Naturetrek’s ‘Go Slow in Tuscany’ – mainly wildlife but food, wine and culture were important part of this slower paced holiday

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May, 2024

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Naturetrek's 'Go Slow in Tuscany'

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We chose this holiday as we’d never been to Tuscany before but we had been on one Naturetrek trip so we knew it would be well organised and we would be with like-minded people. Staying in an agriturismo was also an important factor.

I will be doing separate reviews of the agriturismo, Siena, San Gimignano and the Archaeological Museum and Roman remains so this review concentrates on the general orgaisation of the holiday, the nature reserves we visited and our other opportunities we had to see wildlife.

We flew BA to Pisa and were met by our two leaders, one English and one Italian, and having loaded our luggage into the two minibuses we headed to San Gimignano en route to our accommodation for the week. Not everyone wanted to see San Gimignano so those who did were dropped off at one of the gates of the town and picked up there at a pre-arranged time; the others were driven somewhere to go bird watching. We then had a picturesque drive through typically Tuscan countryside, seeing hilltop villages, green rolling hills with dark columnular Italian Cypress trees which gave way to flat fields and farmland with densely wooded hills in the distance. We finally reached our family run guesthouse on a farm with its own grape vines and olive trees – the agriturismo Fattoria Il Duchesco near Alberese in the Maremma National Park in south-west Tuscany. We were welcomed by the owners, tea and home-made cakes were waiting for us; we had tea, cake, biscuits or pastries every day on our return from outings.

We visited many nature reserves in the Maremarre area and saw many different habitats – wetlands, long sandy beaches, umbrella pine woodlands, the Italian equivalent of maquis, white sand dunes – saw lots of birds, plants, insects and invertebrates that were identified, either by the expert leaders or by knowledgeable members of the group. Although optional, most of the group met up before dinner each evening to record what had seen that day and discuss the following day’s programme. Evening meals were a highlight of the holiday for me; we made our choices at breakfast and there was good provision for those who were vegetarian, vegan.or had allergies or intolerences. Bottles of Il Duchesco label wine was on the table for people to help themselves to a glass or three with the meal but any other alcoholic drinks were put on a bar bill. We sat together at a long table for our evening meals and they were relaxed and very convivial affairs. We ate in the restaurant that is open to members of the public as well as residents. Every dinner started with platters of salad to share, followed by soup or pasta, then the main of meat – including wild boar – only on Friday did we have fish or seafood.

There were pre-breakfast and after dinner nature walks for those who wanted to see even more wildlife; I only joined one, to see the Scops Owl that could be heard in a tree outside our rooms, and it was wonderful to actually see one after many years of just hearing them. A boat trip round the island of Giglio was re-arranged for a day when the sea would be calm: we left from Porto San Stefano on a boat that’s probably normally used by scuba divers and while on board we had lunch, a seafood pasta cooked on board and served with yet more wine (or soft drinks). Luckily for me the sea was really calm as I’m not a very good sailor and I’d also remembered that this was the location of the Costa Concordia disaster. While everyone else was looking out for seabirds I kept my eyes on the horizon ahead, enjoying the cloudless blue sky and views of the island and coastline. Unfortunately we didn’t see any Bottlenose Dolphins that had been spotted on previous trips. We arrived back in attractive Porto San Stefano as large fishing boats were unloading their catches on the quayside. The sun was very warm and most of us enjoyed a gelato before heading back to Il Duchesco for tea and biscuits. followed by a pasta making demonstration with five of our group (including my husband) volunteering to make pasta by hand; we then had a chance to taste the results once they had been cooked.

One day we were driven to Siena and dropped off just outside one of the gates so we diidn’t have to walk up the steep hill from the coach park. Everybody went their separate ways in Siena and then we met up at the Botanical Garden later.

A visit to the Archaeological Museum and Roman remains at Cosa was another really interesting trip. There had once been a thriving Roman town there and we saw many artefacts in the museum and outside the remains of important buildings. From the highest point of the site we had good views over to the island of Giglio, the Ortobello lagoon and Argentario promontory. Then we drove a short distance and had our picnic on the dark sands of a beach near Tagliata, the food set out on cloths laid over a large rock at the water’s edge. Naturetrek picnics are legendary; the ones we had in Tuscany included a good selection of local cheeses including goats’ and sheeps’, cold meats, tomatoes, salad, jars of olives, artichoke hearts, bread, tapenade, nuts, fruit, cakes, biscuits, wine or soft drinks.

I saw lots of flamingoes, osprey chicks in their nest (through a scope), the Scops Owl , a Wild Boar and two piglets crossing a track as we left a nature reserve, plus many butterflies and wild flowers. One evening my husband was outside looking for a tree frog that had been heard and was lucky to see the aurora borealis as it was visible from Italy as well as the UK. Our leaders were amazing and did everything they could to make sure we had a good holiday. It was excellent value as the only extras we paid for were lunch in Siena, the occasional gelato and voluntary gratuities for staff and guides.

Then, sadly, it was back to Pisa airport where we said our farewells to everyone including two of our group who were transferring to Florence for a couple of days and also to a solo lady traveller who was from the northeast of England and had flown from Manchester the day before we arrived and was going to stay in Pisa for an extra night before her flight home. We’d had good weather apart from one wet morning. I can thoroughly recommend Naturetrek holidays for couples and solo travellers alike; I think the ‘go slow’ holidays are particularly good for couples where one of the pair is not such an avid bird watcher or botanist as the other one as there is plenty of opportunity for cultural activities – or just relax with a book. Anybody who would like to know more about the wildlife that might be seen in this area can find the Trip Notes for ‘Go Slow in Tuscany’ on the Naturetrek site, the one for our holiday in May 2024 has not yet appeared but there are two for trips that took place in April.


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