Heading off for the Tuscan coast in rather menacing weather on Easter Monday was not enticing, but as hikers we are forever optimistic and well equipped. Besides we were going to one of my favourite beach areas in Tuscany – the Gulf of Baratti. Fairly unknown to tourists but a very popular spot for Tuscans, especially during the Summer. However the beauty of these places is often appreciated more in the off season and we were with a well versed guide who was to reveal some interesting details that I had not discovered on previous visits.
As we drove further South, lines of graceful umbrella pines came to view which is so typical of the Maremma area and would continue to shelter us throughout the hike. It was still raining when we stepped out of our minibus to head through the woods and get our first glimpse of the coastline.
Centuries ago this had been one of the most important Etruscan settlements and the only one that was made on the coast. The area was rich in iron deposits, which were traded and processed well into the 20th century and the iron slag heaps buried the Etruscan necropolis for centuries – now a very interesting archaeological site to visit.
With the afternoon sun we would notice the glitter of iron in the ferrous sand. The sea continues to reclaim the beach each year and protective sand bags line the beach, a small measure against Mother Nature.
Gulf of Baratti
But we were still in the woods and to be surprised by some unusual architecture considered well ahead of it’s time. Built in the 1960’s from designs by a Florentine Vittorio Giorgini, the House of the Whale and the Hexagonal House are unexpected in this wild setting. Fortunately after their construction no further buildings were allowed and the area remains a natural park and these eccentric structures seem at home here.
On the way to our lunch spot, the Buca delle Fate ( Fairies hideaway) more Etruscan tombs were visible, some only simple mounds, others well defined entrances into the rock, and an ancient quarry from the 2nd century with precision cut rocks that look like they were cut yesterday!
Lunch at the Fairies Hideaway, a gorgeous little bay with a view across to the Isle of Elba, a soft sea breeze and a well earned appetite.
Regenerated we head off for more ruins below the Etruscan town of Popolonia, the 12th century monastery of San Quirico. By this time the menacing clouds have been swept away and we are bathed in sunshine.
And like lizards enticed out by the sunshine, fellow holiday makers are everywhere in the park area, soccer balls and Frisbee’s flying, and savouring the speciality of the area – octopus at the Il Polpo Marino kiosk, and gelati from the local café.
As hikers we are satisfied with our 20km hike and feel we have walked off the excess Easter egg and Colomba cake and are ready to put our feet up on the ride home.