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Riviera degli Etruschi – Livorno and the Etruscan Riviera

  • The Etruscan Riviera (Riviera degli Etruschi or Costa degli Etruschi) runs from Livorno to the promontory of Piombino, where the Etruscans were once based. Captured in moody canvases by the Tuscan Impressionists, the rocky northern coast is as dramatic as the southern coast is soothing. The coastline is rocky until Castiglioncello but then opens up into a seemingly endless series of sandy bays, including Marina di Cecina and Marina di Bibbona before reaching Piombino. The coast is no architectural desert: a coastline of Pisan watchtowers and Medicean fortresses hides the occasional Roman villa or Etruscan necropolis.

    As for Livorno, it’s a slow burn. Although shabby and understated, Livorno boasts a cosmopolitan past and the best seafood in Tuscany. As Italy’s second largest port after Genoa, it owes its existence to the silting up of Pisa in the 15th century. The Livornese joke that, unlike their rivals, the Pisans, they will never be so careless as to let the sea slip away from them. The rivalry between Pisans and Livornese is legendary and very much alive today.

    The Medicean port is unchanged. The red-brick Fortezza Vecchia is a patchwork of Livornese history, featuring Roman remains, medieval Pisan walls and a Romanesque tower. The Fortezza Nuova, built in 1590, completed the Medicis’ ambitious fortifications. The murky canals encircling it once led to Pisa. Now restored, the New Fortress is landscaped as a park and serves as a stage for summer festivals. The other main attraction is neighbouring Piccola Venezia, dubbed `Little Venice’ for its criss-crossing canals.

    From Livorno to Castiglioncello the route hugs the cliff’s edge and reveals scenic views as it dips in and out of tunnels. The locals are fond of the rocky resort of Castiglioncello, preferring it to the slightly monotonous sands below Cecina. Cosimo de’ Medici’s fort, built on the pine-clad promontory, was designed to keep the pirates at bay.

    The Etruscan Coast ends with ferry port of Piombino, set on the same peninsula as a major Etruscan settlement. Behind the sweep of Baratti Bay lie the ruins of Populonia, the last of the 12 Etruscan cities to be founded. The Etruscans very considerately had themselves buried by a pine-fringed beach, reason enough to visit the only Etruscan city built on the coast. The ancient city was divided into two parts: the acropolis  the religious centre clustered high around the village  and the maritime and industrial centre around the bay. The necropolises cover the slopes between the two centres. Thanks to its proximity to Elba and to the metal-bearing hills on the mainland, Populonia became a rich industrial city. While iron ore from Elba was smelted and then traded within the Etruscan League, minerals from Campiglia were shipped to Corsica, Sardinia and France. Now tourists are shipped to Elba.

    L'Osteria Fonte del Penitente
    Set in a former monastery, this slightly out-of-the-way restaurant serves superb seafood, including cacciucco alla livornese (fish stew).

    via di Montenero 345, 57128 Livorno
    T: 0586 579481 & www.fontedelpenitente.com

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