Travel Highlight: Monte Argentario, Tuscany

*click photos to enlarge

Ah, Tuscany… Land of picturesque hilltop towns, rolling landscapes, romantic vineyards – and a surprising coastline that hardly gets the attention it deserves.

What most tourists don’t know about Italy’s arguably most famous region is that in addition to its fabulous countryside, it’s home to a notable and particularly beautiful Costa d’Argento, or Silver Coast. The touristic section is called Monte Argentario, a mountainous area surrounded by quaint seaside towns.

In Italy, the quality of the water determines the popularity of coastal locales. Monte Argentario may not be at the level of Sardinia or Puglia in terms of crystal clarity, but it’s certainly above average and attracts its fair share of Italian vacationers. It boasts a bandiera blu, or blue flag, which is the national beach/ocean ranking system that signals the cleanest, least polluted water around the boot.

The charming town of Porto Santo Stefano is the main attraction, with its countless restaurants lining the waterfront, where the fresh fish is caught and practically delivered directly to your plate. There are also some shops, scuba rentals, a marina and an aquarium, but the overall vibe is still remarkably tranquil and very local.

This area made international news last year when the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off the coast of Isola del Giglio, a small isle accessed directly from Monte Argentario by boat. More than a year later, the Concordia still sits just off the island’s coast, toppled on its side in the distance, an ever-present reminder of Captain (coglione) Schettino and one of the biggest fails in maritime history.

So next time you think Tuscany, remember: there’s more to offer than just stereotypes. Head toward the coast for the best of both worlds. Doesn’t wine taste better with an ocean view anyway?

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