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If you want to see a lesser-known part of Tuscany that still has beautiful scenery, stunning beaches, delicious cuisine, and ancient art and culture, then look no further than Orbetello. The town sits on a tiny peninsula in the middle of a lagoon and is connected to mainland Tuscany’s Maremma region by a bridge. Let’s find out what makes it the perfect holiday spot for just about anyone!
Orbetello: From the Etruscans to Garibaldi
Not surprisingly, Orbetello goes back to the 7th century BC when it was an important Etruscan settlement along with other cities on the famous Etruscan Coast. A few hundred years later, it became a Roman colony when they constructed Cosa in Ansedonia (a fraction of Orbetello). Then came Charlemagne, the Orsinis, the Spanish, the Bourbons, and so on until it was annexed into the Kingdom of Italy. Today, about 15,000 people call the various fractions of Orbetello home including Orbetello Scalo, Ansedonia, Albinia, Talamone, and Fonteblanda.
What to See in Orbetello
Orbetello’s sights are a fascinating mix of its various influences over the past 2,700 years. One of the most characteristic landmarks is its windmill in the middle of its two lagoons, Ponente and Levante. Built by the Sienese during their short rule in the 1400s, the windmill was later restored by the Spanish and was used for grinding grain brought in by boat into the lagoon.
Other important sights are the Church of San Francesco da Paola built during the Spanish period. The Governer’s Palace with its clock tower was also constructed during Spanish rule and is located in the Piazza Eroe dei Due Mondi. Orbetello’s main cathedral, or Duomo, is the oldest as it was built on ancient Etruscan-Roman ruins in the late 14th century. Inside, you’ll find beautiful frescoes.
Don’t miss the archaeological museum which is housed in the Guzman powder magazine, a gunpowder depot built during the late 1600s. It contains a vast collection of local artifacts from the Hellenistic, Etruscan, and Roman civilizations excavated in the surrounding area.
The ancient walls (portions date to the Etruscan period) that encompass the historic center are still visible as are the original gates. Porta Medina Coeli, also called Porta Nuova, boasts the city’s patron saint, Biagio, with his arm outstretched to protect the city.
Just 10 km from Orbetello lies the tiny hamlet of Ansedonia. Once the ancient Roman city of Cosa, today, it is an exclusive tourist resort and archaeological site with a museum. This fortress city was built in 273 BC and at one point, had an astounding seventeen towers. Its three towers include one named after Puccini who loved to spend time here and was where he found the inspiration to compose Turandot.
Another tiny hamlet of Orbetello, Albinia is most known for its salt mines along the Albegna River. In the year 2000, a huge discovery was made when almost 2,000 square meters of a Roman furnace used for amphorae production was unearthed.
Slightly further away from Orbetello, yet still part of its municipality, is Talamone whose main sight is the magnificent, medieval Aldobrandeschi Fortress dating to the mid-1200s. Hundreds of years later, it would be the meeting point for Garibaldi’s famous “Expedition of the Thousand”.
There is also a modern-day aquarium featuring the lagoon’s native species.
Needless to say, Orbetello has some absolutely stunning coastline and offers not only kilometers of sandy shores but also secret coves and grottos. For snorkeling, try Cala del Cannone in Talamone. While it’s not suitable for children or visitors with limited mobility, there is a staircase with a handrail leading you to the rocky shore and the deep, crystal-clear sea.
For families with children, try Osa Beach (Fonteblanda) with its endless golden sand and shady wood for an afternoon nap in the shade. Popular Feniglia and Giannella are also sandy and well-suited for families with loads of conveniences and services.
Exploring the Outdoors
For visitors who love spending time outdoors, the possibilities in and around Orbetello are endless. Scuba diving, snorkeling, and water sports of all kinds are widely available. Talamone is especially popular for kitesurfing, surfing, and windsurfing.
On land, hiking trails and bike trails abound and there is one suitable for just about any ability and age. One such hike leads to the ruins of the Benedictine Monastery of Sant’Angelo Rovinato. It departs from a private property called La Parrina so hikers must obtain permission in advance. More info here
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Local Cuisine and Events
There is no shortage of culinary delicacies in Orbetello. One of its most famous products dates back to the 15th century: caviar called Bottarga di Orbetello. Parrina Rosso DOC and Parrina Riserva DOC are both reds composed of mostly Sangiovese grapes. There is also a rosè variety as well as a white and dessert wine. All of these and many more can be found along the Colli di Maremma (Maremma Hills) Wine Route.
Events are held year-round, but Gustatus typically in late October/early November is a foodie favorite. In the summertime, the city hosts an international piano festival with a series of outdoor concerts held in all kinds of amazing locations.
Orbetello is easily reached by either car or train. The closest station is Orbetello-Monte Argentario on the Roma-Civitavecchia-Grosseto-Pisa line.
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