The preferred seaside destination for people from Siena and Arezzo, Castiglione della Pescaia is also loved by the Swiss and Swedish, hence all the holiday resorts and camping villages along some of its best beaches. But unlike Marina di Grosseto or Principina a Mare, Castiglione della Pescaia has been a proper town way before the tourist boom took hold of the Tuscan coast. To this day the former fishing village has managed to keep its historic town center, clean beaches and even a handful of fishermen.
WHAT TO DO IN CASTIGLIONE DELLA PESCAIA
Swim and suntan: deckchairs can be rented on a daily base in the countless bagni or stabilimenti balneari, which are sprawled along the coastline (around 25€ for two sunbeds and an umbrella in high season). My favorite is Bagno Pinetina Sud to the south of the harbor. Nothing out of the ordinary but classic Italian with its blue parasols and lazy bagnini, Pinetina Sud is the last deck chair rental before the spiaggia libera (free access beach) starts. This makes it a little less crowded and jammed then most other bagni. Drop your towel nearby if you want to save the rental money, and just pop in for a sunset beer after a walk along the long stretch of beach which leads to Marina di Grosseto.
Water sports: surfboards and pedalo rentals can be found on most beaches. Fiumara beach (a ten minutes drive south from Castiglione della Pescaia) seems to get some of the best winds for kitesurfers. See my restaurant recommendation further down for more info.
Shopping: in the historic town center shoes and bags can be bought till midnight in high season, and on Saturday morning at the weekly market on the main parking near the harbor. If you haven't found anything drive on to Grosseto. Southern Tuscany's biggest town has many more shops and hardly any tourists.
Food and wine lovers: for the best organic produce in the area visit the farm store of San Francesco Bio (more info and map in my food shopping in Tuscany guide). Travelers who are not just into food but also into stylish retro packaging should check out IL BOSCHETTO. The Tuscan producer sells its beautifully labeled sea salt, olive oil and vinegar at stores like GLOBUS in Zurich or EATALY in New York. Last but not least, one of the several Tuscan Antinori estates is located just around the corner. Le Mortelle has been property of the famous Antinori family since 1999 and big investments have been made into vineyards and a brand new sustainable wine cellar which is an architectural sight in its own right. Daily wine tastings from 10 am to 8pm at the winery shop, which also sells Le Mortelle's locally produced organic fruit and vegetables.
SIGHTSEEING IN CASTIGLIONE DELLA PESCAIA
After gelato and shopping, make sure you explore the old town center and walk up towards the fortress for panorama views over the Tuscan coast: the isle of Elba to the north, rocky Montecristo centrally rising out of the sea and to the south the mountains of the Maremma regional park, the Argentario peninsula and the isle of Giglio.
The flatlands connecting Castiglione della Pescaia and Grosseto were a salt water lake (lago Prile) during Etruscan reign, which slowly turned into marshlands. The Romans kept draining the area until nature had the better of everybody in the Middle Ages. The evolution of the marshlands can be studied at CASA XIMENES (also known as Casa Rossa, the red house), which provides guided visits by boats through the Diaccia Botrona nature reserve and walks for nature lovers (in summer only in the late afternoon, ask for timing at the tourist office). The best time for birdwatching is from October to spring, but flamingo colonies live in the reserve all through the year.
For some more great views over the sea and the hills of Maremma drive inland and up to Vetulonia, where the lovingly displayed Etruscan museum (museo archeologico di Isidoro Falchi) bears testimony to the influential past of the sleepy present day town. Etruscan tombs can be explored along the road up to Vetulonia. Once you've fallen head over heels for the ancient culture, read my interview with archaeologist Lucy Shipley for more insight into Vetulonia and other Etruscan places.
Yacht watching can be done in Punta Ala, where Tuscany's rich and beautiful like to moor their sailing boats. The harbor in itself isn't much of a sight, but the coastline towards Scarlino has some of Tuscany's best bays and beaches. The fine sands of the spectacular Cala Violina cove can be reached only by foot (parking on the main road); the clear water in the beautiful bay and its views towards Elba are worth the hike. A mountain bike and hiking track leads through the Mediterranean woods and connects all the coves and beaches along the coastline from Punta Ala to Scarlino (see Cala Violina link above for details).
For more wild beaches, hiking and Maremma style riding, also check out the Maremma regional park, Southern Tuscany's most beautiful nature reserve a half an hour to the south of Castiglione della Pescaia.
If you're after Michelin starred fish, you'll need to drive ten minutes inland (towards Grosseto) for a dinner at Trattoria Toscana. Coached by Alain Ducasse, the restaurant serves prime Tuscan ingredients with a French twist.
The best restaurant for a romantic beach side dinner is Fiumara Beach. A ten minutes drive southwards along the coast, Fiumara Beach has the location and the looks. The exquisite fish isn't for the budget traveler, but you can always just come for a sandwich at lunch or for a drink in the early evening in time for a gorgeous sunset view of Castiglione della Pescaia.
In town, Skipper Beach Club is a nice option with its terrace in spiaggia, a simple but good and inexpensive menu (in a town where they're hard to come by). Contrary to most restaurants, Skipper stays open 11 out of 12 months and is a great place to grab a deckchair when most places on the Tuscan coast are already closed.
After your fish try gelateria Paradise for the best ice cream in Castiglione della Pescaia.
It's a beach holiday so bring those books. Even more so as some fabulous once have been written right here. Most famously Palomar by Italo Calvino, one of Italy's best known writers next to Dante and Umberto Ecco. Mr. Palomar by the sea (the first part of the book) has all been inspired by the time Calvino spent in his holiday house in Castiglione della Pescaia.
If you can get hold of a copy the must have item in your beach bag is An Enigma By the Sea - a crime story by Fruttero & Lucentini, the bel paese's most talented and entertaining 20th century writing team. Set in the Roccamare pinewood, the book is a beautiful sketch of Italy's cultural elite on holiday. Turin born Carlo Fruttero died in Castiglione della Pescaia in 2012 and has been buried next to his friend Italo Calvino on the town's cemetery, which has some of the best views an eternal resting place could possibly have (look for it at the top of the historic town center).
Prato born contemporary Italian writer Sandro Veronesi spent his childhood holidays in Castiglione della Pescaia, where the initial scene of Quiet Chaos is set. Not much of a reader? Watch the film version of the book with Nanni Moretti. It's a lovely movie, just prepare to fast-forward during one of the most awkward sex scenes in the history of cinema, which - yes - takes place in a beach house in Roccamare's pine wood.
Last but not least, there is no better place to read Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Montecristo than lying on a deck-chair in Castiglione, whilst the silhouette of the famous little island appears and disappears on the horizon depending on time of the day and weather condition. The rocky isle of Montecristo is today a nature reserve with restricted access.
CONTEMPORARY ART AND CLASSICAL MUSIC
LA STRADA DEL CONTEMPORANEO is the beginning of a sculpture garden by Tuscan artist Rodolfo Lacquaniti, which impresses with a huge whale produced with recycled fishnets. Kids will love it too as you can explore it inside out. By the way, less artistic but a welcome stopover with children is the pirate ship playground in Castiglione's town center (see map below).
Conductor Sir Georg Solti was yet another artist infatuated with Castiglione della Pescaia. The GEORGE SOLTI ACCADEMIA (today directed by Jonathan Papp) holds yearly bel canto master classes which culminate in a couple of concerts in Castiglione della Pescaia in mid July.
WHERE TO STAY
Surprisingly, the hotel selection isn't too amazing right in town. Many of the three or four star hotels in Castiglione della Pescaia could do with an overhaul and the center is crowded and noisy in high season, so choose a bed on a nearby beach like the writers mentioned above.
Roccamare is the name of the 'literary' pinewoods to the north of Castiglione della Pescaia, and some of the best accommodation is found in this area:
ROCCAMARE HOTEL and RESIDENCE is an elegant beach resort with restaurants, pool and superior facilities in the midst of the shady pine trees.
A little further up the coast but also right next to the beach is AZ Roccamare. Ther former private villa has been divided into 6 apartments, some of them with a lovely seaview.
L'Andana is the five star hotel linked to the above mentioned Michelin stared Trattoria Toscana. Exclusively furnished, the property is NOT on the beach (they try to make up for it with an exclusive spa).
If you don't want to splash out but love a good view, check out IL BACIARINO in Vetulonia. The three beautifully decorated flats are in walking distance of the Etruscan village and overlook the Maremma hills and the bay of Castiglione della Pescaia. Andrea, the owner, was one of Castiglione della Pescaia's fishermen before taking on this venture. He and his wife Clelia organize great cooking classes and fantastic seafood lunches or dinners for small groups.
Traveling on a tight budget? Camping Etruria is one of the best campsites in Tuscany - at least for people who prefer nature and simplicity to bungalow cities and animation. To the south from the harbor, the campsite is tiny and in walking distance from the town center (about half an hour along along the beach). It's as close as you can get to hippy style camping on the Tuscan coast.
WHEN TO COME
Try to avoid July and above all August, when the whole of Tuscany seems to jam it in Castiglione and beaches, bars, campsites and restaurants are madly overcrowded. End of May, June and September are perfect for warm temperatures with less people. October can still be warm and pleasant, but the deckchair rentals will already have closed down, even though Northerners like me can still be seen jumping the waves. November to Easter are very quiet and perfect for birdwatchers and hikers.
View CASTIGLIONE DELLA PESCAIA MAP in a larger map