My brother had an early flight home, so we all got up at sparrowfart and drove to Pisa airport. We dropped him off under a golden sky, as the sun had only been peeping above the horizon for 20 or so minutes. As always with goodbyes at Pisa airport, we feel like we’re giving people a bit of the bum’s-rush as free parking in the drop-off carpark only lasts 10 minutes and God forbid if we have to spend a couple of quid on parking. The brain is a funny thing!
Anyway, we waved goodbye and had a think about what we could do for breakfast. I suggested Marina di Pisa, as we’d heard generally that it was nice. I drove there. I love to drive, especially on roads I’ve never been on before. We travelled to where looked sort of built up right next to a carpark by a marina, on the northern side of the town. Unfortunately, everywhere was still shut at that hour, and the carpark was barriered – and probably for boat-owners anyway. Thanks, Google! (In fairness, she doesn’t let us down often).
We found another pay-spot farther south, on a street surrounding a small green area. We got out and headed for the promenade. How rocky it all was; not what we were expecting. It turns out that the premium sandy beaches are much farther south, pretty much beyond the town. Still, the walk was pleasant, and refreshing.
We stopped off at a large kiosk-like place – Il Barrino – for a pastry and a cup of something hot (coffee for Niamh, hot chocolate for me), and we were hugely impressed by the cornetti we got there. The pistacchio cream was awesome!
We carried on our walk until the town began to disappear. There were people (with dogs – lots of dogs) out and about strolling and chatting, but the town itself was still quite quiet. It was the last day before tons of Italians returned to work, plus it was still super-early and a Sunday.
We turned back, and walked on the shadier side of the street, to see if we could get a good nose in at a couple of bars that were open. Hey, it’s gelato-time somewhere on Earth, am I right? Alas, no – no gelato in sight, but we got our steps in. Also, I earned a scouting merit badge by helping a little old lady cross the street. That was my Karma sorted for the year!
We got back to the car and discussed what we’d do for the rest of the morning. We had zero alternative plans, so I suggested we drive the coast all the way to Cecina, and from there turn back towards Volterra.
Being the chief photo-taker of us, it meant that no photos would be taken on the trip, unless we stopped off somewhere – which was likely given that we might have lunch, plus new places to explore on the way. We turned off tolled and motorway routes in Google and let rip! We headed south, and drove past tons of premiere lidi (pay-beaches) on the way – I guess this is where all the sandy beaches are in Marina di Pisa.
The sun was out much more strongly by now, and people and vehicles were beginning to mill about. I found myself having to be extra-vigilant on this drive, as people were walking across roads with little warning as they crossed to and from the beach and water-park entrances. Some roads were multi-laned and the Italians (bless them) seem to not know what an indicator is when it comes to navigating lanes and roundabouts. I had to be careful for sudden lane-switching too. Mildly stressful, but I still enjoyed the drive.
The coast is relatively densely populated, and in stretches it’s not uncommon for a town to pretty much merge into another. It wasn’t too long before we hit the busy town of Tirrenia. We drove through a large circular ‘square’, and almost stopped, because they had some sort of market or festival one. There were a lot of stalls and, if memory serves me correctly, a mini ferris wheel or other carnival rides set up. The place was thick with traffic and people, though, and I couldn’t see any signs of obvious parking, so we continued our journey farther south.
Tirrenia became Calambrone, which brought us to the northern outskirts of one of my favourite places to be: Livorno. Today, however, we wouldn’t be stopping – we would drive past it. I was curious as to the route that Google would take us through Livorno. Well… it took us not quite through, but around – clockwise. Livorno is a port town, and therefore is something of a distribution centre for many physical goods. We drove past oil and chemical refineries galore, warehouses and a few massive spaces where hundreds, if not thousands, of new cars were parked awaiting transport.
It was an… interesting part of the city, if not the most flattering – but every city has industry somewhere. We circled around the city, and were eventually spat out near the coastal route again, after a few adjustments. After a while the road closely followed the coast, with hints of towns here and there. Cars and scooters were parked on the side of the road for those people hitting the beaches. There weren’t as many as I’d seen before, given the time it was.
I wanted to stop off in one or two places, but we settled instead on stopping somewhere for lunch. As we approached Cecina, we went through the fabulous Castiglioncello, which we’d already been to a few year previously. I had planned to stop in Rosignano Solvay, as we hadn’t been there before, and I wanted to check out the famous white beaches. However, it wasn’t quite lunch yet and I was having difficulty finding a place to park. So, on we went – me, a little disappointed.
The next town up, Vada, was also somewhere we’d never been before. As soon as we’d driven in, I was determined we’d stop this time, as once again there were stalls everywhere. We slowed to a crawl and kept our eyes peeled for places to park. We found one – a quarter circle off a side street and got a space with little problem.
We walked up and down the main market street. It was wonderfully colourful in the sunshine, and unlike Volterra’s market, there was actually a stall selling fresh pasta. I wouldn’t mind a permanent shop like that in Volterra itself! Other than that, it was pretty much a standard market, but it’s always fun to walk around them. The best thing: the sounds: the cries of the hawkers, and the general buzz of the Italians as they request, bargain and pay.
We walked around the town a bit and found another part of the market in a gravelled town square, along with a church and a monument to Garibaldi. The day was quite hot by then, and we were also a little on the hungry side. Niamh, being a fan of all things littoral (admittedly, I love the coast too), we decided to forego the chance of excellence in favour of location.
Vada doesn’t have an old-town, per se (like most Italian towns directly on the coast), but we wandered past an old fortress tower, which seemed to be the last thing around that was more than a century old. We also bypassed a gelateria I wanted to try later!
Anyway, we got to the beach, but the call of our tummies was louder than the roar of the sea. We had a choice of two places by strand entrace. We went to the one that scored a little highly on Google. Due to my theory on promenade-based restaurants, I lowered my expectations and I guess they were met. Niamh was a bit disappointed with her seafood pasta, and I thought my pappardelle al cinghiale was passable. As always, though, the staff were lovely. Although it looks empty in the photo below, a group of young men who obviously knew the waitress joined nearby and added a bit of buzz about the place.
We briefly took to the strand shortly after lunch. It was cute and small, but large enough for a dad to play frisbee with his young son. It had golden sand too, which is always a bonus.
You can watch a video of our day here:
After we’d wandered about the beach, we headed back to the car, via the gelateria we saw earlier. Except that despite the weather, it was still closed. It looked like there was movement in it, but it was past its opening hour on Google. Rather than wait around, we went to another gelateria/bar on the other side of the square (Bar Gelateria Firenze). Its scores weren’t as high, but it was open!
We grabbed our tubs of selected flavours, and camped in one of the covered tables outside. The gelato was lovely, but this moment was also a bit of a highlight for me too. It was just so chill, people-watching and listening to a cool Italian blues playlist. I Shazam’d one of the songs (D. Man – Ain’t Enough Whiskey – fab and moody guitar work) and it’s on my phone. We hung around for just a little while after, before recommencing our journey home.
Rather than skirting directly around Cecina, we instead to take a backroad route for the rest of the way, only we didn’t quite manage it. In fact, maybe 20 minutes in I recognised some of the backroads we took leaving from Riparbella a couple of days ealier.
Side Note: Riparbella. I had completely forgotten we drove to Riparbella the same day we explored Casale Marittimo with my brother. I’d always seen it from afar, about three quarters of the way up a hillside, but I’d never been there. Anyway, we trundled up and found a carpark, but it was a bit outside the town, so we got back in, drove up the ferocious slope and into town. We found the commmunal free carpark, but had to squeeze between buildings to get to it. It snaked in single file down a couple of levels, and I was mildly traumatised getting the spot, but grabbed one and had to fight may way through a little undergrowth, as the driver, getting out of the car. The carpark looks like it was being ugraded at the time, so perhaps it’s in better shape now.
I cannot explain why, but I didn’t take any photos. That is not a reflection of Riparbella. The centre part of the old town is perfectly nice and peaceful. We saw a number of cyclists tackle the roads, and I think it’s an ideal stop along a tough route, to be possibly only attempted by experienced/fit practitioners. I remember some of us needed a bathroom, and we had seen an opened bar at a piazzetta (around here). The owner was sitting at a table outside, but we opted for a table inside and were afforded the blessed relief of some well-working air-conditioning – a real rarity in Tuscany!
While we took turns using the facilities, we grabbed some drinks and snacks and enjoyed a 20 or so minutes in the place – and enjoyed a little slice of Tuscan small-town life, as a woman brought a couple of her kids in and the bar-owner treated them to some sweets.
On the way back from Riparbella, I decided to head farther up the hill, to see where else we could explore. Once out of town, the roads became quite narrow – very narrow, in fact, but we enjoyed looking out for the well-groomed tenute along the route. I was tempted to call into one or two to try their wines, but home was calling.
Anyway, back to the ‘present’. We found ourselves back on one of these back-roads, and again we hadn’t travelled as far as I thought, coming out maybe only 15 minutes past Cecina, and back on the main road (the SS68).
We chilled for a while, before heading out to a few places to try their aperitivi.
We ended up camping at the Enjoy Cafè Bar Sportivo – a jazzband was playing right in our faces, but they were a tight combo. The nibbles were nicer than the drinks, but we were happy enough. Indicentally, this place has upped its gelato game too!
Finally, after the slight disappointment that was lunch, we over-compensated by once again heading to Del Duca for dinner. Edit: It was because it was our anniversary! lol. Huge irony that I forgot that! Anyway, Del Duca it never disappoints. At the time of writing this, they have since sold the establishment on, and we have yet to try the fare there now. We’re returning in mid March, and will do just that!
As always, we enjoyed the food tremendously and had a little digestivo afterwards. They’re so good at alleviating that full-belly feeling. And we must have been full – where are the desserts?!
Back to the apartment for chilling and bed.
I hope you enjoyed the read – please let me know what you think in the comments below.