I have found that people have a few misconceptions about Tuscany, and I am here to sort out the confusion! Believe it or not, there is more to do than drink wine on set of "Under the Tuscan Sun." Tuscany is actually a region of Italy - not a city - which consists mainly of small towns, villages, and farms, with the exception of Florence. The region makes up a decent amount of Italy's coastline. Sure, Tuscany does have vineyards - lots and lots of vineyards and red wine and white wine and - where was I going with this?
Oh, yes! It also has some of the finest beaches in all of Italy!
Toscana is located in central Italy, just north of Lazio (Rome is in this area). There is a nature park called Maremma. The locals here are notoriously considered "buttero," which can be compared to country folk and cowboys in the United States. Traditions are passed down generation to generation, via word of mouth. These people truly live off the land and make every effort to preserve its beauty.
The town of Grosseto is actually located inside of this nature park, surrounded by millions of sunflowers (girasole) and a hexagonal shaped wall built in the 16th century. Today, this wall is simply used as a public park and walking track.
Grosseto doesn’t have much. There is one main cathedral (the Grosseto Cathedral) and a few restaurants. It's not a popular tourist destination, though it is very deserving of a visit, especially if you want to experience a quiet and authentic Italian town. Grosseto does, though, have quick and easy access to many magnificent beaches! For just two euros, you can catch a bus (bus station located in the parking lot of the train station) which takes you 14 kilometers straight to the coast. Here, you can spend your day lounging around on a characteristically Italian beach.
The 14 kilometer drive was over a flat plane, not the typically rolling Tuscan hills. Instead of seeing the occasional Cyprus tree or even the approaching sea, my view was destructed by thick forests of pine trees. As we arrived at the bus stop, the crystal clear waters finally became visible, almost like a little oasis.
It seemed as if every single Italian had taken the day off work just to lounge around and tan their sun kissed skin. I made a beeline straight for an open area of scorching hot sand and splayed out my towel on the beach known as Castiglione della Pescaia. Note: the yellow umbrellas and lounge chairs are only available to the people who rent them out for the entire summer.
If adventure is more up your alley, the Maremma coastline also offers excellent places to cliff jump, scuba dive, and sail. It is possible to hike to the top of Rocca Aragonese, pictured above. This medieval lookout was once used as a safe place to spot people with the plague. It's location makes an excellent spot for sunsets!
As I mentioned earlier, the people here live off of the land. Therefore, traditional cuisine is very simple. The most well known dish is schiaccia alla pala (dialect for oven baked bread with oil). Nevertheless, I found the food to be rich in flavor. Castiglione della Pescaia had no shortage of restaurants, lounges, and bars. In fact, I treated myself to some rose wine and macedonia (fresh fruit salad) at a nearby .
Are you visiting Rome? Do you have a limited amount of time to spare?
Instead of going to the Vatican, book a visit to the Galleria Borghese. This art gallery packs its treasures into a smaller facility and limits the number of visitors. Say goodbye to being suffocated by the 30,000 people who enter the Vatican Museums daily, and truly take the time to appreciate some of the most famous sculptures in all of Rome. I personally think the Galleria Borghese’s 20 rooms are much more manageable than the Vatican’s 11,000 rooms. Yeah, you read that right.
The Galleria Borghese was previously a 17th century palace and summer entertainment (party) house for the noble Borghese family. Today, it belongs to the Italian state and features sculptures from ancient Roman times, Renaissance paintings from the fifteenth to eighteenth century, and floor mosaics from the Colosseum. Oh, and just like the Galleria Doria Pamphili (my guide here), the building itself is a work of art. If classical sculptures aren’t your thing, just look up. The ceilings are decorated with intricate scenes from Roman mythology.
Can you imagine throwing a ball in a room like this?!
The most famous work of art is Bernini's Rape of Prosperina (shown in my first photo), and while the name is rather jarring, this sculpture is incredible. Just look at Prosperina's leg... Bernini carved a block of marble into something that resembles skin, and photos don't do it justice. He completed this sculpture at the ripe age of 23. I don't know about you, but I know I certainly won't have accomplished even half of that by the time I turn 23.
My favorite sculpture in this gallery is the Venus Victrix (pictured below). Antonio Canova made this masterpiece with Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, Pauline, as his muse. Some say she was the most beautiful woman in the world. It was completed in 1808. While this sculpture is absolutely magnificent, just remember (ladies, I'm talking to you!) that it isn't 100% accurate. The Venus is an idealized version of Pauline's figure.
Other famous artists whose works are featured in this exhibit include Raffaello, Tiziano, Correggio, and Caravaggio.
PS: The Galleria Borghese is located inside of the Villa Borghese gardens - the biggest park in Rome. Remember how I said the Galleria would take two hours? Perhaps, if you have time leftover, you must take a walk through the park. More on this beloved spot later.
Ready to book your spot? Click here to reserve a time. I will suggest that you book early (and arrive early), as only 360 people can enter during a two hour slot! Although, if you visited during January, it's possible to waltz right in.
Address: Piazzale del Museo Borghese 00197 Rome
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday - 8:30 am until 7:00 pm
Ticket price: 13 euros (includes a guided tour, Wi-Fi, and bag storage)
On a final note, I am in no way dissing the Vatican. If you visit Rome, it is silly not to visit. I'm just saying that my attention span isn't big enough to remember and appreciate all the artifacts in there, which is why I found the Galleria Borghese so much more enjoyable.
Have you ever heard of the Galleria Borghese? Let me know in the comments section below!