Archive | August, 2012

Tuscany’s Secret Seaside

17 Aug

italian seaside maremma italy havaianas

Though I am far from being an expert on all things Italian, I have spent a fair bit of my time getting to know the Tuscan region (particularly its wine routes *cough cough*). 

Having said that, I do consider myself to be a bit of an expert when it comes to beaches. I have been to more than a fair share of beaches in my life, enough to know what makes a good beach and what makes a bad beach.

I have laid down my beach towel on many surfaces. From volcanic rocks to pebbles to powder sand from as far away as the rugged coast of Mozambique and the paradise islands of the Maldives (with a couple of days down in Brighton (nice) and the North Sea in Newcastle (not so nice)).

I’ve even visited the beach ‘where they shot Baywatch’- cue my sister, brother and I doing ‘the Pammy Anderson run’ down the shore. So I’d like think I know a good beach when I see one!

For the best beach in Tuscany ( a question I am often asked) look no further than the Maremma Regional Park (Parco Regionale della Maremma), also known as Uccellina Park (Parco dell’Uccellina) in Grosseto.

 The clear water of the Maremma coast holds first place as the cleanest in Italy and that’s where you’ll find the stand-out beach, Marina di Alberese.

tuscan beaches sea rome

August is holiday time in Italy (yes, the whole month!), when most of the big cities shut down and the italians flock to the coast, but due to the four-mile stretch of beach, it never feels crowded here. 

The farther you walk, the fewer people you see, and the fewer clothes they are wearing.

The sea is like a natural swimming pool; translucent, pristine water laps at the golden sandy beach beckoning you to come in for a dip.

The only problem is probably the best thing the beach has going for it- it’s protected status.

This means that parking is controlled and limited. We cued for 30mins to get a space in the 2-euros-an-hour parking- it’s all done electronically (they photography your number plate and you pay on exit). NB: they don’t take debit/credit card. 

The best option is to park at the Maremma Regional Park’s main entrance (parking is 1.2o euro for the whole day), rent bikes from the rental shop there and peddle happily down the wonderful country lanes to the beach.

There are no deck chairs, sun-loungers or brollies on offer, so be sure to bring your own (many of the cyclists strap these to their backpacks, which seems to work well). 

The beach also has a charming picnic area set up for people to use, so it may be an idea to bring a picnic lunch.

Marina di Alberese is around a 90-minute drive from Pisa and Rome Fiumicino airports. 

The main coastal train line passes close by, but very few trains stop at tiny Alberese station. The beach is an hour’s walk away (jump on the bus from Alberese town for 1.20 euro or rent bikes from the Magi store in the town’s main square for the 20 minute cycle).

Italian coastline

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Head In The (Swiss) Clouds

3 Aug


Swiss cheese wine producer vines

Returning to the land of la dolce vita after a brief visit to neighbouring Switzerland, that coincided with the National Swiss Day celebrations, its easy to envisage the land of mountains and lakes as wonderful a place to live. 

It’s not just the moreish Swiss cusine, the crepes, the fondues, the raclette, that make it pleasant.

 Nor the fact they have the best of both worlds seasonally- fresh, crisp winters with snow and sun on the slopes (perfect for skiing) and warm summer days with a freshness that makes any sport activity pleasant. 

But what the Swiss have is something very unique in the modern world we live in.  

They have a pride for their country and their neighbour that is admirable. Their politeness just makes them more likeable.

And why shouldn’t they? As well as breathing the freshest air and drinking the cleanest water this globe has to offer, they don’t have a eurocrisis hanging over their heads and their neutral status has done them a world of favours. 

I am also particularly fond of  the non-human Swiss inhabitant- the red squirrel. 

When I lived in the UK, I went for years only seeing (american) gray squirrels, despite the reds being native to Britain.

Golf crans montana swiss nature mountains

On pointing this out to a lovely old Swiss lady, she told me a story that encapsulated everything I love about the place. 

Many years ago, when she first moved to Crans Montana, the baker from the village’s delicatessen arrived at her door and asked if she would like freshly baked pastries to be delivered early in the morning for breakfast (as they do only in Switzerland).

She thought it was a great idea and ordered 10 pain au chocolats/croissants to be left at her front door for each morning and arranged to pay him at the end of each month. 

On the first morning she was delighted to wake up and open the front door to warm, crumbling pastries perfect for the family to dip into their choloat chaud. 

But on the second morning she woke up to find 9 pastries in the delivery box. The next morning there were 7. 

And from then on, she woke up to varying numbers of pastries,- sometimes 8, sometimes 6- but never the 10 she had initially requested. 

At the end of the month, she went to pay the delicatessen, but never mentioned anything about the missing pastries. 

I asked her why and she replied that she didn’t want to be impolite or imply that he had done something wrong. 

“Maybe he didn’t understand what I had asked for and I wanted to keep our relationship on good terms.”

So, she kept waking up to her diminishing pastries.  

Then one evening, she decided to wake up extra early the following morning to get to the bottom of her bittersweet dilemma. 

The next morning, she waited until the baker had dropped them off and then she swung open the door.

And there, on her doorstep, was a group of red squirrels raiding the breakfast pastries and scampering up the pine trees, clutching her pain au chocolats and croissants in their little mouths.