The mid-June heat envelopes the buildings of Rome, leaving the streets empty during the day apart from the unfortunate tourist who underestimated the wrath of a Mediterranean summer. There was no way to stay, and only one place which I craved to go: Porto Santo Stefano. To my appeal, a pleasant 25° awaited me in the Tuscan town as opposed to the brutal 35° I faced in the capital. The next train from the Roma Trastevere railway station was in just an hour, so I packed up a bag for the weekend and headed off – train for Pisa on Platform 2, as usual. Scenic views dart by outside the window as the train meanders along the coast, only escalating my anticipation to be by the sea. I am nearly dozing off when the doors open at Orbetello, and I rush off the train to make it to the bus which takes me directly to the centre of the port.
Overlooking the northern view of the peninsula, Porto Santo Stefano resides on Monte Argentario, a small distinctive place in the coastal Maremma region. It is a traditional “fisherman village” with noteworthy fresh seafood stands, all of which is supplied by the pescatori who embark from the port at dawn. The town is rich with history dating to the Estrucans, with a turbulent yet significant role in the Second World War. At the top of the hill, the grandiose Fortezza Spagnola sits above the town with steeply sloped walls, intricate internal features, and an outstanding view facing the Tuscan Archipelago. The fortress was constructed between the 16th and 17th centuries, serving as a strategic link more contemporarily during the conflicts of the 20th century. Partially rebuilt in the 1950s after heavy bombing during the war, Porto Santo Stefano still maintains the winsome expression of Italian seaside architecture, with pastel coloured building facades, dark green persiane, and terracotta rooftop tiles. In observance from the sea, either by renting a small gommone or by swimming just a bit beyond the shore, the orange, yellow, and pink tones create an undisturbed, picturesque landscape, the image of a tranquil seaside town. When walking its streets, it is difficult not to feel a sense of home– a feeling so pertinent to Tuscan villages with their seamless mingling of young and old, a clear familial dynamic among the inhabitants. Children are constantly weaving their way between the streets of the historic centre, with the elderly overlooking their high-spirited behaviour from the balconies above.
In the summer months, the port comes alive with visitors from surrounding towns or those, like myself, who make their way up from Rome to escape the heat. Not to mention the regular circulation of sailboats and yachts, which serve for an entertaining stroll along the port as everyone nosily wanders around them, peering in to catch a glimpse of what could be inside. Bars are lively until late hours in the night, restaurants are often packed with patrons, and various arts and culture festivals make their way in and out until September. The charm of Porto Santo Stefano is what draws so many people back in as regular visitors, unable to leave and have it be their final time.
A perfect beach day would begin early in the morning so as to avoid the midday heat and crowds, eventually making a stop at Il Massimo del Panino. The homely alimentari has every summer essential, with ripe fruits and produce available daily. Freshly baked bread is delivered each morning – it’s ideal to be first in line to get your pick for your beachside panino. The combination of a panino, cherries, apricots, and peaches serves as a faultless picnic to embark with for Cala la Cacciarella. With access available from the Via Panoramica, paired with stunning views along the way, Cala la Cacciarella is an idyllic and tranquil spot with water reminiscent of the Ionian sea. The 40 minute hike is avenged by the oasis that waits at the end, a perfect location to lose track of time as the hours roll by. Otherwise, to acquire a more straightforward and traditional beach experience, the La Caletta stabilimento suits every desire for an umbrella and lettino combination – the glamour is not in the place but in the sea. The easy access to the turquoise waters and a comfortable place to lounge in the sun makes a visit to La Caletta for a day worth sacrificing a scenic hike along the rugged coastline.
To end the day, a meal at Il Moletto is essential. Throughout the summer, the restaurant is normally full due to their noteworthy cuisine and aesthetic, therefore a booking in advance is always necessary. The wooden structure is characterised by large, open windows dominating every wall allowing fresh air and the sound of the sea to accompany your visit. On a clear day, the sun sets over the side of Monte Argentario and leaves Porto Santo Stefano with a gradient blue and pink sky to look over as you indulge in your aperitivo and dinner. It is amusing to observe each person’s skin tone tinged by the sun caught on the beach earlier in the day, tanned and sunburnt. When the streets fill, the sleepiness of the afternoon is stirred up into a vibrant scene throughout the evening. During a meal at Il Moletto, you may sit outside facing the centro storico whilst enjoying an insalata di mare, tonnarelli con spigola del golfo, or an oven cooked piece of the daily catch (to name some favourites). Otherwise, just a 10 minute drive outside of Porto Santo Stefano, one will find I Due Pini situated on La Soda beach, a restaurant commended for its high quality seafront dining. With a similar look to Il Moletto, a meal at I Due Pini allows frequenters to enjoy an enchanting and unique view of the sunset that is difficult to find elsewhere on Monte Argentario.
As the temperatures drop slightly, a cardigan is needed to shield from the sea breeze. A stroll along the main promenade is normally the line of duty following dinner, perhaps picking up a gelato on the way from Bar Giulia. By morning, the routine is set to repeat itself with perhaps a difference in the choice of beach or dinner plans. Porto Santo Stefano exceeds expectations each year, maintaining its charm and quality with every passing summer. The people remain warm, the town beautiful, and the bright blue sea repeatedly evokes an atmosphere of serenity; a hasteless rhythm in riva al mare. It is in these moments, as the night comes to a close, that I cherish this seaport town as my discreet haven just 150 kilometres away from home.