About The Western (Tyrrhenian) Coast
The sea is always a presence, though you cannot always see it. The middle section of this coastline is the 240-km Tuscan littoral between Marina di Carrara and Ansedonia – soft deep sands and, south of Livorno (Leghorn), a stretch of precipitous rocks. A virtually unbroken series of lidos and marinas with belts of umbrella pines, holiday bungalows, camp sites and caravan parks decorates the shoreline. This road gives the best access to the great art centres of Lucca, Pisa and Siena.
North and south of that section are the Ligurian coast and Rome’s Lazio coast. Along the former, in every rocky cove, fishing villages have hollowed out their lairs. The hoary pastel-painted tenements, their back walls pinned against cliffs, look like pasteboard houses and, despite over-enthusiastic road-building, it is still hard to get at some of them.
The Lazio coast is more recently developed (within living memory it was fatally malarial), with square blocks of hotels laid out on geometrical street-plans. New-looking resorts draw a tentative clientele from Rome. Paradoxically they adjoin the heartland of Etruria, a country of high culture when Rome was a collection of mud huts.
The best places to visit are mostly along the Autostrada dei Fiori (‘Flowers’), so-named for the luxuriant foliage of the Ligurian coast and the flowers grown there for the spring markets.
The remaining sights are on the Via Aurelia, ancient Rome’s Highway 1, first of the ‘consular’ routes (named after the Roman consuls) which fanned out from the Eternal City and ensured that ‘all roads led to Rome’. The green sights are either side to side of that important artery, giving access to gnarled old forts and watch-towers and places known and unknown, including islands of the Tuscan archipelago which are at present only pencilled in on the map of tourist Italy. For all that the coastal road to Rome has been travelled for centuries, there is still undiscovered country along it.
The limited-stop express serves this coastline. By car it is a tedious journey. The only attractive section, between Genoa and La Spezia, with one tunnel after another, gives brief, tantalizing glimpses to seaward.
If you travel by train, change at Sarzana for two exciting lines, one through the Lunigiana gorges to Parma or Milan, the other through the marble mountains of the Apuan Alps to Lucca. Change at Viareggio or Livorno for Pisa or Florence. Change trains at Grosseto for Siena.
Car ferries connect Genoa with Corsica (12 hours), Sardinia (13 hours) and Sicily (22 hours). Livorno serves the same islands and also those of the Tuscan Archipelago. Campiglia Marittima is the station for Piombino, the port for Elba. Civitavecchia-Olbia is the short sea route to Sardinia.
Bus companies offering long-distance services on the Genoa-Rome routes include: SITA (www.sitabus.it) – Florence, Pesci Cornigliano and Genoa; and National Express Eurolines (Victoria Coach Station, London, www.eurolines.co.uk).