The Wine and Olive Oil Trail of the Etruscan Coast – Strada del Vino e dell’Olio Costa degli Etruschi

Over a 150 km long, the Wine and Olive Oil Trail of the Etruscan Coast winds itself between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the hills overlooking it, through the Elba Island, across the whole province of Livorno and up into a fraction of Pisa. It is a coastal land with ancient hamlets and once the cradle of the Etruscan civilization. Here is where the Super Tuscan DOC Bolgheri is produced, such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia, just to mention the most famous. This “El Dorado of Italian wine”, as it was once defined, is the product of the generous nature of this land, its climate, and the individual talent of its producers.

A particular mention must also go to the top quality extra virgin olive oil produced by local farms with traditional techniques. Particularly suited to the organic food produced in the area and to its delicious specialities and flavours, the olive oil has obtained the IGP food certification and the acknowledgement of the Tuscan Olive Oil Cooperative. Together with the wines of this territory, the olive oil is symbiotically tied with the other typical local products, such as the wood fired bread, the cheese, cold meat, even jams and honey, in a gastronomic liaison with the land.

The Wine and Olive Oil Trail snakes its way along a suggestive itinerary, with woods and hills on one side, and the sea on the other, across huge estates and small farms, past old parish churches and medieval castles, in a magnificent yet cosy setting, and is broken down to 5 distinct trails.

The first trail one encounters starting from north is that of Montescudaio, in the province of Pisa, an area full of gently rolling hills, along the Cecina River which creates a circulation of fresh air even during summer, mitigating the high seasonal temperatures. The vineyards are mostly located on the hillsides and spread themselves through Castellina Marittima with its alabaster museum, Riparbella and its medieval centre, Casale Marittimo and its ancient walls, Guardistallo, with its 7th-century Lombard castle, and beautiful medieval Montescudaio.

Proceeding one enters the province of Livorno and starts on the Terratico di Bibbona trail. This is the Etruscan-Roman area that includes the towns of Collesalvetti, Rosignano Marittimo, Cecina and Bibbona. In the vicinities of Collesalvetti one can find a Medicean Villa, as well as the Leopoldino Aqueduct, commissioned in 1792 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany so as to provide water to Livorno. Along the ancient Via Aemilia one reaches Rosignano Marittimo renowned for both its red wine and honey, with which is made one of the most ancient alcoholic beverages known by man, mead. On a nearby hilltop sits the 12th-century medieval village of Bibbona, standing on the remains of an Etruscan settlement and developed around the Romanesque church of Sant’Ilario. Down on the coast, instead, is the charming sea resort of Castiglioncello, lazily strewn on a promontory, surrounded by pinewoods, it was the favourite destination of the Florentine impressionist painters, i macchiaioli. On the coast is also Cecina, another renowned tourist resort, with an archaeological park close by housing the remains of a Roman villa from the 1st century BC.

Just a couple of kilometres away is the Bolgheri DOC territory, home to Salsiccaia and other great wine protagonists. The double row of cypresses that leads to the town of Bolgheri is famous in the entire world and have been extolled by Giosuè Carducci in one of his most celebrated poems. The entrance to this tiny medieval village is through the 16th-century tower of its castle. The historic centre preserves its original ancient structure, and amongst alleys, craftsman’s studios and wine shops, in an atmosphere of ancient times, one can still find the Carducci family home. Nearby birdwatchers will find a paradise in the Bolgheri Fauna Shelter, an area of international interest covered in Mediterranean scrub dunes populated by typical Tuscan coastal wildlife. Further south is the town of Castagneto Carducci whose origins go back until the Etruscan period. The medieval castle and the church of San Lorenzo form the original town centre. Descending towards the coast, through olive groves, vineyards and chestnut woods one reaches the beautiful beaches of Marina di Castagneto with its lovely 18th-century fortress built for patrolling the coast.

Further south is the Val di Cornia where the minerals of the Colline Metallifere, the “metal-bearing hills”, bestow a particularly dark red colour to its wines. Campiglia Marittima is the first town one meets on this trail, with its magnificently preserved medieval centre and a breathtaking view over the whole valley. Slowing moving downwards there is Suvereto, the pulsing heart of the DOC wine zone, as well as enlisted as one of the most beautiful hamlets of Italy. The little village of Sassetta, instead, has a charming network of alleys as well as many lovely trails through the surrounding woods. On the border between the Val di Cornia and the Cecina basin is Monteverdi Marittimo, a village with feudal origins and Romanesque architecture, which stands isolated between the mountains. Proceeding down until the sea there is Piombino and San Vicenzo, Etruscan ports, who welcome visitors with their renowned fish markets and lovely town centres. Before reaching Piombino, however, it is worthwhile to stop in the magnificent Gulf of Baratti and visit the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia, where Etruscan ruins and a necropolis can be visited.

Crossing the sea from Piombino one reaches the Elba Island, where the aleatico passito reigns among the vintners. The vineyards are all over the island, often in incredibly beautiful locations. Travelling through Rio Marina, Porto Azzurro, and Capoliveri until Portoferraio one can’t help stopping continuously to take in the magnificence of this island.

These are the wines and locations one will meet on the Wine and Olive oil Trail of the Etruscan Coast. An itinerary through some of Tuscany’s local products, gastronomy and history.

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