pretty town of Porto Azzuro on the northeast side of the island. It’s a quieter, more secluded part of the island, where all you might want to do is spend all day by the sea. If you like the sound of a secluded island, have a look also at these posts on Giglio Island and visiting Monte Argentario.

Porto AzzurroElba IslandElba Island

I’m now back from holidays, sweating away in a house that never seems to cool down. It’s not even August and I’m already beginning to crave a refreshing, crisp morning, you know the kind, when you need a nice hot cup of tea or coffee to warm you up and perhaps an extra layer over the summer clothes you’re tired of wearing, soup, a roast and anything baked. But in a few months time, I know I’ll be looking at these photographs and longing for the hot sun beating down on my face and all that summer produce, the sea breeze in my hair and the feeling, that incomparable feeling, of swimming in the crystalline sea.

Sea Pool, Capo d'Arco Elba Island


  1. georgette says:

    Looks absolutely ideal Emiko, Nico and I have been wanting to go back to Castiglioncello sometime this or next month and I’ll have to try your recommendations. I’m happy you got a break :).

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Absolutely loved exploring Castiglioncello lately — I always have, but this time even more! Dalla Wilma was fantastic, had to keep going back for those anchovy crostini, you guys would love it.

  2. Christine Beveridge says:

    My husband and I, our daughter and son-in-law, and his Milanese parents spent a week on Isola d’Elba last September. It was beautiful and a perfect time of the year to visit. Most of the crowds had gone and the weather was perfect. The sea was still warm enough for swimming. We did a lot of driving around the island, a lot of walking, and a fair bit of eating! A memorable holiday.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Sounds just wonderful. I’ve been twice now, both times in June, and found it really peaceful and uncrowded even then! I’m quite sure August is a bit more of a squeeze though, as are most places on the coast in Italy!

  3. Charlotte Cappin says:

    I love Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci – there was a fab restaurant in Bolgheri called La Taverna del Pittore very traditional and in the evenings they put tables and chairs on the road, it had delicious food and atmosphere although the paintings on the walls weren’t exactly to my taste! It was also home to some of the best Pappardelle con Conghiale that I have ever tasted. I love Castagneto Carducci too and have been to amazing pizza restaurant there to but can’t remember it’s name for the life of me but people come from as far away as Siena! If you drive into Bolgheri there is a terrific roman road lined with trees

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