Travels

Holiday Tuscany: The little-known coast of this sublime region is Italy at its best

As we step into the cathedral, a British woman steps up to me and whispers, “This is exactly what we should have.”

She looks down at the knotty 14th-century flagstone floor, which has a natural glow from the millions of feet that have slipped over it over the centuries.

“A little over our budget and I’m not sure the local cardinal will go for it,” I offer, before rushing through the nave to the amazing main altar.

Pictured is Massa Marittima, a fortified Tuscan town high on a hill about 20 miles from the coast

Pictured is Massa Marittima, a fortified Tuscan town high on a hill about 20 miles from the coast

Mark admires the 'stunning high altar' in the Massa Marittima Cathedral, pictured, which is dedicated to Saint Cerbonius

Mark admires the ‘stunning high altar’ in the Massa Marittima Cathedral, pictured, which is dedicated to Saint Cerbonius

The British woman in question is my wife. We’ve torn down our bungalow in Wiltshire and are building a small house – and there’s been a lot of discussion about whether we should have wood or stone floors.

The cathedral stands in the large main square of Massa Marittima, a fortified Tuscan town high on a hill about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the coast.

My sense of awe at this mini-Siena (with its sloping piazza and soaring bell tower) is heightened by never having heard of Massa Marittima, let alone the beautiful cathedral dedicated to Saint Cerbonius, who was born in AD 493. Christ.

An aerial view of the L'Andana hotel, which is located in a house that once belonged to the 19th-century Grand Duke Leopold II

An aerial view of the L’Andana hotel, which is located in a house that once belonged to the 19th-century Grand Duke Leopold II

To reach the hotel, Mark drives up a 'glorious' driveway that is 'lined with pine and cypress trees'

To reach the hotel, Mark drives up a ‘glorious’ driveway that is ‘lined with pine and cypress trees’

The lobby of the hotel.  Mark describes the hotel as follows: 'The rooms are ornate;  color schemes are bold (our pink headboard makes us blink);  floors are rich terracotta'

The lobby of the hotel. Mark describes the hotel as follows: ‘The rooms are ornate; color schemes are bold (our pink headboard makes us blink); floors are rich terracotta’

This part of Tuscany has not yet made it to the brochures of British estate agents targeting those seeking shelter abroad.

Many people are barely aware that Tuscany has a coastline, with beautiful sandy beaches (the region has more Blue Flag beaches than anywhere else in Italy), rugged coves, dunes, swamps and sleepy hilltop villages.

The Maremma region encompasses much of southwestern Tuscany, with Grosseto being the largest city. We fly to Pisa, pick up a car and drive south along the coast, arriving at our hotel 90 minutes later. Or rather, we reach the huge iron gates of L’Andana – from there it is almost a mile before you arrive at the hotel itself.

Vintage: A room in hotel L'Andana.  Mark says the establishment is 'old school Italy'

Vintage: A room in hotel L’Andana. Mark says the establishment is ‘old school Italy’

Mark and his wife eat their meals mainly in the garden during their stay in L'Andana

Mark and his wife eat their meals mainly in the garden during their stay in L’Andana

And what a glorious mile it is: a driveway lined with pine and cypress trees alternately planted with impeccable precision more than a century ago; vineyards to the right, vineyards to the left spanning over 500 hectares, plus some farm buildings where the famous Maremma longhorn cattle graze lazily.

All this and the imposing house at the top of the driveway, which once belonged to the 19th-century Grand Duke Leopold II, who used it as a summer hunting lodge and you won’t hear a bad word in these parts because he oversaw a huge land reclamation project that would bring wealth and employment to the area.

L’Andana is old fashioned Italy. Rooms are ornate; color schemes are bold (our pink headboard makes us blink); floors are rich terracotta.

There’s nothing pretentious about the atmosphere, helped in part by the staff, whose charm makes it impossible to complain when they get our breakfast order in a mess on two of the three mornings we’re here.

That is the beauty of Italy. I spent three months in Naples in my twenties and always remember being told the traffic lights were suggestions, not requirements.

The spa at L'Andana.  'There's nothing pretentious about the atmosphere, helped by the staff,' says Mark about the hotel

The spa at L’Andana. ‘There’s nothing pretentious about the atmosphere, helped by the staff,’ says Mark about the hotel

The bathroom of the Terrace Deluxe bedroom.  The hotel used to be used as a hunting lodge in the summer

The bathroom of the Terrace Deluxe bedroom. The hotel used to be used as a hunting lodge in the summer

The photo shows the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant, La Trattoria.  Mark says it's 'not the kind of place where a wannabe game show host takes twice as long to explain a dish as it does for you to eat it'

The photo shows the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, La Trattoria. Mark says it’s ‘not the kind of place where a wannabe game show host takes twice as long to explain a dish as it does for you to eat it’

We eat mainly in the garden, although one evening we walk through an arch of roses and jasmine and over a bridge to the hotel’s restaurant La Trattoria, which has a Michelin star but thankfully isn’t the kind of place a wannabe game host takes twice as long to explain a dish as it does for you to eat it.

There are three swimming pools: one for adults, one for children and one in the Kids’ Club. The one for the kids is by far the best, with a view of the house on one side and the Uccellina mountains on the other.

L’Andana is 15 minutes from the coast, reached via the bustling town of Castiglione della Pescaia, with its Aragonese castle which is spectacularly lit up at night.

Pictured is one of the hotel's three pools.  Mark reveals that one pool is for adults, one for children and one in the Kids' Club

Pictured is one of the hotel’s three pools. Mark reveals that one pool is for adults, one for children and one in the Kids’ Club

L'Andana can be reached via the bustling town of Castiglione della Pescaia, pictured above

L’Andana can be reached via the bustling town of Castiglione della Pescaia, pictured above

Pictured is the beach club of Le Cannucce.  'For £50 you get a parasol, sun loungers, bar, restaurant and a front row seat for Italy in all its guises,' writes Mark

Pictured is the beach club of Le Cannucce. ‘For £50 you get a parasol, sun loungers, bar, restaurant and a front row seat for Italy in all its guises,’ writes Mark

We spend our last full day at a beach club called Le Cannucce, which the hotel has an agreement with. For £50 you get a parasol, sun loungers, bar, restaurant and a premium seat for Italy in all its guises – middle-aged men in tight Speedos, older women with bellies rolling over their bikini bottoms and groups of young women adjusting their thongs before prancing down the gritty catwalk in search of admirers.

That evening we eat in the city. The place is heaving but we find a lovely spot by an osteria just off the main road. We sit at an outdoor table and order way too much, while we snatch a few bottles of local wine, which wouldn’t taste so great at home on a rainy Monday.

There are ancient flagstones under the feet, which give off a gentle warmth after a day of baking in the sun. Come to think of it, they’d look good in our new home too – but maybe not as good as the ones in St. Cerbonius Cathedral.

TRAVEL FACTS

Double rooms at L’Andana start at £360 B&B, on a sharing basis (andana.it, +39 0564 944 800). EasyJet flies to Pisa from £16.99 (easyjet.com). Citalia offers a collection of holidays in Italy (citalia.com).

.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button