With all of Tuscany’s wonders—Renaissance cities, medieval towns, and biblical landscapes—one tends to forget its beautiful and widely varying coastline. Tuscany reaches for hundreds of miles (including its islands) along the magnificently blue and limpid Tyrrhenian Sea. The beaches range from those backed by villages, to ones bordered by dunes and pine forests, to isolated rocky coves where little has changed since the time of the Etruscans. The northern section from Forte dei Marmi to Viareggio, is your classic Mediterranean experience: developed for vacationers who adore being immersed in a warm and shallow sea rimmed by another sea—that of naked bodies. The rest of the mainland coast is just as beachy but with the bodies infinitely sparser. The islands like Elba and Giglio have rocky shores, remarkably clear waters, dramatic bluffs, points, and coves. And often complete isolation: a romantic’s dream.
Forte Dei Marmi
At the foot of the Apuan Alps, lies Tuscany’s most famous beach town. Its stellar visitors go back to Thomas Mann, Henry Moore, and Visconti. Its villas and hotels are immersed in palms and pines; its current visitors are mostly immersed in watching each other, shopping at ultra boutiques, and drinking expensive wine. If you want the pampered Mediterranean experience with cabanas, umbrellas, and lounge chairs this is for you. Don’t forget your sunglasses or you’ll go blind from the sparkling of gold and diamonds dangling from the Russian necks and limbs.
Principina a Mare
This hidden, isolated jewel in farm country is known mostly to locals. It has wonderfully nature-rimmed beaches with dense pine forests yet all the conveniences—dressing rooms, beach chairs and umbrellas, and of course very good eateries. You can also kayak down the winding Ombrone River and visit its wondrous marshlands, rent bicycles nearby, or go horseback through the empty Tuscan countryside.
Cala di Forno
Parco Uccellina, is a vast protected nature preserve on the most dramatic and pristine twenty-mile stretch of Tuscan coast. South of the Ombrone River’s sprawling delta, this chain of hills abounds with pastures, fields, and olive groves but the park is wild, with parts of it accessible only by foot or by sea. Its shores are cliffs and bluffs, but in its dead center is a secluded sandy bay called Cala di Forno. You will be surrounded only by total wilderness so bring your own food and wine.
Feniglia and Giannella
Strips of sand—about 4 miles long each—and sand dunes and pine forests that connect the mainland to the Argentario Peninsula. Partially wild, with some developed beaches and restaurants. The shallow waters are ideal for kids. Bicycle and hiking trails give access to the beautiful lagoon and marshes, a natural reserve. Only a few minutes from the genuine fishing town of Porto Santo Stefano, and the quaint and upscale Porto Ercole.
Argentario Peninsula and the Islands
The most memorable of Tuscan beaches—dramatic coves, pebble shores with crystalline waters, and remarkable windswept vegetation. They are often isolated (a good walk to get down to them) and hard to find—ask, or look for cars parked at the roadside. Bring good walking shoes. And lots of ooohs and ahhs. The most intriguing is Isola Giglio (where the cruise ship ran aground, now gone thank God), ten miles from the coast. It has enormous and sensuous pink-granite shores, three sandy beaches, and perfect hiking trails. Its tiny ancient port is a dream with great food. A thousand-foot high stairway made by the Romans for pack mules, leads up to Giglio Castello, a medieval hill town of 550 inhabitants. Best at the end of September, when the water is still warm, tourists few, and the wine cellars hold their annual festival.