Tuscany is famous around the world for many things but it’s not particularly renowned for its coastline. That’s probably because the northern half is overcrowded and nothing to write home about and the southern half, which is mostly the Maremma coastline, is not very well known by foreigners. There are certainly many more dramatic coastlines in Italy but apart from the area around Monte Argentario, the flatness of the rest of the shoreline makes the sea very accessible in the Maremma and the beaches here are wide and very long.
Much of the Maremma coastline is protected by its Regional Park status and the lack of development here stands in pleasing contrast to somewhere like the Riviera Romagnola, a 30 mile stretch of southern Romagna that we visited last year, where the Adriatic is barely even visible anymore and the water is more crowded than your local swimming pool on a busy weekend.
It’s no coincidence that some of our favorite seaside destinations in Italy are those that have benefited from having protected Regional or National Park status. The Portofino Park and the Cilento Park are two such coastlines that we have written about favorably.
All of this is to explain why Castiglione della Pescaia and also Talamone have survived as attractive and unspoiled seaside towns. To us that also means normal towns where normal people holiday so don’t interpret our affection for them as implying that they are anything like Portofino or Positano. Quite the opposite in fact. Castiglione was a working town long before tourism arrived and it retains the atmosphere of an old town today even though it is very popular with holidaying Tuscan families in the summer months.
Castiglione della Pescaia has an old medieval part built high up on the hill to give it some protection from the marauding Turkish pirates who threatened every part of the Italian coastline for centuries up until the Napoleonic era and whose bloody reputation was well deserved. The warning cry “mamma, li turchi!” was not confined solely to Vieste or Otranto in Puglia, though that's where the mass slaughters took place. There’s also an extensively renovated castle right at the top here that reflects the town’s period under the control of Pisa and then subsequently under the rule of the Medici of Florence. It’s privately owned however and not open for visitors.
The walk down to the newer part of town is full of restaurants and shops and there’s a good beach here where the sea is quite shallow which is a draw for families. There’s also a functional port with commercial fishing which is an essential component of both the authenticity of the town and the quality and freshness of the seafood in the local restaurants.
Given that the 'Pescaia' part of the name in Castiglione della Pescaia refers to fishing, the town can’t afford to lose this aspect of its identity but all is not well however in the fishing industry in Italy because the Mediterranean is the most overfished sea in the world and both illegal fishing and legal fishing with illegal nets exacerbate the problem.
Only an overall reduction in the total catch is going to provide a lasting solution especially in the Adriatic where the problem is particularly acute. Most tourists probably don’t realize when they sit in a seafood restaurant in Italy but there are some months in the year when there is a full moratorium on commercial fishing.
It's typically for about 4-6 weeks in the June to October period and applies to towed net fishing (bottom and pelagic trawlers) so certain fish on the menu at those times are unlikely to be fresh, assuming they're even on the menu at all.
Just outside Castiglione is the Diaccia Botrona wetland, which is all that remains today of the much larger lake Prile. At the entrance is the red Casa Ximenes built by the engineer Leonardo Ximenes in 1768 to house all the hydraulic controls for the sluices and locks as he created a system of canals to channel the water and drain the surrounding land.
Guided tours are available in a small boat or you can simply walk as far as you want, but be aware that there is no shade at all and in summer it can get very hot here. There’s much more wildlife to see in the winter months as all sorts of water birds arrive to spend winters here, including flamingos, wild geese, herons and ospreys.
Castiglione is a relaxing place to be based for a few days. It's close to Grosseto, Vetulonia, the wilder and more deserted beaches of Principina a Mare and also Punta Ala if you want a more exclusive and more modern resort. This is an area for lazing around on beaches, walking the trails, cycling, horse riding, visiting wineries and olive oil producers or just driving around exploring the Maremma.
Our preference in this part of Italy is always to find good agriturismo accommodation rather than a hotel and that's how we discovered Il Baciarino, which is perched on the side of a hill at 1,100 feet in Vetulonia looking down towards Castiglione. The owner, Andrea, was a fisherman in Castiglione for 20 years, comes from a family of fishermen and in all of our trips to Il Baciarino we've only ever seen him cook fish, though we noticed that he has recently constructed an outside pizza oven.
When we were last in Castiglione in June the town's newest celebrity, Poseidon, had just been released back into the clean waters of the Maremma. Poseidon is a 40 year old male sea turtle weighing 140 lbs who had been snagged in a fishing boat's nets. After two weeks recovering in a pool specially built for him in town, he was returned to the sea with a GPS locator tag so the University of Pisa can follow him on his travels around the Mediterranean. Apparently it's the first adult male sea turtle found in Tuscan waters as only the females come into shore to lay their eggs. Very little is currently known about the movement of the male turtles so Poseidon will remain a celebrity a while longer as his movements provide new information for marine biologists.