For many people, Tuscany is only the art of Florence or the gentle hills of Chianti. But a little further on, squeezed between the coast and the hills, hides a wilder and more authentic side that few know: the Maremma. Let yourself be surprised by its blue sea, its ancient villages and its food and wine heritage.
Summer 2021 was characterized by the direct and indirect consequences of the Covid19 pandemic. Travel restrictions and the unstable health situation convinced us to postpone the planning of our holidays as much as possible. But at the beginning of June and with the best hotels already largely booked, it was time to decide what our holiday destination would be. Therefore, after analyzing the pros and cons we decided to opt for a holiday of total relaxation to enjoy a clear sea and fabulous food and wine, in a destination easily accessible by car: the Maremma! Maremma is a big area of the Tuscan coast between the cities of Livorno and Grosseto. It is characterized by a great variety of landscapes: rugged coasts, large sandy beaches and small coves, hills and pine forests. There are many historical, monumental and landscape riches and to visit it all it would take several weeks. But we, who love the Dolce Vita style, shy away from crazy racing and grueling tour de force! We therefore choose to limit the exploration to two coastal areas: the Gulf of Follonica and the Etruscan Coast. Our bases: The Sense Experience Resort in Follonica and the Tombolo Talasso Resort in Marina di Castagneto Carducci.
The Sense Resort: a kid with big ambitions
The Sense Experience is a 4-star hotel that is located a few kilometers from the city of Follonica, in the middle of the homonymous gulf. After our stay, it has fully and rightfully entered between our favourite places. If you want to know more about this fantastic hotel, you can read the dedicated article at this link. Here we only tell you that if you, like us, love relaxation in nature and the Dolce Vita style, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to spend a few days in this hotel. We are sure you will not regret it!
Tombolo Talasso Resort: 5 stars, with some wrinkles
The Tombolo Talasso & Beach Resort is a 5-star hotel located on the Tuscan coast, in Marina di Castagneto Carducci. Like The Sense, the Tombolo was born from the redevelopment of an ancient summer camp for children. The original core of the building dates back to 1931 and, completely renovated starting in 2000, after two years of extensive restoration works, it was opened to hospitality. However, today the structure offers to its guests a more traditional character (perhaps too much in our view). Overall, the building is well maintained, but here and there it shows the signs of time. The strength of the structure is certainly the large wellness area, located inside a cave that develops below the building. It consists of 5 salt water pools with hydromassage, sensory functions and counter-current swimming. Among all, we found the sensory pool very pleasant. On the side of the building, immersed in the surrounding pine forest, there is a swimming pool which is also filled with salted sea water like the thermal baths. Right in front of the hotel is the private sandy beach, with its elegant restaurant-bar and courteous and helpful staff. The choice of using only wooden furniture for the beach was appreciable, but their state of maintenance seemed insufficient.
Furthermore, a disadvantage compared to other structures with the same characteristics, is the presence of a driveway, quite busy in summer, which separates the hotel from its beach and which does not allow guests to fully enjoy an immersive and seamless experience.
During our stay, we made extensive use of the beach service, often visited the restaurant on the beach and the wellness program. We also enjoyed the splendid terrace of the hotel, where we admired the sunset over the sea and spent all our evenings in the company of excellent Tuscan “cantucci” and a good glass of “Muffato della Sala”. In this regard, we will be eternally grateful to the nice and very kind employee of the bar who made us discover it (unfortunately we do not know his name)!
In conclusion, the Tombolo Talasso is certainly a decent five-star hotel. However, the signs of aging in the main structure and in the room, the insufficient maintenance conditions of the furnishings on the beach and a clear lack of coordination of the service staff at breakfast (with long waiting times even just to order an espresso) have given us overall the idea of a structure with enormous potential but that does not pay enough attention to details.
Catering, on the other hand, deserves a separate chapter. During our stay we chose the half board service, with a 4-course dinner served at the hotel restaurant. The dishes prepared by the chef Danilo Loris Fusano were in fact the real (and only) surprise and spearhead of the stay. We have found a cuisine made of genuine and refined ingredients, innovative and never banal. We also had the pleasure of meeting and talking to the chef and his passion for his job, the care and the effort he puts into every single dish were evident. We therefore feel without any doubt to recommend a dinner in one of the restaurants he manages: the Corallo restaurant, inside the hotel, or the beach bar at the beach.
Follonica, an industrial city that looks to the future
Gateway to the Maremma Grossetana, Follonica is one of the most popular summer destinations on the Tuscan coast. The progressive development of the city towards the sea, which took place during the 1900s, the presence of a wide sandy beach and a sea that has been awarded several times for the quality of the water have given the city an unexpected tourist vocation.
However, today the city needs to deal with the legacy of its recent past: the signs of the once-flourishing steel industry are still widely visible today in the ruined skeletons of the factories and in the tall chimneys. These are intrusive presences that, while on the one hand give the city an aspect of neglect and abandonment, on the other hand they give it an unusual charm. Lovers of post-industrial photography will find Follonica very interesting!
That said, the city looks to the future, a future full of tourism and hospitality. There are many historic buildings that, in recent years, have been refurbished and converted to public use like museum and exhibition locations. But the real highlight of Follonica is its promenade, which during the summer evenings is filled with life, music, outdoor shows and even a Ferris wheel! Well worth a visit. If you want to treat yourself to a special evening, try to combine your visit with a dinner in one of the many restaurants and bars in the center. We suggest you do not miss the opportunity to dine on the terrace of the restaurant “Il Sottomarino”. The location, a terrace facing the sea, has an undisputed charm, but what surprised us the most is the excellent fish cuisine, fresh and well cooked, and the careful selection of wines. Not to be missed! To make sure you get a seat, book your table in advance!
Finally, given the scarce availability of parking spaces and the presence in the center of a large pedestrian area, if you do not want to spend the evening looking for a place to leave your car, we suggest you use the two large public parking lots, free of charge, located inside the perimeter of the former ILVA steel company, a historic industrial complex now disused but partly already renovated and converted.
Massa Marittina, the small town with a great Cathedral
A small medieval town, probably one of the most beautiful in Tuscany, it rises among the metalliferous hills at 400 meters above sea level. It is not often mentioned among the destinations not to be missed in the Maremma Grossetana and, in fact, we came across it by chance, looking for an emergency room for a small medical emergency (if you have not yet done so, read our tips for traveling safely). In fact, the town has a small and well-kept emergency room with friendly and competent staff. Apart from medical emergencies, Massa Marittima surprised us with the beauty of its historic center and the magnificence of its Piazza Garibaldi, which overlooks the Cathedral of San Cerbone and several historic buildings. Also worthy of note are the panoramic views, from the countryside to the sea, which open up from time to time walking through its ancient streets.
Around the historic center there are several parking areas, some are for free while other requires the payment of a small fee.
Scarlino, dinner with a view
Castagneto carducci, a balcony on infinity
No, the famous Italian poet Giosuè Carducci was not born here. However, he lived there long enough for the small town of Castagneto Marittimo to decide to change its name, in his honor, to Castagneto Carducci at the beginning of the 20th century. The village, perched on a hill about 10 km from the sea, develops around a medieval castle and it is characterized by narrow and picturesque alleys with concentric rings that during the summer evenings are filled with life and colors.
Just below the ancient village, a large open space offers many parking slots for visitors. From here, with a short, gently sloping walk you can easily reach the heart of the town. We shot it far and wide, discovering suggestive corners and artisan shops. The town has several tourist attractions, but we visited it in the late afternoon and many of them were therefore already closed. Instead, what we suggest you not to miss is a walk to Piazzale Belvedere, a public park which, like a balcony on infinity, offers a magnificent view of the valley below up to the sea. A must, from here, is a selfie at sunset!
Bolgheri, a small jewel of alleys, bars and artisan shops
A small medieval jewel, Bolgheri is the perfect place to rediscover a slow pace of life, sipping a glass of Tuscan wine in a setting of absolute beauty. The small village, which rises in the heart of the Etruscan Coast, is officially a fraction of Castagneto Carducci, but it is absolutely worth a visit! The entrance to the town is dominated by the Castello dei Conti della Gherardesca (unfortunately not open to the public) which, with its monumental door, welcomes all those who come to visit the town. The historic center is a small jewel of alleys, bars, artisan shops in which to get lost to savor a sense of peace and relaxation that is difficult to find elsewhere. We did not miss the opportunity to do some shopping and enjoy a good aperitif, accompanied by a good platter of Tuscan ham and cheeses, in one of the squares of the historic center. The main entrance to Bolgheri, for those arriving by car, is the famous “Viale dei Cipressi”, an authentic Tuscan icon photographed every year by thousands of tourists and photography enthusiasts. The small town has several parking areas around the historic village, which however fill up easily in the late afternoon, when the number of visitors looking for a good dinner or an aperitif increases exponentially. Therefore, to fully enjoy your visit, we suggest you don’t arrive too late.
The Bolgherese provincial road, which goes from Bolgheri to Castagneto Carducci, is a succession of farms, wineries and restaurants. It is no coincidence that it is still known as “the wine route”! It would have deserved a detailed exploration but we did not have enough time unfortunately. Among the many interesting places we saw during our passage by car, one in particular caught our attention for its unique style: the Bolgheri Green. It is an “agricultural” bar that seems to offer a bucolic setting, an interesting cuisine and a sustainable and earth-friendly business philosophy. On google maps, however, the company also declares itself LGBTQ friendly! Apart from that, if you have the opportunity to visit it and test its food and location, please let us know and, if you do, write an article about it to publish on our blog!