Want a beach day? Need a break from cities and sightseeing in Tuscany? Looking for a good day trip by train from Florence or Pisa?
Here’s how to spend a day in Castiglioncello, a chic beach town on the Tuscan coast where many Italian movies have been filmed. It has breathtaking vistas, and a dramatic coastline with hidden coves and clean beaches. My family has summered in Castiglioncello for decades.
Here’s a guide to what makes Castiglioncello special, what the beaches are like, and who it’s best for, so you can decide whether it’s the right place for you. I have tips for activities in Castiglioncello, where to eat and drink, how to get around, and even tips for pronouncing Castiglioncello like a pro.
Thanks to Stefano and Caterina (family members who have a home in Castiglioncello) for their insider input!
Andiamo al mare! Let’s go to the seaside!
Table of Contents
WHERE IS CASTIGLIONCELLO?
Castiglioncello is a small town along the Tuscan Coast, on the Tyrrhenian sea. It’s about 26 km south of Livorno (35 minute drive) and 45 km south of Pisa (about a 45 minute drive).
This part of the Tuscan coast is called the Costa degli etruschi, or the Etruscan Coast. It runs from Livorno down to Piombino, and has a large number of Etruscan necropoli.
Don’t be intimidated by its long name! The pronunciation of Castiglioncello is: kah-stee-lyee-ohn-CHEH-lloh
Listen to how to pronounce Castiglioncello here:
Pronunciation tip: Castiglioncello contains two tricky Italian sounds: GLI and double L.
GLI in Italian makes a kind of LYEE sound, almost like the LLI in million. Listen to how to pronounce the GLI sound.
In Italian, a double consonant is drawn out, and should take double the time of a single consonant. So make sure you give time to the double L’s in Castiglioncello.
WHY CASTIGLIONCELLO IS SPECIAL
- Breathtaking Quercetano Bay (Baia del Quercetano) and sweeping sea views
- A unique combination of rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, pines and Mediterranean scrub
- Clear water
- Fun surf on windy days
- Killer sunsets
- Train service right to where you want to go: only a 15 minute walk from Quercetano Bay
- Good day trip from Pisa and Florence
- Pineta Marradi pine forest has expansive natural shade and plenty of activities
- Trendy in the past, trendy today
- “Beaches” in unexpected places
- Legends of Italian cinema came here on vacation in the 1960s
SHOULD I GO TO CASTIGLIONCELLO, ITALY?
Sì! Yes! If you want:
- a one-of-a-kind beach experience
- panoramic vistas
- clean beaches and water
- to experience the Italian beach scene
- to take a day trip from Pisa or Florence by train
- a Bandiera Blu beach (find out more below)
- don’t mind climbing lots of stairs
- don’t mind paying a premium for a private beach club
- to see where Alberto Sordi and Marcello Mastroianni vacationed
Skip it if you:
- want convenience: the beaches are down the cliffs from street level
- you have small children or limited mobility
- hate stairs: consider nearby Cecina, which is flat
- are on a budget
- want an isolated, untouched location: Castiglioncello gets very crowded in the summer
WHEN SHOULD I GO TO CASTIGLIONCELLO, ITALY?
Beaches along the Tuscan coast get extremely busy in the summer. In July and August, when Italians go on vacation for ferragosto, you can truly experience the Italian beach scene. However, a huge drawback is that the beaches and restaurants are super crowded.
To get a break from the crowds, I recommend visiting Castiglioncello in June or September. In July it’s best to go during the week.
It’s also good to know that Tuscans flee to the beach for the weekend during the spring and fall, so the coast can get crowded if there’s good weather. There is almost always traffic on Sunday evenings along the coast and heading into Florence after a sunny weekend.
It’s a tradition for Italians to go to the beach (or out to the countryside) for Pasquetta (Little Easter), the day after Easter.
We like to go to Castiglioncello throughout the year, even in the winter, fall and early spring. We take a passeggiata (stroll) along the beach and watch the sunset.
WHERE TO GO TO THE BEACH IN CASTIGLIONCELLO
Almost all of Castiglioncello’s beaches are operated by private beach establishments, meaning you must pay to access the beach.
Marvelous Quercetano Bay (Baia del Quercetano) is the star of Castiglioncello: it cuts a wide crescent into the cliffs, making a dramatic backdrop for the sandy beach and clear water below.
Even though Quercetano bay beaches aren’t easy to access, climbing all the stairs down the cliff and back is worth it!
There are also charming beaches hidden down along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, the waterfront promenade at the south of town.
It’s easy to tell why Castiglioncello was the place for Italian VIPs in the 1960s. Italian cinema greats Alberto Sordi and Marcello Mastroianni vacationed in Castiglioncello, and it still has an air of glamour.
Castiglioncello’s beaches fly the coveted Bandiera Blu, or Blue Flag, awarded to clean beaches by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Criteria include clean water, quality of facilities and amenities, and waste management.
PRIVATE BEACH FACILITIES
Castiglioncello’s coastline is almost entirely devoted to private beach establishments. There are two main areas: Quercetano Bay and the southern bay along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo.
At a private beach (spiaggia privata) or beach facility (spiagga attrezzata or stabilimento balneare) you must pay to rent an umbrella in order to access the beach. There are bathrooms, changing rooms, and a coffee bar that usually serves sandwiches and light meals.
A private beach or beach facility is like a beach club, but you don’t have to pay to be a member all season: instead you can pay per day to rent an umbrella (ombrellone), sun lounger (lettino) and/or beach chair (sdraio).
Many Italian families have a beach club that their family has been going to for years, where they rent the same umbrella station and chat with the same people summer after summer.
The 5 private beach establishments in Quercetano Bay range from more exclusive (Bagno Italia) to less pricey (Bagno Aurora). The price to rent an umbrella and 2 sun loungers at Bagni Italia capped out at € 80 for the day in August 2023.
Some of the private beaches along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo are on special cement platforms right on the rocky coast.
FREE PUBLIC BEACHES
A spiaggia libera is a free public beach. You don’t have to pay to access the beach, and you bring your own umbrella and beach chairs. Space is first come first serve. The downside is that free beaches in Italy are often not as clean or well-maintained as private beaches, and there are no bathrooms.
In Castiglioncello there is one free public beach in Quercetano Bay wedged between Bagno Nettuno and Bagno Roma. It is very small and fills up very fast, so be sure you’re there by 9 am to get a spot! Same goes for the few free beaches along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo: I Pungenti, Crepatura, and Caletta.
Even if you go to a free beach, you can still go to the restaurants and bars that are part of the private beach clubs nearby.
Have you ever wanted to swim off rocky cliffs into bright blue water? Try the scogli (rocky cliffs) on the coast just north of Castiglioncello. Park along Via Aurelia and take one of the many paths down to the scogli, or rocks. It’s especially popular with locals from Livorno.
CASTIGLIONCELLO’S PINE GROVE
Locals call it simply la pineta, or the pine forest. Pineta Marradi is a park overlooking the sea. It has stone and maritime pines that look like giant umbrellas and cover the entire park with a tall blanket of shade.
The pine grove is a great place to get out of the sun and enjoy natural shade. There are plenty of activities for adults and children, from tennis, playgrounds, rides, miniature golf, and cafes. It has marvelous sea views, and access to the waterfront promenade along the shore below.
Access is free. Cars and motorcycles are not allowed.
WHERE TO TAKE A STROLL IN CASTIGLIONCELLO
Taking a stroll, or passeggiata, is a must when you’re at the Italian seaside (and in Italy in general). Here are my favorite spots in Castiglioncello:
- Along Lungomare del Quercetano: Take in amazing views of Quercetano Bay.
- Along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo: Walk at sea level along the rocky coastline, among the beach establishments and coves. Keep walking south until you reach the harbor for boat watching (my kids’ favorite).
- In Pineta Marradi pine forest: Enjoy the natural shade of the pines, have a gelato, and enjoy sweeping sea vistas.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK IN CASTIGLIONCELLO
In Castiglioncello keep an eye out for the following local specialties:
- the area near Livorno is famous for cacciucco, a local tomato-based fish and seafood stew.
- Cecìna (the food, not the town) is like a savory flat “pizza” made from chickpea flour.
- Palamita (Bonito) is a local blue fish related to tuna. In Tuscany it is served fresh, or preserved in olive oil.
You’ll find seafood and fish on almost all menus. Classic dishes to have at the beach are spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) and fritto misto (mixed fried seafood: usually calamari and shrimp).
Some of Italy’s most prestigious red wines come from the nearby Bolgheri area. If you like white wine, try a Vermentino from the Tuscan coast.
A pre-dinner aperitif, or aperitivo, is a must in Castiglioncello. Bright orange aperol spritzes are de rigueur.
And of course, don’t forget to have plenty of gelato!
WHERE TO GRAB A PICNIC MEAL
If you want to grab food to bring to the beach or the pineta, Castiglioncello has:
- a small supermarket (Conad)
- alimentari (small food shops) where you can get supplies and sandwiches
WHERE TO HAVE A RESTAURANT MEAL ON THE BEACH
Beach clubs usually have a bar or restaurant where you can have a sit down meal right on the beach. Our family’s favorite waterfront restaurants with outdoor seating are:
- Bagni Aurora: family-run, serves fantastic seafood in a casual beach atmosphere in Quercetano Bay
- Bagni Salvadori along Lungarno Cristoforo Colombo is well-known by locals for its schiacciatine (focaccia sandwiches) and restaurant as well
WHERE TO HAVE A COFFEE AT AN OLD TIME BAR
Caffè Ginori is my favorite place to have a coffee and pastry in Castiglioncello. It’s been open since 1947, and makes me feel like I’m back in Castiglioncello’s golden years of the 1960s.
WHERE TO GO FOR TRENDY NIGHTLIFE
Astragalo sits atop Quercetano Bay, with incredible views from the exclusive verandas and terraces. It’s the place for trendy aperitivi, after dinner drinks, dj sets, and special events. Make sure you dress the part.
These are our favorite restaurants in Castiglioncello for a nice restaurant meal while watching the sunset!
- Il Cardellino in the pineta overlooking the sea. The terrace has gorgeous sea views and is open from 6 pm for drinks and food.
- La Lucciola is right on the beach along Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo. It serves lunch at the beach club by day, and becomes a refined restaurant by night.
GELATO IN CASTIGLIONCELLO
Our favorite gelateria (ice cream shop) is La Veneta, in Viale G. Biagi 13. It’s right around the corner from Lungomare del Quercetano, so it’s perfect for getting a gelato for a stroll overlooking Quercetano Bay.
GETTING AROUND CASTIGLIONCELLO
DITCH YOUR CAR
Walking is the best way to get around Castiglioncello. You can’t drive right up to the beach, and parking is a major hassle: it’s expensive and you’re lucky even to find a space during the summer.
HOW TO GET TO CASTIGLIONCELLO
The nearest airport is Pisa Galileo Galilei Airport (PSA), which is about 43 km away from Castiglioncello (about a 40 minute drive). There is train service from the airport to Castiglioncello station (change at Pisa Centrale station). The closest other airports, with distances from Castiglioncello, are:
- Florence Amerigo Vespucci (FLR), 111 km
- Bologna G. Marconi (BLQ), 201 km
- Rome Fiumicino (FCO), 216 km
Castiglioncello has direct train service from Pisa’s central station, which can take as little as 33 minutes.
It’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the Castiglioncello train station to Quercetano Bay.
Getting to Castiglioncello is easy by car: it’s about a 35 minute drive (26 km) south of Livorno, and a 45 minute drive (45 km) south of Pisa.
However, once you arrive I recommend using your car only if absolutely necessary: ie, don’t. Parking is a hassle, and difficult to find in high season.
WHERE TO PARK
If you drive to Castiglioncello, try the parking lot at the Marradi Pine Grove. You have to pay the meter during the summer, and it’s about a 10-15 minute walk to Quercetano Bay.