Before you assume that your Italian beach vacation must take place amongst the crowds of the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre, remember that Tuscany has a huge coastline. To drive end to end via the most direct route, it would take about 3 hours and 185 miles. By the way, I’d like to do that someday. There are dozens of amazing beaches to choose from, some sandy, some rocky or cliffy, some with reefs for snorkeling. To be fair, in the most well-known beach towns, you will definitely find crowds if you visit in August when all Italians with the ability to do so head to the beach to cool off. So perhaps off-season is ideal. But I’ve been to the Tuscan beach in August and loved every minute of it.
Here’s your guide to Tuscan beaches, traveling from North to South:
In the furthest corner of northwest Tuscany, not far from the Ligurian coast, you’ll find beach towns containing vast, sandy beaches begging to be explored. Two favorites are Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi. They are similar in set up, with private beach clubs along the sandy coastline and each having a cute town with nightlife. Viareggio has shallow water great for wading and playtime with kids. Forte dei Marmi is more upscale and has slightly more interesting geography, with the Apennine mountain range, rich with marble, within view of the beach.
Our loyal readers have heard us speak of Forte dei Marmi before, because we really love it. The first time we visited, we were truly blown away by the town, with shops and restaurants lining the marble sidewalks, and by the private beach club experience. Be warned that a day-trip visitor can spend €100 or more for a day of beach access (basically an umbrella on the beach). But if you’re staying at one of the many luxury hotels in town, it will have an associated beach club and its guests will have access during their stay. The same is true for the villa that we represent in the area, Casa del Mare. Most of the hotels and houses are in town, and are a short walk or bike ride to the beach. This town is pretty amazing, especially if you enjoy people watching and can spot the who’s who of Italy.
Public beaches are harder to find along the northern Tuscan coast, but can be gorgeous. Be prepared for the fact that they probably won’t have bathrooms or other facilities.
Heading south past the busy port town of Livorno, you’ll find additional sandy beaches, including the popular beach town of Castagneto Carducci. You’ll have better luck finding a public beach to visit for free. But the real beauty of the Tuscan coast sets in when you reach the Maremma region, near Grosetto. One of the first beach towns you reach is Follonica, which has miles of free sandy beaches, including some stunning coves and little bays that are easy to reach from the road. This is an area highly suggested for visiting with kids because of the sandy beaches and the easy access (and the price!)
South of Follonica, just west of Grosseto, is the seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia. I was surprised to learn that it’s the 4th most-visited destination in Tuscany after Florence, Pisa and the spa town of Montecatini Terme (at least, according to Wikipedia). Apparently most of the tourists are from other countries within Europe. Castiglione, which was the first seaside town in Maremma or perhaps in all of Tuscany, is known for its beaches, its nightlife, a beautiful medieval fortress and the fact that it has somehow avoided becoming over-commercialized.
About as far south as you can go and still be in Tuscany, you will find some spectacular beaches that are more unspoiled and really top the list in terms of natural beauty in Tuscany. Monte Argentario is a small mass of land that juts out with water on all sides. Some of the beaches are cliffy and hard to access from the road, but the scenery is well worth the effort. Perhaps the most intriguing spot in the area is Isola Giglio, a tiny island ten miles off the coast. It has huge pink-granite shores, a few sandy beaches and great hiking trails. Its very old port is charming and is said to have great food. A long steep Roman stairway leads up to the tiny medieval hill town of Giglio Castello.
No discussion of Tuscan beaches, or even of world-class beaches in general, is complete without a mention of Elba, the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago. This archipelago is a national park and contains 8 other islands as well, including Giglio discussed above. One could spend days or weeks exploring the natural beauty of the entire area. But back to Elba— Reachable by ferry from Piombino (another beach town not far from Follonica), Elba was famous around the world for harboring Napoleon during his exile in 1814. But now it is known for its clear blue sea and stunning beaches. Snorkeling is big on Elba due to its rich seabed and many species of fish. There are more than 70 beaches on the island and they are all different, from Cottoncello with its golden sand to the red sands of the mineral mining area to the black pebble beach of Tombe to Capo Bianco with its white rocks, cliffs and perfectly clear water. There are beaches where you can camp, beach towns where you can party into the wee hours, and so much more. Needless to say, this is no road trip from Florence, but a separate spectacular vacation in itself.