History, mineral deposits and precious vineyards: discover the Val Di Cornia
It is the extreme structure of the Etruscan Coast, the last stretch of the province of Livorno that extends towards the promontory of Populonia and overlooks the Island of Elba: we are talking about the Val Di Cornia, a land of mineral deposits and unspoiled nature. Its coasts, once stagnant and marshy, are the meeting point between landscape and important archaeological tracks that surprise and conquer visitors by offering them the special opportunity to know a little bit of ancient, wild and welcoming Tuscany.
Let's go together to discover the Val Di Cornia and what to see in its beautiful territory.
Val di Cornia: what to see?
Located halfway between Livorno and Grosseto, Val Di Cornia is the border between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Metalliferous Hills and is the ideal destination for that combines relaxation by the sea with historical-artistic itineraries, trekking in nature and wine trails: this is where the Vermentino grapes are concentrated, which give the name to one of the most appreciated Tuscan white wines. Discovering this part of Tuscany means building your own itinerary among parks, ancient villages and lively seaside towns.
Here are the destinations not to be missed.
Archaeological Park of Baratti: from the sea to the heart of ancient Populonia
For history and archeology enthusiasts, Val Di Cornia represents a real precious treasure chest that reveals its wonders around every corner. Among the pearls of this area there is the archaeological park that from the slopes of the promontory of Piombino extends up to the Gulf of Baratti, a magical place, between history and the sea. Here, where the ancient Populonia once stood, today it is possible to follow an itinerary that intertwines the Etruscan and Roman towns with the evidence of the metallurgical activity for which the city was known. Between necropolis, limestone quarries and industrial districts, those who arrive here for the first time will have the feeling of taking a journey through time marked by the changes in the landscape over the centuries. In an ideal journey backwards, following the woods that outline the coast to the inner area of the promontory of Piombino, you have to imagine an area dotted with lakes and lagoons and a luxuriant marsh vegetation on which stood the acropolis, still visible and the huts of the Populonia aristocracy: proceeding along the cobbled streets and leaving this part of the city behind, you enter the urban nucleus of the Roman plant, with temples and baths dating back to the 2nd century BC. The Gulf of Baratti, then, is a paradise of holm oaks and pines, of sea and nature, which enchant the visitor at first glance, conquering him forever. Finally, the territory shows its medieval face between Mediterranean scrub and woods, where it is still possible to admire the ruins of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico.
Depositary of the Etruscan heritage of Populonia and linked to the Maritime Republic of Pisa, the city of Piombino established itself as an autonomous principality in 1399. The union with the principality of Lucca and the regency of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Napoleon's sister, would come four centuries later. It will be the Congress of Vienna, after the fall of Napoleon I, to sanction its annexation to the Granducato di Toscana. Known as a port hub with a strong industrial vocation, Piombino also reserves suggestive historical-artistic itineraries that guide the visitor to discover its ancient soul.
Between alleys and overlooking the sea, the city's history is marked by numerous points of interest, such as the imposing tower dating back to 1200 and the Rivellino dating back to 1447. The Town Hall, next to the Clock Tower, offers a dip in local art thanks to the works preserved inside: noteworthy is a Madonna del Latte attributed to Giovanni Maria Tacci and a lion head dating back to the twelfth century. Lovers of sacred architecture will be able to build an unusual route between the religious buildings of the city: the Concattedrale di Sant'Antimo, the Chiesa della Misericordia and the Cappella della Cittadella. Among the places not to be missed there are the Castle, the "Cassero Pisano" of the XII century and the Palazzo della Corte which, together with part of the walls, represents the trace of the Cittadella built in the XV century by the Prince of Piombino. Jacopo III Appiani. The city also retains the imprint of Leonardo Da Vinci who, between 1502 and 1505, built a military fortified system whose traces can be seen along the layout of the city walls.
The Archaeological Mines Park of San Silvestro
Leaving behind the promontory of Piombino you enter the Archaeological Mines Park of San Silvestro: its 450 hectares of surface offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in an itinerary marked by mining tunnels and historical-naturalistic paths of great impact. The path inside the park allows you to make a complete full immersion in the geological history of the area by touching several stages including the Museum of Archeology and Minerals, the “Temperino" Mine and the Museums of Mining Machines and Miners. The visit also includes a mini train tour, from the “Temperino" Valley to the “Lanzi" Valley plants: here, at the point where you can see the medieval fortress of San Silvestro, this land rich in deposits reveals its medieval soul.
The Rocca San Silvestro
Rocca di San Silvestro dominates the ancient village of miners who between the 10th and 11th centuries, on the initiative of the Counts della Gherardesca, worked in the rich deposits of copper and silver lead: the mining activity and the subsequent processing of metals were aimed at the production of coins for the mints of Lucca and Pisa. Known in medieval times with the name of Rocca a Palmento, the village was definitively abandoned in 1300, but still reveals the social and economic organization of the community that inhabited it: the church, the houses, the industrial area and the noble one offer a precious testimony of how people lived in a mining village almost a thousand years ago.
Leaving the San Silvestro Archaeological Mines Park it is worth planning a stop in the small village of Campiglia Marittima. This evocative village of the province of Livorno carries the mining vocation in its DNA: copper, iron and lead have been at the center of the area's mining activity since the Etruscan era. Thanks to the privileged position it enjoys, with the town on the hills and overlooking the sea just 8 km away, this town is the ideal destination to combine a few hours of relaxation on the beach with a long walk in the medieval village: through alleys, narrow streets and panoramic points it is possible to follow the perimeter of the walls to reach the suggestive Propositura di San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Pretorio and reach the Rocca, which stands on the highest point of the hill.
Where to stay in Val di Cornia: the Monterufoli estate
Discovering the Val Di Cornia, between beaches, mineral deposits and medieval villages also means treating yourself to an immersive experience to discover the wine productions that this land offers.
To do this, just continue to the southern part of the province of Pisa, on the ridge that separates the Val Di Cornia and Val di Cecina: here, a few kilometers from the Etruscan Coast, stands the ancient Monterufoli Estate.
Spread over an area of over a thousand hectares, the estate is part of the homonymous natural park. This area, surrounded by Mediterranean scrub and dotted with hills that reach 500 meters above sea level, is a precious oasis of biodiversity and, in fact, is also home to an indigenous horse breed: the Monterufoli pony.
The natural park that embraces the estate offers an unmissable opportunity to complete the journey in Val Di Cornia: lovers of outdoor activities can plan a walk to the lignite and magnesite mines or an off-road visit to those of chalcedony, while for those who do not give up to the pleasure of a ride in nature there is the opportunity to participate in a bike tour through the vineyards and maybe conclude with a tasting of the fine wines of the winery.
Here, in the productive heart of the estate, it is possible to appreciate the authentic flavors of the territory, such as the Vermentino di Toscana IGT, which in 2019 received prestigious awards such as the 91 points awarded by James Suckling and the mention of "Doctor Wine" by Daniele Cernilli , while for red lovers Tenuta Monterufoli reserves its "Poggio Miniera" Val di Cornia red DOCG, also awarded at the highest levels in 2012.
The Estate, historically linked to Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, a famous Dante character, is also the ideal place to spend a few days of vacation in unspoiled nature, being able to choose between three buildings: the Mine, with nine rooms, the “Minieara" and the “Casa delle Guardie", which have six apartments, all strictly in Tuscan style, completely autonomous and with a spectacular view over the valley.
For those who love history and nature, Val Di Cornia is truly a magical place, don't you think?