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Bikes and Beaches, Southern Tuscany
Capalbio and Lago di Burano - La Feniglia and the Lagoon of Orbetello
The following are two easy cycling trips in Southern Tuscany that you can make from Rome. They both go near the seaside and are therefore completely flat. You can also make them as long or short as you like by taking certain variations of the route.
Trains are used to get to the starting points, which means that these can also be used as stress free ways to get to the beach without a car. Just put your bike on the train and miss all the traffic getting out of and returning to Rome.
Another advantage to going to the beach by bike is that you can get to less accessible beaches, which tend to be much less crowded.
Southern Tuscany: Capalbio and Lago di Burano
Near Capalbio, between the railroad tracks and the seashore, there is a nature reserve run by the WWF that stretches north and south for about 15 km. You can't see the beach from the road; what you see are fields of poppies, if in season, or grain and the dunes with the macchia mediterranea (typical vegetation of the Mediterranean). On the other side of the dunes is the sea, at less than 1 km. There is virtually no traffic on this road so it is a relaxing ride. The only exception will be during summer weekends.
Take the train to Capalbio Scalo. Almost all the trains that stop here also carry bikes. They go roughly every 2 hours starting at about 8 am. The trip takes about 1 hour 45 minutes.
When you arrive at the station, there is a ramp that goes down and out to the left to the road along the seaside. You can also go into the town if you need to buy food. You'll see Lago di Burano right in front of you. You can go to the right (north) toward Ansedonia or to the left (south) to Chiarone Scalo.
Heading out of the station to the left, after less than .5 km there is a WWF center at Lago di Burano, a salt-water lake. The reserve is usually closed during the summer months of July and August but the main path to the lake is always open. You can do some bird watching here. I've seen flamingos on several occasions and there are always swans. They do ask that you be very quiet near the lake.
Continuing on the road, you will see a number of inviting paths that lead to the sea. Unfortunately, you can only go on them with a guide from the WWF. Check at the center for information on guided visits. I've also seen pheasant in the fields of the reserve from time to time.
After about 3.3 km, you'll see a sign for a trail that is accessible, but only on foot. I've asked at the WWF center about taking the trail on bike and they said no. When I asked about walking my bike, they shrugged their shoulders. So you might be able to get away with it. Or you could try to hide your bike so it isn't visible from the road and lock it up.
This year (2004), there is also a free shuttle service from the Capalbio station that runs during the summer. This would be a great way to get to the beach without even a bike. The shuttles runs every 30 minutes from 9:30am to 1:30 pm and again from 3:30 to 7:30pm.
Then you can just walk down the path through the field and over the dune to a beach that is not accessible by car. You will be amazed how well this works to reduce the number of visitors!
Continue along the road for another 4 km and you arrive at Chiarone Scalo. To the right is a road that goes to the beach, 1km. There is a parking lot with bike racks. On the beach there is a bathing establishment, which I will hereafter refer to as a stabilimento because bathing establishment just doesn't sound right.
Walk around it to get to the free beach. You just have to walk a short distance from the parking lot and the number of people on the beach will diminish.
Now you can head back toward the Capalbio station where we started.
Once you pass the station, after 2.5 km there is a road that goes 1km to the beach at Macchiatonda. Here again you'll find a parking lot and a couple of stabilimenti but you just have to walk a short distance down the beach to get away from the crowds. You can lock your bike to the fence right at the beach. There are usually a few bikes there.
Back on the road, after another 3km there is the road to Playa La Torba beach. Same as above, parking lot and stabilimento. Don't let all these stabilimenti worry you. Being part of the nature reserve, they are the only construction you'll find on the beach. And there are relatively few of them. Most of the beach is just that, nice, natural beach.
Back on the road again, the last beach access is just before Ansedonia, that hill in front of you with all the nice villas. Just before the road that goes up to Ansedonia, and just past the fish farm, turn left and on your right is a fountain where you can get water if you need it. Follow this road down to the beach known as La Tagliata Etrusca.
A couple of unpleasant things to note. There is the fish farm that smells, well, fishy. There is also a monstrosity of a hotel on the hill above, built but never finished due to the usual legal problems. But it will be behind you as you head to the beach and the fish farm is only smelly when you're right by it.
At the beach you can see the tagliata etrusca, a gap cut in the rock attributed to Etruscan engineers to alleviate problems at the port of the ancient city of Cosa, which you can also visit.
You can then head back to the station at Capalbio.
If you ride the length of the road, it is only about 15 km, 30 km round trip. You'll have to add on 2 km for each beach access. You can also ride as little as 7 km and just go to Macchiatonda.
Southern Tuscany: La Feniglia and the Lagoon of Orbetello
This trip takes us to La Feniglia, also known as Il Tombolo di Orbetello. It is a thin stretch of land with a thick pine forest that separates the sea from the lagoon and connects the mainland with Monte Argentario. It is also a park with nice beaches. The park is about 5-6 km long and there are parking lots at either end. You can only enter the park on foot or by bike, so if you get away from the parking lots at either end, you can find relatively empty beaches.
There are also trails in the forest and along the lagoon. It is very shady which makes it great for hot summer days. You can also get some shade, which goes right up to the beach, if you've had too much sun.
Take the train to Orbetello Scalo. Head out of the station to the left. Turn right on the main road and follow signs to the Centro. After about 3.5 km you'll go though a park and then the city gates. Follow the signs to Porto Ercole. You'll cross the bridge over the lagoon of Orbetello, there is a bike path on the left side of the bridge (you'll have to cross over to use it on the way back too). To your left you'll see the thick pine forest of La Feniglia.
After the bridge, take your first left toward Porto Ercole. This is a busy road, so be careful crossing. Also the next road is a bit busy and no shoulder, but you only have to follow it about 2 km. At your first left, you'll see a sign for La Feniglia, follow this road for a short distance and take the unpaved road to the left. You'll see the parking lot for this end of the park.
Once you enter the park, you can either go straight and follow the trail along the lagoon or turn right and then left and follow the road that runs right through the middle of La Feniglia.
On the lagoon trail, it can be a bit rough. There are some rocky parts and at times you'll be riding over tree roots. Take it slow. I've done it several times on my hybrid with skinny tires and never had any problems. There are some bird watching huts here and there.
The road in the middle of La Feniglia is quite wide and goes straight between the lagoon and the sea. You can't see much from the road, as the forest is thick. There is little or no vegetation on the ground because of all the pine needles. It seems surreal at times. There are trails that go toward the beach and toward the lagoon every 1km or so.
If you go to the beaches near the center, i.e. as far away from the parking lots as possible, you will find them relatively empty.
Beach looking toward Ansedonia
Beach with Monte Argentario in the background
At the other end of the park, there is a grassy area where I have often seen fallow deer (daini) grazing. They don't seem to be too bothered by people so they must be something like pets.
If you ride the entire loop within the park, it is about 16 km. And about 8 km one way to get back to the train station.
As you head back to Orbetello to take the train, you can take a side trip into Porto Ercole, about 2.5 km, a nice port village where you can have lunch or get an ice cream.
Connecting the two Rides Above
You can connect the two rides in southern Tuscany by adding a ride up over the hill at Asendonia. Take the train to Capalbio and head out to the north (right) toward Ansedonia. After about 6-7 km instead of taking the road to the left which leads to La Tagliata, head straight up the hill and follow the main road (with speed bumps) among the villas. It is uphill, but it is not all that steep and you can walk it if necessary. It is about 1.5 km up and 2.5 km down. From the top there are nice views, but most of them are blocked by the fences and walls around the villas.
When you get back down to the bottom of the hill at the other side, take a sharp left and double back on the road when you see the parking lot. This is the other end of La Feniglia. Go past the tennis courts, cross over the little bridge and the entrance to the park is on your right.
From here you can visit the park and follow the instructions above, in reverse order, to get back to the station at Orbetello Scalo.
www.slowtrav.com/italy/bike/: Biking in Italy, articles describing bike routes and taking bikes on trains.
www.trenitalia.com: TrenItalia, the Italian train system.
www.slowtrav.com/italy/trains/: Notes about using trains in Italy.
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