Published on: 2 February 2014 | Last updated: 26 March 2017
The hills along the coast of Toscana offer some enjoyable cycling on blissfully quiet roads, great views, vineyards and cantina (wineries), and some of Toscana's most authentic hilltop towns. This is a more challenging option but a rewarding one. You could have the best of both worlds by following the coast from Livorno and then heading inland north of Cecina - see the Options.
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Route description in more detail
The route starts in Pisa. From Pisa there's a straightforward ride across the Arno plain gradually gaining height. The first main climb (and the biggest of the whole route) incomes at the 42-kilometre point as the route climbs to Castellina Marittima (375m) 4.4 kilometres further on. Castellina is a good place to stop for a coffee before continuing to the high point (408 metres) at the 53 kilometre point. From there it's a glorious downhill cruise to Cecina on the coast.
There are a some campsites near to Cecina, but if you have the time and the energy to face another climb, there are a couple of attractive options near Guardistallo.
The climb to Guardistallo involves a 266-metre altitude gain over 7.9 kilometres. At the top of the climb it's worth making a short descent down the road to Volterra (and the Agricamping La Corsa) just to admire the dramatic views of inland Toscana. From here there's a descent down to Bibbona (80m). If you have time you could stop to visit its medieval centro storico.
The next stop, 7 kilometres further on, is the town of Bolgheri. We are now entering the Bolgheri wine country of huge vineyards. This is one of Italy's most up-and-coming wine areas and home to the Sassicaia 'Super-Tuscan' produced at the Tenuta San Guido.
Sassicaia is out of my price range, but a glass of Bolgheri Rosso, or Bolgheri Bianco should be within most people's budgets. Bolgheri is a great place to enjoy a glass of wine, or a meal, or a gelato (ice cream). There's also a fontanella so you can fill your water bottles.
And as you turn into the approach road to Bolgheri you can admire its other claim to fame - a 5-kilometre long avenue of cypress trees ( opens in overlay) that runs between the town and the coast (OK, almost to the coast).
From Bolgheri there's a smashing 10 kms or so on surprisingly quiet roads towards Castagneto Carducci. At about the 98 kilometre-point the road starts to climb again, with a 316-metre climb over 15.2 kilometres. climbing towards Fornaci, Sassetta and the high point near Santa Caterina.
Sassetta is well worth a stop. It's an attractive village (especially the fortified borgo at its heart) but its claim to fame is the annual sculpture symposium (Simposio Scultura) organized by the comune where four young sculptors are invited the the village and over ten days in early July they work in the open air to produce a sculpture from a chunk of the local red marble. The public get to watch, and to vote for the winner of the Premio della Giuria Popolare(People's Choice Award). The sculptures are then displayed around the village in the Percorso dell'Arte. There are videos about the 2012 and 2013 simposio on youtube. Here's the 2012 video:
You can also download a copy of the brochure (in English and Italian) from the comune's website. The brochure includes photographs of the winning entries and their sculptors.
After Sassetta there's a bit more climbing up to 353 metres at the 113 kilometre point and then a gorgeous cruisey descent to the town of Suvereto. another place that's well worth a stop: it was awarded an orange flag quality mark by the Touring Club Italiano as one of the best small towns in Italy (see bestsmalltownsitaly.com).
Climb up to the Rocca Aldobrandesco ('rocca' is one of the many Italian words for a castle or fortress). The Aldobrandeschi were a family descended from the Longobard invaders (the name is an italianisation of Hildebrand), who ruled the Maremma during the medieval era. There are over 30 of their fortresses in southern Toscana and northern Lazio. Check out the palazzo comunale as well as the cloister of the Convento di San Francesco. There are some decent bars and restaurants as well as a good bar-gelateria.
Next stop is Campiglia Marittima, another atmospheric hilltop town. Great ride up. Don't make the mistake that I made of missing the Rocca di Campiglia the walled fortress built by the Pisan Counts della Gherardesco. Great views out from the top (281m). The walled Rocca was built to house the metalworkers and miners who worked for the Count at the nearby San Silvestro mines where copper, silver and lead were mined. The mines started to go into decline and the village was completely abandoned in the fourteenth century. Mining resumed again in the late 19th century under a British company Etruscan Copper Estate Mines. The company's offices have been restored and are now home to the Gowett Hostel (named after the company's president). If you're interested, there's a lot to see in the park including a couple of underground visits.
Marble from the quarries of Campiglia Marittima was used in the building of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Firenze.
After Campiglia Marittima you have the choice of heading for the coast, or continuing on to Massa Marittima where you can pick up the Gran Tour della Maremma. Massa Marittima is another evocative medieval town high on a hill looking out towards Elba and Corsica.
At the heart of Toscana's colline metalliferre (metal-bearing hills), it grew rich on mining. Like Campiglia, Massa was caught up in the long power struggle between Siena and Firenze which ultimately ended with Siena's defeat. It came under the domination of the Sienese who built a fortress and a new city at the top of the hill above the centre of Massa. The Torre del Candeliere (it/en/de), linked to the Cassero Seneseby a dramatic single-span bridge, is a must see. The views from the city walls are some of the best in the whole of Toscana: on a clear day you can see Elba in the distance.
I'd definitely recommend the Fondazione Museo Santa Cecilia (Museo degli Organi). The Fondazione is creation of Dr Lorenzo Ronzoni who has assembled an extraordinary collection of organs and pianos as well as restoring the church that houses the museum. He's definitely an enthusiast and was only to happy to take me on an accompanied visit and to play some of the organs for me - as well as a demonstration of the difference between Mozart played on the type of piano Mozart used as opposed to a modern grand concert piano.
You could of course ride this route from south to north or combine it with other routes in Toscana. At Pisa you could opt to continue along the coast going via Viareggio or head through the Garfagnana and Lunigiana.
From Campiglia Marittima you are within easy reach of the Etruscan site at Baratti - or Piombino the ferry terminal for Elba. At Massa Marittima you can pick up the Gran Tour della Maremma. You could also continue along the coast following the Bicitalia 16 - Ciclovia Tirrenica route.
The best of both worlds? The Grande Traversata della Costa degli Etruschi
You could have the best of both worlds by following the coast route from Livorno as far as Cecina and then turning inland - or ride through the coastal Pineta as far as the Marina di Bibbona and from there to Bolgheri along its magnificent 5-kilometre avenue of Cypress Pines.
This alternative option ('La Grande Traversata') is described on the very useful Costa degli Etruschi website (route description in Italian, English, and German). You can also get a decent-quality map from tourist offices (or download a pdf copy from the route description pages).
The Grande Traversata starts in Livorno and ends in Piombino (perfect for Elba). the distance is 143 kilometres and the total climbing a relatively manageable 1,356 metres. They even say that a fit cyclist could do the whole thing in a day. I am happy to take their word for it.
Places to stay
Hotels and B&Bs etc
The route descriptions on the Costa degli Etruschi website (Italian, English, andGerman) have lists of bike-friendly hotels and other accommodation along the southern part of the route. For the northern part of the route, there's a very comprehensive accommodation listing on the pisaunicaterra.it tourism promotion website for the Provincia di Pisa.
Find and book places to stay with Booking.com
Booking.com pages for places on this option:
- Castellina Marittima | Cecina
- Guardistallo | Bibbona | Bolgheri | Castagneto Carducci
- Suvereto | Campiglia Marittima | Massa Marittima | Capalbio
About these links
If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.
I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.
I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.
Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.
So far as I know, the only campsite on the northern part of the route is in Pisa, but there are a number on the southern part. The campsites I know about are:
- Torre Pendente (Pisa)
- Il Borgo Centro Vacanze
- agricamping La Corsa at Guardistallo
- agricampeggio Eucaliptus. A small friendly site between Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci. The family run a successful agriturismo and have recently opened a campsite - the facilities seemed pretty much brand new. the campsite shares the agriturismo's garden and pool. The agriturismo also provide an evening meal which was extremely good value - it's worth calling ahead if you want to eat. The family make some really very good wine;
- agricamping Grattamocco Podere Santa Maria
- very close by is the Le Pianacce. This is one of the better sites in the area. Pretty big, on a terraced site. Good value, but my choice would be the agriturismo;
- the BluCamp in the hills just outside Campiglia Marittima. A terraced site cum olive grove it's well worth the climb both for its views out towards the Isola di Capraia but also for its swimming pool.
Transport and services
The main Pisa-Roma line runs along the coast.
Tourist information websites
The main tourist information websites:
For information about museums
For information about wine:
Articles in this series
- The Tuscan coast: overview
- The Tuscan coast – Part 1: from the border with Liguria to Viareggio and Pisa
- The Tuscan coast – option: taking the high road
- The Tuscan coast Part 2: Pisa to Livorno and Populonia
- The Tuscan coast – Part 3: from Populonia to Marina di Grosseto
- The Tuscan coast – Part 4: through the Maremma to Capalbio
- The Tuscan coast – option: a tour of Elba
Get in touch
Please get in touch if you find any errors in the information, or if there’s anything, good or bad, that you’d want other cyclists to know.
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