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By the sea

6 May
We are drawn to the sea. I guess growing up in the land-locked Midwest made the sea particularly mesmerizing to us. When we moved to Portland in 1987 we became frequent visitors to the Oregon Coast, and were especially fond of going to Cannon Beach with the dogs. Yet we are not beach people, per se. We are ramblers and hikers who enjoy the fresh sea air and great seafood. So we gravitate to the coastal areas not in the height of summer with normal people, but in the shoulder season, and occasionally in winter. We made a trek to “CB” each fall and very early spring for many years. Never got close to getting sunburned at CB.
Early morning view from our room in Porto Santo Stefano.

Early morning view from our room in Porto Santo Stefano.

And so we a passed a long weekend in Tuscany. “Tuscany?” you ask. “Isn’t that hill towns, Renaissance art, sangiovese and wild boar?” Yes, it is all that, but it also sports a fabulous coastline in the Maremma area. It’s a little bit like the Cinque Terre, but closer to Rome, easier to get to, and less well-known among North Americans.
Ric’s contractor friend Dario recommended this area, particularly Porto Santo Stefano, as he knows our interest in hiking and our affection for the Cinque Terre. Isola del Giglio,  which has intrigued us since the Costa Concordia capsized off its coast more than two years ago, is only a short ferry ride from Porto Santo Stefano. Lacking enough time to make a Cinque Terre trek, and always interested in places our countrymen seldom visit, off we went. After talking to some Italian friends it seemed we might have been better off actually staying on Isola del Giglio instead of in PSS, but by the time we came to this knowledge, it was too late to secure a room that was both acceptable and affordable on Giglio. This was a holiday weekend – the third in a row! – for Italians. So we stayed in a quaint B&B in Porto Santo Stefano, with a fine terrace overlooking the sea. The price we had to pay for the view is a four-floor walk-up. Ugh.
Cute little Giglio Porto. The ugly shipwreck is behind me, just outside the harbor.

Cute little Giglio Porto. The ugly shipwreck is behind me, just outside the harbor.

It’s been a chilly spring in Italy, but the lack of oppressive sun makes for good hiking and small crowds. An hour-long ferry ride took us across the channel. Giglio is part of the Tuscan Archipelago, a national park. We secured a map and a brochure and a little information from the guy at the Tourist Information Center who knew slightly less English than I know Italian (always a rewarding moment for me). We wanted a hike of 60-90 minutes, leaving time for lunch and to return to the harbor to catch our ride back. “Up to Castello,” he said, confirming what we’d read online and heard from a local diver the day before. “It’s steep, but go slowly. And there’s a restaurant. You can take a bus back down.”
It is difficult to imagine the industrious people, probably Romans, who built this path over the island so very long ago ago.

It is difficult to imagine the industrious people, probably Romans, who built this path over the island so very long ago ago.

Steep it was, and deserted. We only saw four people during 90 minutes, quite a different scenario than the Cinque Terre. We trudged up the mountain, glimpsing the castle high above us, and rewarded with beautiful views below us.  Wild flowers as one can only find in spring are abundant. We traversed oak woods, through scrubby pine, and finally some classic Italian Cyprus, emerging 1300 feet higher at Giglio Castello. Not bad for old people. We weren’t even panting (too much). And there was a restaurant. Not just a “restaurant” but one serving fabulous food. We got ourselves into a very fine lunch indeed! In the U.S. in all of our hiking for years and years in Oregon, we could never have dreamed of such a lunch at the end of a trail! Maybe a stale granola bar, or perhaps a hot dog at the Dairy Queen in some small town on our way back home, but fresh seafood pasta? A Tuscan salumi platter? Fine, crisp vino bianco? Yup, here at the highest point of a tiny Mediterranean island, alongside a castle from the 13th century, after hiking a path used for millennia to cross the island, we find superb cuisine.
Ric on our steep steep hike at Isola del Giglio.

Ric on our steep steep hike at Isola del Giglio.

The castle high above us. The hike was from sea level to about 1300 feet.

The castle high above us. The hike was from sea level to about 1300 feet.

After 90 minutes of uphill hiking, we are at the last bit before achieving Castello. Lunch is in range!

After 90 minutes of uphill hiking, we are at the last bit before achieving Castello. Lunch is in range!

Don't tell Dr. Rosa what we had for lunch! Lovely Tuscan salumi platter. I like to think the hike caused us to wear off the fat before we even ate it.

Don’t tell Dr. Rosa what we had for lunch! Lovely Tuscan salumi platter. I like to think the hike caused us to wear off the fat before we even ate it.

As we hiked to Castello, we were seldom out of sight of the Costa Concordia. We are probably at 800 feet taking this photo.

As we hiked to Castello, we were seldom out of sight of the Costa Concordia. We are probably at 800 feet taking this photo.

We found Isola del Giglio interesting enough to return a second day, allowing us to check out the windward side of the island at Giglio Campese. An efficient bus ferried us from the port, up-and-over at Castello, down the opposite side to the beach.  Here we found an almost Hawaii-like locale, but not so posh. Also, Hawaii lacks 19th century turrets as far as I know. Our planned ocean-front hike turned into an inland trek when the rock climbing became a bit challenging. Not wanting to risk a broken body part, we opted for forest, wild flowers, and bees. Once again our efforts were rewarded, this time with fresh salads and crisp Ansonaco, (the local wine) on the beach.
The beach at Giglio Campese, a little like Hawaii.

The beach at Giglio Campese, a little like Hawaii.

A little like Hawaii, but with a 19th century tower.

A little like Hawaii, but with a 19th century tower.

Wildflowers are abundant in May, and the bees made industrious.

Wildflowers are abundant in May, and the bees industrious.

Porto Santo Stefano is a very peaceful location with a number of good restaurants at all price levels, a fantastic lungomare and piazza with a 5-star hang-out factor. We could see the stars from our terrace and nights were so quiet that our sleep was uninterrupted. Bliss.
Porto Santo Stefano sports many restaurants along a fabulous lungomare, prime for the passagiata.

Porto Santo Stefano sports many restaurants along a fabulous lungomare, prime for the passagiata.

Lovely piazza in Porto Santo Stefano. Great hangout factor.

Lovely piazza in Porto Santo Stefano. Great hangout factor.

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5 Responses to “By the sea”

  1. Anita May 7, 2014 at 05:45 #

    Absolutely beautiful! That’s my kind of vacation place, very few people. 🙂

    Like

    • gooddayrome May 7, 2014 at 20:12 #

      Amen, Anita! I avoid crowds unless I have a reserved seat. Never go to the beach in Italy in August! Or to the Vatican for a canonization.

      Like

  2. gayleseely May 6, 2014 at 17:21 #

    Thanks, Laurel. The Italian Tourism Agency should hire you. Your posts have me thinking about all the many many things I need to add to the list. Thanks for this. Lovely!

    Like

    • gooddayrome May 6, 2014 at 19:43 #

      I doubt Italy needs any help attracting more tourists…but maybe some of the less-visited venues do! The typical tourist from North America is not going to put Porto Santo Stefano on their list, I am afraid. But I also think that sometimes travelers need a vacation from the vacation. a chance to avoid museums and historical sites for a few days to clear the mind.
      Un bacione!

      Like

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  1. The road less traveled in Austria | gooddayrome - February 23, 2016

    […] try to go places that are truly off the proverbial beaten path. Torino, the Val Gardena, Abruzzo, Porto Santo Stefano, and Procida are places unaccustomed to seeing very many North Americans and we’ve enjoyed these […]

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