Tuscany is, in so many ways, the very essence of Italy. The name alone conjures up the vivid images so beloved of painters; those rolling landscapes outlined by dark cypress trees and enlivened by vibrant splashes of red poppies, the whole bathed in that wonderful light seemingly peculiar to Italy. Olive groves, vineyards and magnificent hill-top towns nestle alongside some of the most famous artistic and cultural treasures in Europe. The modern Italian language was born here from the famous works of Dante and Boccaccio, whilst the region also witnessed the birth of the great Renaissance period. The centre of it all was Florence, where important works of art testify to the genius of the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Tuscany is also home to such other cultural gems as the medieval cities of Siena and Pisa and the smaller San Gimignano. This fascinating and unique tour will enable us to combine some of these wonders with the rich natural history of the region.
We begin our holiday with a flight to Pisa, from where we will head south-west towards the coastal strip and inland hills of Maremma, our base for the next five nights. En route we will stop at the stunning little medieval town of San Gimignano. Perched on a hill, with its famous towers silhouetted against the sky, it resists all efforts to bring it into the modern world. The hills and coastline of our destination are protected within the Regional Park of Maremma, which claims to be the last virgin coastal landscape on the Italian peninsula. Stunning countryside combines coastal marshland, cliffs and pristine sandy beaches backed by stands of Umbrella Pines, Mediterranean maquis and forested hills. Herds of the region’s celebrated white cattle and wild Maremma horses graze amongst picturesque farms, pastureland and olive groves. The flora is typically Mediterranean and species include Narrow-leaved and Grey Cistus, Strawberry Tree, Tree Medick and a variety of heathers, whilst on the sandy beaches Catchfly (Silene littorea), Crucianella maritima and Chamomile (Anthemis maritimus) are found. Such varied habitats support a wide selection of birds, including such species as Purple Heron, Yelkouan Shearwater, Short-toed Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Scops Owl, Stone Curlew, Great-spotted Cuckoo, Roller, Hoopoe, Subalpine and Dartford Warbler and Zitting Cisticola.
Travelling through rolling hills, scattered with small medieval towns and castles, we will visit a variety of fine sites for flora and fauna during our stay in the region. These will include WWF reserves at Orbetello, Bosco di Patanella and Bosco Rocconi. Orbetello Lagoon is a Ramsar Site, on account of its strategic importance during bird migration, and at the time of our visit such species as Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Great White Egret, Whiskered Tern, Golden Oriole and Great Reed Warbler may all be seen. The reserves also hold numerous butterflies, amongst them Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail, Southern Festoon (a threatened species in Tuscany), Two-tailed Pasha and a variety of coppers, blues, fritillaries and skippers, whilst such orchids as Pink Butterfly, Bog, Yellow Ophrys, Ophrys saratoi and Monkey Orchid are found here. Surrounded by crystal clear waters, the main attraction of picturesque Giglio Island is its colony of Audouin’s Gulls, one of the rarest gull species in the world and a Mediterranean endemic. Here we will also hope to see Cory’s and Yelkouan Shearwater, Peregrine Falcon and Blue Rock Thrush. Mouflon, the endemic butterfly Elban Heath and many plant species, such as Linaria capraria and the Sea Lavender Limonium sommierianum (both endemics of the Tuscan archipelago) also occur on the island.
The botanists in our party will relish time spent on the Argentario promontory, an area second only to the Gargano Peninsula when it comes to abundance of orchids within Italy. Some 42 species have been recorded here, amongst which are Yellow Ophrys, Ophrys saratoi, Smallflowered Tongue, Naked Man, Greenwinged, Pink Butterfly, Dense-flowered, Man and Monkey Orchids. We will also hope to find flowering gladioli, Asphodelus aestivus, Anemone hortensis and Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) amongst other species.
Next we will travel to the National Park of Foreste Casentinesi, stopping en route to explore Siena, one of the greatest medieval towns in Europe and a treasurehouse of Gothic architecture and art masterpieces. Casentino is an area of fir and beech forests in which we will be based for our final two nights. Here we will search for woodland wildlife and whilst Wolves do occur in the forest, they are elusive and rarely seen. Our tour concludes with a short visit to Florence (flight times permitting), where we will wander over the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio and soak in the sights of the magnificent buildings dominated by the breathtaking dome of the great cathedral. One of the most beautiful and famous cities in the world, Cradle of the Renaissance and home of the Medici, Florence is overwhelming.
Paul Harmes showed patience, professionalism and resourcefulness in meeting the needs of the group, with sensitive leadership, responsibility and consideration at all times. I enjoyed his botanical expertise and learned much!! Second to none!! Looking forward to more Naturetreks in the future!
Christina and Fabio ... could not have been better hosts. They were friendly and very helpful and made us so welcome. The food and wine ... was excellent.
Paul Harmes is an excellent leader ... constantly checking on the needs of the group ... we really cannot praise his leadership qualities too highly. Thank you for a memorable trip.
The beauty of the Tuscan hills is well known. We were surprised at the really wild side. The Maremma is a very interesting special interest wildlife park. The five days spent in it were most interesting with different habitats each day. Very well chosen and thought out. Particularly agreeable were the leaders. Very competent and knowledgeable but fun to be with. There was always time to identify from the books - we werent hurried along. The bird people were happy to learn flowers and butterflies - the flower people were happy to learn birds. So it was an excellent mix. The butterflies are an eye opener. The farm we stayed on gave us peace and quiet and space which was much appreciated. The restaurants were well chosen -3 evenings the food was really top star. The mountains region for the last two days, also interesting and when we found the wolf droppings, really exciting and again a good hotel with delicious food. Highlights: The Audouins Gull colony on the island and the Peregrine standing still and close near it, the Greater spotted Cuckoo and the forest of pine trees where it lived, the orchids, the wolves evening.
M. & L.L.
An excellent and well led holiday. Each day was a wildlife adventure, each evening a gastronomic delight!
The trip was very varied and interesting. I was also pleased that there was some cultural content. As my first Naturetrek trip it was a very pleasant experience. Both leaders were extremely pleasant, considerate and informative.
Both leaders were very pleasant and considerate. Gianlucas English is excellent.
...have enjoyed the abundance of new plants and the addition of a bit of culture was excellent. Mammals etc made it a very diverse and interesting tour.
Very much enjoyed the brief inclusion of Siena and Florence.
T. & J.E.
We very much enjoyed this hassle free trip to Tuscany as it was so well organised. We were very impressed with Gianluca and Toby, as they were so knowledgeable and interesting; also extremely considerate towards our varying abilities. A thoroughly enjoyable trip.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, it seemed to me to be a balance of all that the dossier promised. I never cease to be amazed by the tour leaders knowledge and expertise in so many different fields. Both Toby and Gianluca were aware of the differing interests of the group and managed a good balance between the combined interests of birds, plants and butterflies. All this as well as being good companions. The staff at Cheriton Mill were, as ever, helpful and eager to answer any questions.