This is one of those articles that we were tempted not to write for the simple reason that we love this place so much ourselves; once we discovered it we now try to go there twice every summer for long weekends and it’s already hard enough to secure a booking without telling too many other people about it.
But Andrea deserves a wider audience, so we’ll try to convey with words and pictures why this is such a magical and captivating place. Il Baciarino consists of six simple stone casette (cottages) perched precariously over a very steep wooded hillside in an area of stunning beauty below the small but very charming town of Vetulonia. In the photograph below, the houses at the top are part of Vetulonia itself and there are three of the six cottages hidden in the trees; they are invisible from this camera angle, though you can just make out slight clearings that betray their location.
If you weren’t reading this article you would never have heard of Vetulonia or stumbled upon Il Baciarino because for years we were living less than two hours drive away without being aware of this peaceful oasis.
The cottages here were painstakingly constructed by Andrea and his late wife Clelia on terraces carved out of what must have been an incredibly unlikely piece of land in its original condition. It’s a testament to their optimism and imagination that they somehow gazed at this almost vertical woodland in 2001 and were able to visualize what it has now become, but it was more than ten long years of battling bureaucracy and construction problems before they could even open up the first cottage and their own dwelling.
And now, after another ten years have passed and after buying more land and more hard work, there are a total of six cottages; all completely surrounded by nature but almost invisible to one another and all of them sit below the village and face south and west towards the sea, the sunset and Castiglione della Pescaia, one of the most attractive seaside towns along the entire length of the Tuscan coast.
This is the countryside of the southern Maremma that we introduced in the article on the Tuscany wine region and it is without doubt our favorite part of Tuscany and perhaps also our favorite part of Italy if forced to choose just one place. The Maremma covers a large geographic area and isn’t always the easiest or quickest place to navigate if vacation time is short, but Vetulonia would be one of the better places to be based for a few days or a week.
The seaside is very close and there is a long list of towns (and wineries large and small) within a short drive that are worth a visit, including the centro storico of Grosseto, Gavorrano, Suvereto, Campiglia Marittima, Massa Marittima and further south along the coast Talamone and Monte Argentario, to name just a few. You could also combine a stay at Il Baciarino with a few days on the island of Elba, which is also quite close via the short ferry ride from Piombino and is another place that we're very fond of.
For those who prefer their beaches in their natural state without all the the normal infrastructure and paraphernalia of the Italian seaside that comes with the stabilimenti balneari, then this coastline has plenty of hidden coves that remain undeveloped because they're inside the boundaries of the extensive regional parks in this area.
But sometimes it's a question of being careful what you wish for because there's always a bit of a walk through woods to reach them and you'll have to carry with you water, food, towels, umbrella and anything else you might need for the day. And even on a weekend in early October you won't have it all to yourself as you can see in the above photograph of Cala Violina. If you want less hassle then the beach at Castiglione della Pescaia is very good and the water much cleaner than some of the more northern parts of the Tuscan coastline.
All of these places mentioned above we know very well and even in the middle of summer this whole area retains a very authentic atmosphere and is more of a wilderness than the much more famous Tuscan countryside and towns of the Val d’Orcia and Chianti. We will write further articles on some of our favorite Maremma towns in the months ahead, but a short stay at Il Baciarino would be completely wasted if you were to spend every day traveling through the Maremma. This is a place for relaxation and lazy afternoons drifting into sunset dinners.
The cottages at Il Baciarino are small and rustic, but rustic in a good way with basic but well designed and very functional kitchens and bathrooms. And many of the pasta recipes that we've published and are yet to publish require such few ingredients that they are perfectly manageable in these kitchenettes. Some of the outdoor areas come with very simple barbecues and I've managed quite happily to grill a thick Tuscan steak on them using wood lying around instead of charcoal, so don't expect a Weber.
All the cottages have terraces or wooden decks, many of which on the lower level are suspended over the hillside and you can sit there for hours drinking in the views of olive groves, carpets of dense forests, hills and pastures, always with the sea on the horizon and beyond that the distant mountains of Corsica. Bring a good thick book with you and you'll never leave the terrace; the only reason why I'm not in the chair on the right next to my book is because I had to get up to take the photograph.
Some have outside kitchens so you can prepare simple dinners in the fresh air with the sun setting over the Mediterranean and a glass of local Vermentino at your elbow and there’s nothing that can beat that arrangement on a summer’s evening.
Not for a second would we trade this experience for a Calistoga Ranch or Meadowood type of international hotel in the crowded summer countryside just outside Florence or Montalcino, and not just because Andrea keeps his rates so reasonable at 85 to 135 euros per night for two people, depending on the time of year and the specific cottage.
It's the atmosphere here that's so compelling and so completely different to a resort hotel. There are no televisions, it’s completely still and quiet and at night there are just the flickering lights of Castiglione visible in the distance to disturb the pitch black starry skies. This is the sort of place where you spend every waking hour outside and in June or July you get up when it’s light and go to bed when it's dark, a return to a more natural rhythm that escapes all of us who are not true country people.
Andrea was a local fisherman for 20 years from a family of fishermen going back generations, as these things often do in Italy, and he will cook an amazing multi-course seafood dinner for you at the very reasonable price of 35 euros per person including wine. He’ll also leave a freshly baked loaf of bread outside your door in the morning and as someone who’s not overly fond of Tuscan bread and who bakes his own bread every week, I can tell you that his bread is wonderful.
Andrea also gives informal cooking classes on request and we listened to him one afternoon from our little private pool above La Farfalla and everyone in his small group below was having fun and learning a lot in the process. I don’t know what Andrea was like as a fisherman but he has truly found his métier here and seems to turn his hand to everything. La Farfalla is right next to his herb garden and every evening we would see him rushing there straight from the stove, scissors in hand, to clip some fresh rosemary or sage that he needed and then other times he would unexpectedly show up at our door during the day with some fresh figs he had just picked or on one occasion a piece of freshly grilled fish at lunchtime, all with genuine old-fashioned hospitality and without charge.
He obviously still knows every fisherman in Castiglione and is perhaps still related to many of them so I can’t imagine that there’s a better fish restaurant anywhere nearby than Andrea’s kitchen. It’s not open to the public which we also like so everybody eating there is staying on the property and they are all like-minded people who, though happy to mingle at dinner, are there to enjoy the privacy and seclusion that makes Il Baciarino unique.
So far we’ve stayed in two of the six cottages but we've had a good look at the rest and there is helpful information on all of them on the Il Baciarino website together with more detailed photographs, including the interior spaces. Our personal preference is either La Dolce Vita, which has one of the larger outdoor kitchens, a hot tub and one of the best unobstructed views from its wooden deck suspended over the hill, or La Farfalla, which is right next to Andrea's home. La Farfalla has an inside kitchen and a nice deck but being close to the common area, where there is internet access and where Andrea serves dinners, it isn’t quite as private as the others.
However, it has something that none of the others have. If you’re there in the hottest part of the year La Farfalla has a small completely private ‘pool’, a big tub basically, and an adjoining sun deck and when we were there in the first week of September last year it was a real luxury cooling off in the pool in the middle of the day in water warmed only by the sun and gazing out across the Maremma to the Tyrrhenian sea.
Vetulonia is situated at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, which together with the proximity to the sea means that in the dog days of summer the evenings there are pleasant and noticeably cooler than Lucca or Florence for example.
La Quercia is the most private of the cottages being right at the end of the ridge but it also has the smallest outside kitchen. However, it too has a gorgeous protruding deck and hot tub. La Medea for us is set back a bit too deep into the woods with less panoramic views and the other two, La Lucciola and L'Isidora, are higher up near the street level above the trees and they share a nice little pool and have breathtaking unobstructed views so we can see why for some people these two would be their first choices. We’d probably be happy staying in any of the cottages because they all share the same wonderful atmosphere of Il Baciarino.
To be classed as an agriturismo in Italy rather than a hotel comes with certain advantages for the owner but also requires certain conditions to be met and Andrea ticks those boxes with the low number of guests, a small private restaurant, home grown vegetables and also the presence of two donkeys, two sheep and several chickens, all of whom roam around freely together with a few cats. But apart from the cats, all the other animals are confined to certain areas so you won’t suddenly find a donkey munching on something in your outside kitchen.
If you’re staying in La Dolce Vita or La Quercia the donkeys will walk around just below your deck swatting flies away with their tails and making those strange noises that donkeys do, but it’s all part of the charm of the place.
Il Baciarino is a very casual, very informal kind of place and chatting to Andrea it’s clear that a few people in the past just didn't understood the concept very well and were expecting typical hotel conveniences and service, so before you take our recommendation to come here just be sure that you’re the right kind of person for Il Baciarino; not everyone likes rustic seclusion even with the best views imaginable, so don't be seduced by all these photographs if it's really not your cup of tea.
It’s worth mentioning a couple of things about Vetulonia itself. It was a rich and prosperous Etruscan town centuries before Christ with many tombs still visible and accessible just outside the town. Most of the archeological treasures were quickly whisked off to Florence in 1890 after their discovery because the Maremma was still a wasteland in those days, but the town has an impressive history that has been largely forgotten in the mists of time.
Vetulonia is more of a village than a town these days but it has a nice atmosphere and there is a very pleasant and friendly bar in the piazza just above Il Baciarino called 'Il Ritrovo di Bes' where you can admire the views and sip a glass of local wine for the princely sum of 3 euros. It's also a bar where you can get coffee and pastries in the morning and they sometimes have live music in the evenings; more importantly locals frequent it and that's always a good thing.
There is one restaurant in the village called La Terrazza degli Etruschi which is close to this bar in the central piazza and is also a hotel, but we've eaten there and unfortunately can't recommend the food or the ambience, but in the nearby town of Caldana we went to Osteria La Gricia for dinner once and had an excellent meal. But frankly we hated leaving Il Baciarino on a beautiful evening and I'm not sure now why we did, perhaps because we'd run out of provisions and were too lazy to go shopping. This place will do that to you, you'll find that you hate getting into the car and leaving.
Andrea has various minimum stay restrictions depending on the time of year and for obvious reasons they don't allow small children, but they have a very accommodating cancellation policy. We probably should have cancelled one of our trips last year but this was a trip worth stretching the law for and as Andrea was of a like mind we were happy to support him in difficult times.
Getting there: About 1 hour 45 minutes driving from Pisa airport and about 2 hours 45 minutes from Rome airport.
Note: Given that we now live in a world of paid 'influencers' who pretend to be impartial commentators, let us be clear here that we always pay in full for our accommodation, meals and even the morning bread. We have never solicited or received any discount whatsoever or any other type of compensation for this article.