It wouldn’t be a true Italian Summer without a trip to the beach (well, not in this house anyway). So, making good on a promise made to the small one, we pack the car with all our junk, our picnic and our plastic bags and head for the coast. (Not to be misleading, I have to admit that the nearest beach is a 2 and a half hour drive away, but I also have to say that it’s worth every minute).
We head towards Grosetto, taking the ‘short cut’ which winds up into the hills of Tuscany, past vineyards and castles and drops breathtakingly into the stunning Val D’Orcia before crossing the scorched coastal plain of the Maremma. This is cattle country, the wild west of Tuscany. Years ago the rich Sienese would pay the rough and fearless cowboys of the Maremma to ride bareback in the Palio. Today, the dusty plain is divided into huge ranches and long-horned cattle slumber under the wide blue sky.
Our destination is the Marina di Alberese, part of the Maremma’s preserved seashore and, I think, the only stretch of raw, untamed coastline left in Tuscany (the rest being part of the true Italian tradition of beach culture; a haven of bright umbrellas, and kitsch beach bars).
At the sleepy little town of Alberese we stop for breakfast and buy yellow spades and spindly green shrimping nets. In the bar, behind the glass front of a cabinet containing cornetti and pizette, I spot a tray of freshly made focaccia. It’s soft and oily and seared with a light salt crust. Four large wedges wrapped in wax paper complete our picnic and we are on our way.
Almost the best part of this trip is the drive on a long straight road through an imposing forest of umbrella pines, the hot resinous smell is almost overwhelming and wild rosemary grows along sandy pathways. Past the corrals of white cattle and chestnut horses, on and on through the trees until, at last, you leave the car and walk to where the forest ends and the trees grow into the sea.
The narrow beach curves gently round and, in the distance, you can see bruised mountains against the cobalt sky and a spit of land jutting out towards the Island of Argentario. Today the sea is light clear celestial blue, tipped with tiny silver waves and strewn along the beach are the pale bones of bleached driftwood. People before us have built these smooth wooden carcasses into strange shelters, wigwams and sculptures, and they are left to stand and weather until they are claimed by the waves.
There are no umbrellas or sun loungers, the nearest loos are a 10 minute walk back through the trees. All you have is what you take, I love that.
You can find out a lot more about Italian beach culture with a guide to Italy’s top ten beaches over at Italyville, one of my favourite blogs and, while you’re there, check out the other stuff too. Joe is a first generation Italian American, his blog is beautifully written, funny and intuitive. He comes from a family of butchers, bakers and pasta makers, what more could you want?
The best thing I ate:
Fig, ricotta and honey bruschette.
Throughout the whole month of August I have been silently stalking our fig trees, waiting for the first ‘Settembrini’ to ripen. For some reason they are late this year and I had begun to get impatient, but at last they are here and almost all at once. A huge, greedy glut of them.
Ripe fresh figs,
Fresh ricotta cheese
Toast your bread, I use a griddle because I think I’m posh, and I like the griddle marks. Spread the bruschette thickly with the ricotta, top with a torn ripe fig and drizzle over with the honey. If you are in company make plenty of them, if you are alone sit on the step in the sun and scoff the lot yourself.
Where to get them:
Make them yourself