I have been blessed to have the chance to spend a lot of time in Italy, thanks to my better half being Italian. If you are interested, you can look at my previous posts on for example the lovely cities of Pisa, Bologna, and Florence. I continue writing about this amazing country where I have spent the major part of the summer 2021, while we have been taking care of family issues and other things demanding attention. As we still live in pandemic times, in this post that combines my experiences from the summer 2020 and the current one, I will introduce you to some hidden gems of Tuscany. These are places where you will probably not encounter floods of tourists but will find space to enjoy yourself safely.
Monumento ai Caduti del Vega 10
One of the hidden gems of Tuscany includes, perhaps surprisingly, a memorial monument of a very sad event. On March 3, 1977, 44 people died when C-130H Hercules (Vega 10) crashed on Monte Serra on its trip from Pisa to Livorno. The plane was carrying 38 first year students, their accompanying officer Emilio Attramini and 5 staff members from the Naval Academy of Livorno. Just four minutes after the take-off, during its climb in challenging weather conditions, it stuck the slope of Mt. Serra 3 200 feet high. The exact cause of the tragedy was never confirmed, but the aircraft did not follow the correct track after its departure. If you master Italian, you can read more here.
Today, there is a stunning monument and an even more stunning view from it at the place where the tragedy occurred. Monumento ai Caduti del Vega 10 is a beautiful, respectful memorial, and the view from the hilltop next to it is beyond comparison. It might sound peculiar that a memorial could truly be one of the hidden gems of Tuscany, but I guarantee it is -just hike up on the hill, sit down next to the memorial, and take a look at the flourishing landscape below. May the caduti del Vega 10 rest in peace.
The Basilica of San Piero a Grado
This beautiful basilica is a lovely example of the Pisan Romanesque style located at the place where there once was the port of the Pisan republic: This is where the legend says St. Peter arrived on his journey through the Aegean Sea towards Rome in 44 AD. Even if you are one of those who think that visiting churches is a little bit boring and are overwhelmed by the fact that in Italy, there are approximately 500 churches in every square kilometer, this basilica still defends its place among the hidden gems of Tuscany.
Archaeological explorations have revealed that there was once a Paleo-Christian church in this place in the 4th-5th centuries, built on top of civil Roman structures. In the early Middle Ages, it was replaced by a larger church. The construction of the church guarding the landscape in our days began in the 10th century, and it was renovated in the 11th and 12th centuries.
The church is built of tufaceous stone and white marble that comes from the Roman remains. Inside, antique columns divide the space into a nave and two aisles. It has two sets of apses that were most likely re-built after the facade crumbled during one of River Arno’s notorious floods. Three apses face the east and one the west, while the main entrance is towards the north.
The exterior has extended columns, arches and ceramic basins with Islamic influence, and in the arches, you can observe basins that are of Islamic, Mallorcan, and Sicilian manufacture. A Gothic Ciborium from the beginning of the 15th century shows the place where St. Peter prayed for the first time.
On the walls, you can see a large, recently restored fresco cycle by Deodato Orlandi from Lucca, illustrating the life of St. Peter. The work, commissioned by the Caetani family, dates back to the later 1200 and early 1300. On the high altar there is a wooden crucifix dating back to the 17th century. The aisle mural was lost in the transformations the church has undergone throughout the years.
The 12th century bell tower was 37 meters high and from its top, the whole pane between Livorno and Pisa could be viewed. The tower was mined by the retreating German troops in 1944. Only its base has been rebuilt since.
This church is unique with raw beauty and genuine historical value. If you are interested to know more, you can click for example here, here, or here.
My partner, related to a priest who used to have this church as his signpost, remembers being allowed to play within the ancient ruins inside the church. The church used to be -and still is- somewhat invaded by pigeons. Indeed, my partner told me that in his childhood, when the priest used to get too annoyed by these birds, pigeon would sometimes be served on the dinner table.
More Hidden Gems of Tuscany: Tre Colli and the Restaurant Il Conventino
Tre Colli is a lovely village deep in the Tuscan countryside. Albeit the list of hidden gems of Tuscany might include a number of different villages, all equally lovely, I have a personal attachment with this particular place. Visiting Tre Colli in the mid of the summer offers an intoxicating mixture of hills blooming with vegetation, butterflies fluttering all over, and blue skies glowing with the brightest sunlight. A stroll on the hills fills you with exhilaration and peace.
Next to a small village church you can find a restaurant with very beautiful views. Ristorante il Conventino is a place so lovely it is like made to be the location of a wedding or a luxurious birthday party. Before embarking on a car trip up the hills to visit it, do check first to make sure the place is open.
Last Hidden Gem of Tuscany: La Pineta di Cecina
My boyfriend first brought me to the pine forest of Cecina on a day when we really needed to find peace and solitude after the recent death of a family member. The soothing greenery and cooling shadows made us feel relief, and we returned soon after. I had just found a new favorite place and wished to experience again the long walks in the shadow of the gigantic pine trees and hear the swelling ocean right next to the forest path. I am always surprised of how the forest walkways and beaches are not full of people enjoying this paradise. This truly counts as one of the hidden gems of Tuscany.
Nature Reserve di Tombolo di Cecina invites you right in the middle of wild and lush Mediterranean vegetation. The forest is, as many woods on the Tuscan cost, a man-made one. However, it is not a tamed little park the kind I have grown tired of while living in the Netherlands. In fact, it gives me a true, deep forest experience as close to a Finnish one I could ever get in Italy.
The walking and biking roads are long and plenty, and the beaches -at least the ones I have seen- rocky and unpolished. The water might be cold, but at least you will not find yourself in the midst of a typical monetized beach resort with rented umbrellas and cafès selling you expensive granitas. No, you can find yourself truly at a raw beach, interacting with the sand, wind, and salt.