Art and nature at Punta Ala
Punta Ala is a wonderful tourist resort in the heart of a vast pine forest, at the end of the Gulf of Follonica. Literally appearing out of nowhere in the 1960s, (it was originally a private hunting reserve), it saw a surge in popularity in the 1960s, following the construction of a marina that soon became one of the most famous and exclusive in the Mediterranean.
The entire area has gained Blue Flag status, which certifies as to the cleanliness of the waters and the coastline.
One thing that makes Punta Ala such an interesting destination is that it offers ample opportunity for pleasant day trips, great for alternating sport and beaches with cultural and naturalistic excursions.
In fact, just beyond the sunny landscape of sea and pine groves lies the unspoilt landscape of the Maremma Grossetana, which has retained its natural characteristics, with its plains, its lakes and its hills, where the “butteri” - or Italian-style cowboys – still ride their horses and preserve local traditions.
Some of its best-known natural attractions are the Oasis of Lake Burano, the first WWF oasis in Italy, and the many nature reserves primarily located in the municipalities of Follonica, Scarlino, Roccastrada and Massa Marittima.
For those after something other than natural wonders, there are also important areas of historical interest:
Castiglione della Pescaia, an ancient village dating back to sixty thousand years ago is to be found between Punta Ala and Marina di Grosseto. Castiglione has a high, older part, know as Castello – or Castle, and a modern part with lots of boutiques and shops that sell local food and wine products.
The medieval town is dominated by the majestic fort and former residence of Alphonse of Argon, which dates to the 16th and 15th centuries, and offers spectacular views.
Follonica, the leading mining city of the area, also boasts an interesting Iron and Cast Iron Museum, in the former metal workshops of Ilva (the Latin name for the island of Elba, which is located in front of the small town and ancient site of metal-bearing mines), with a spectacular entrance gate designed by the architect Carlo Reishammer.
There is also a well-equipped horse racing track, one of the largest in Italy, where trot or gallop races take pace by day and by night.
Around twenty kilometres from Follonica, towards the border with the province of Leghorn, lies Massa Marittima, one of the most interesting and evocative small Tuscan towns to have retained many of its historic features. Massa Marittima is divided into two distinct parts: the lower Old Town and the upper New Town, with a number of 14th century buildings. Piazza Garibaldi, with its Cathedral and other monumental buildings is in the centre of Massa Marittima.
The Cathedral, with its Romanesque-Gothic architecture, stands above the square and is flanked by a splendid, squared bell tower. The Cathedral’s interior boasts 14thcentury frescoes, a beautiful stained glass window and a series of Romanesque friezes.
Archaeology enthusiasts will find themselves in the heart of Etruria, awash with the relics of ancient cities and rich museums.
Vetulonia was a major Etruscan cities, with impressive city walls and an Etruscan necropolis. The most important of the various tombs are Tomb of the Diavolino and the Tomb of the Petrera. There is also a recently-opened Etruscan museum.
Populonia, another important Estruscan settlement that still boasts its medieval fortress with squared donjon and cylindrical tower, is located on a promontory near the town of Piombino.
At the foot of the promontory is the Etruscan necropolis, buried under a pile of slag from the ancient forges that serve as a backdrop for the beaches of Baratti. There are many burial mounds, chambers and aedicules dating to between the eight and second centuries B.C.
In Magliano in Tuscany, an evocative medieval town, visitors can admire a spectacular 15th century wall. Within the walls are the Church of St. Martin, the Palazzo dei Priori and the church of St. John the Baptist.
Moving on, visitors come to Saturnia and Pitigliano. The former is famous for its ancient travertine necropolis and its famous hot springs, while the latter is renowned for its ancient history, its Cathedral and its buildings constructed entirely in a local stone known as tuff.