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Castagneto Carducci & Campiglia Marittima

The hills around Bolgheri
Olive groves and Mediterranean pines carpet the Maremma hills between Castagneto Carducci and Bolgheri

There are four places in the northern part of the Maremma that we keep going back to because they are peaceful but fascinating places close enough to the Tuscan shoreline but located a few miles away in the uncrowded foothills. We briefly mentioned them in Hidden Tuscany: A Maremma Road Trip, Part 2 and the map in that article will give you a better sense of where they're located.

They are classic small Maremma towns in that they haven’t changed much in centuries and have very few new buildings and no ugly suburbs around them. Instead they all have an attractive compact centro storico built around an old fortress and enjoy expansive views across the rolling Maremma countryside down to the sea. They are also all quite close to us, being between 60 and 90 minutes drive south of Lucca so we know them well and these are the places we like to take visitors.

The view west from Castagneto Carducci to the sea
The view west from Castagneto Carducci

Castagneto Carducci and Campiglia Marittima we write about in this article, Massa Marittima has its own article and the fourth, Suvereto, we’ll cover another time. They have one more important attribute in common, they all pass my 'fridge magnet' test that I first described when discussing the tourism problem with Sirmione on Lago di Garda.

In simple terms, if you're somewhere in Italy that's quite small and very popular with tourists and you start seeing shops selling mostly fridge magnets and other useless trinkets then you made a mistake with your travel plans, you're in a Disney version of Italy frequented only by tourists and you should have gone somewhere else. Portofino always comes to mind when this subject comes up.

The best way to approach Castagneto Carducci is via the famous wine route of Strada Provinciale Bolgherese which entails leaving the main road a little further north and driving up the classic three mile Viale dei Cipressi to the tiny village of Bolgheri. This viale was made famous by the poet Giosuè Carducci in 'Davanti a San Guido' which he began in 1874 on a train journey through the Maremma and finished 14 years later. If you haven’t been to Bolgheri before, it’s worth a short stop but there is in fact very little to see in this hamlet of only 130 people and it has become a little too touristy for my taste.

Bolgheri castle and walls
Bolgheri castle and walls as seen from Castagneto Carducci

The iconic Bolgheri winery, Tenuta San Guido of Sassicaia fame, is nearby but isn't open to casual visitors, however along the attractive tree-lined 8 mile road from Bolgheri to Castagneto Carducci there are plenty of other more welcoming wineries including Ornellaia and Le Macchiole if your wallet can stand the shock.

The wine country here reminds me a little of Napa valley with its super expensive vineyards on similarly flat land either side of Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail. But the Strada Provinciale Bolgherese is a much quieter and more pleasant road than the California equivalents with better scenery and, with a few notable exceptions, much more affordable wines as well as the occasional Osteria or Enoteca for a lunch time stop. More like Napa 40 years ago in fact.

There’s also the proximity to a much warmer sea here as well as medieval towns and of course real Italian food, this being Italy.

We’ve stayed in many different places over the years in this part of the Maremma and I remember in particular an autumnal weekend in 2016 spent in a small villa called La Conchetta right on this road, literally next door to the Ornellaia winery. The villa was an excellent choice then and still is according to the much more recent airbnb reviews.

The nice thing about Castagneto Carducci is that it has not become spoiled by the wine wealth that surrounds it. It’s by no means chic and the main street is still very normal without all the overpriced and slightly useless boutiques that plague places like San Gimignano or Montalcino. Also it seems that every time we come here we end up in conversation with locals over coffee at one of the bars in town, always a good sign because once a centro storico sacrifices the locals for tourists it loses its soul quickly and loses us too.

Castagneto Carducci
Castagneto Carducci

The drive from Castagneto Carducci to Campiglia Marittima is only about 13 miles and if you take the backroads heading east out of town you'll go through Sassetta first before reaching Suvereto and from there it's a short drive to Campiglia Marittima. This whole area is part of the Colline Metallifere extending south to Scarlino and east towards Roccastrada. The name comes from the presence of silver, copper and various iron, zinc and lead minerals that have been mined here since Etruscan times.

mediterranean pines near Campiglia Marittima
The mining scar on the hillside does nothing to diminish the elegant beauty of the Mediterranean pines

Just before entering Suvereto there's a small collection of houses, known as Prata on the map, where we stayed on another occasion at a place called Casa Cavallo. If you're traveling in the middle of summer the large swimming pool at Casa Cavallo is a welcome feature and we really enjoyed our weekend there a few years ago.

Campiglia Marittima is a fascinating hill town that has much in common with Casperia in the sense that even though it always seems very quiet when you're walking around its narrow streets, it is by no means dying or abandoned. Quite the opposite in fact, probably thanks to its enviable location, stunning views and interesting history. You'll notice that the densely packed houses in town are all well-curated and everyone does the best they can to create miniature gardens with pots of flowers and herbs everywhere. Nor is the population declining like so many other hill towns.

The view south from the Rocca above Campiglia Marittima over the Val di Cornia
The view south from the Rocca over the Val di Cornia

One Sunday towards the end of October we surprisingly had the place mostly to ourselves and nor was there anybody else at the very top of the town where the Rocca stands, a fortress dating from the 12th century that is now mostly ruins but affords fabulous views across the fertile Val di Cornia from an elevation of 1,000 feet.

From here Elba is clearly visible and sometimes also Corsica on the horizon beyond. This was an important military garrison for Pisa and then Florence under the Medici whose troops occupied the Rocca for the whole of the 16th century, after which its military significance inevitably declined.

Not content with simply naming their streets for the leading figures of the Risorgimento, the civic minded citizens of Campiglia have gone a step further with colored depictions of many of them (above photos). Another sign of a still vibrant town.

Piazza della Repubblica in Campiglia Marittima, Tuscany
Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica is right in the middle of the centro storico and the easiest place to find a table at one of the two bars opposite each other, Bacco Bar or Bar La Panca. Both are open most of the day and serve a variety of food and drinks. Before entering the centro storico however the best views are to be found in Via Vittorio Veneto where if you're lucky you can also park your car, otherwise there's more parking on the north east side of town.

Palazzo Pretorio in Campiglia Marittima, Tuscany
Palazzo Pretorio

All the alleyways in town seem to lead up to the Rocca and as you leave the Piazza della Repubblica you pass the 13th century Palazzo Pretorio building which is covered with heraldic shields, all of which reflect the long and turbulent history of the town. Each ruling Podestà from the early Renaissance period up until the 17th century left their emblems on this building.

Pieve di San Giovanni in Campiglia Marittima
Pieve di San Giovanni with Elba in the far distance

Just below the town sitting by itself on its own rocky spur is the Pieve di San Giovanni church dating back to 1173. It's a good example of Tuscan Romanesque architecture and is constructed of marble and grey limestone.

One of the annual highlights in Campiglia Marittima takes place in August between the festival of San Lorenzo on the 10th and Ferragosto on the 15th. The whole town becomes an open air theater with the steps, balconies and piazze all used as the settings for music, poetry, art and performances of various kinds.

A driveway flanked by tall mediterranean pines

As it's only about 4 miles to the sea from Campiglia Marittima a late afternoon walk on a deserted beach is the ideal way to finish the day.

The Spiaggia di Rimigliano is the closest one and to get there you'll likely pass one of those avenues of old pine trees that are typical along the Tuscan coast.

The Rimigliano beach is almost 4 miles long and lies entirely within a nature reserve so even in summer it is not disfigured by bars or restaurants and their endless rows of sun loungers. At the southern end just before the promontory is a recently restored medieval tower, La Torre Vecchia di Campiglia, better known as La Torraccia.

Rimigliano beach, Tuscany
A late October afternoon on Rimigliano beach


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