At the start of summer each year, Italy’s beaches are primed, primped and paraded like prize squash at the country fair. Anxious mayors and holidaymakers eagerly wait to find out who will take the blue ribbon and be crowned Italy’s best beach.
This year’s honours fell to a rather underappreciated corner of Tuscany known colloquially as the Maremma. In the region’s south, the territory is closer to Rome than Florence and is quickly gaining fame for its rugged landscapes and genial inhabitants.
It’s the second year in a row that competition judges, environmental organization Legambiente and the Italian Touring Club, have snubbed more famous seaside destinations like Sardinia and Sicily, placing Le Rocchette firmly at top spot.
So what makes Le Rocchette so special? Italy’s most beautiful beach for 2015 dips its feet in the Tyrrhenian Sea, which is clean, cool and anything but calm. The area is one of the country’s wind surfing capitals, so you’ll feel like you could be swept away by the waves at any minute.
Punta Capezzolo, Castiglione della Pescaia, Ph: Wikimedia Commons
Luckily there are lifeguards on duty at all times, even if you don’t fork out the €30 for two sunbeds and umbrella at the many private sections of the beach.
Castiglione della Pescaia, Private Beach, Ph: Wikimedia Commons
The sensation as you sit on the sand is one of both intimacy and infinity. The rocky cliffs that loom over Le Rocchette close in on you, while the sea stretches into the horizon without the smallest obstruction
It’s this natural splendour that has earned the beach top marks. Le Rocchette is not jaw-dropping gorgeous. Instead it has the quiet beauty that’s typical of the Maremma. The sand is a little coarse and the water is choppy, but it’s unadulterated and as beautiful now as it was 30 years ago when no one but the locals visited.
Out of the water and onto the streets
Le Rocchette is a 10-minute drive outside of Castiglione della Pescaia, a town with the odd nickname ‘Svizzera della Maremma’ (Switzerland of the Maremma), which brings to mind Heidi-haired locals and Sound of Music mountains, but is actually just a nod to its stellar environmental pedigree.
In summer, the town is the epitome of everything there is to love about Italy – promenades perfect for strolling, ample choice of artisan gelaterias and a lengthy list of cute boutiques filled with handmade designs and bejewelled swimwear.
As for heritage, Castiglione della Pescaia’s pre-Roman roots are best explored in nearby Vetulonia. One of Etruria’s 12 lost cities, Vetulonia was called the City of Gold in the 7th century BC thanks to its remarkable jewellers. It most precious pieces are on display in the local museum.
Back in Castiglione, the emphasis is on the natural. The town was the epicentre of the Maremma’s long battle with malaria and the Diaccia Botrona palude or swamp on its outskirts bears a constant reminder of it. It comes in the form a sombre red palazzo, built by the 18th century astronomer and engineer Leonardo Ximenes. La Casa Rossa, as it is called now, was designed to separate the seawater from the fresh water, which Ximenes believed would eliminate the ‘mal’aria’ (bad air). He was wrong.
Still the building is a beautiful accent to an inspiring nature park, rendered even more spectacular by the resident flock of flamingos.
Whether you spend your day trip lying on the beach, discovering Vetulonia’s Etruscans or mixing with feathered friends, Castiglione della Pescaia is an obligatory dinner stopover.
From the Michelin-starred restaurant nearby to the lowliest pizzeria, Castiglione della Pescaia’s locals are obsessed with their seafood. Their annual Palio marinaro, held on various dates in July and August, is a boat race that began as a way for local fishermen to practise their craft.
Palio Marinaro (giovanile) : Photo credit, maremmapromotion.it
Not that they need it. The day’s generous catch is sold straight on the port by the descendants of those fishermen and is always a satisfying mix of shellfish and fish. For a taste of the best, order anything allo scoglio or with mixed seafood.