It’s like Capri but with­out the crowds

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Porto Santo Stefano, on the Monte Ar­gen­tario penin­sula in south­ern Tus­cany, has been bashed about and is the bet­ter for it. The Amer­i­cans did the most dam­age. They wanted to pre­vent the Ger­mans sup­ply­ing Monte Cassino and other de­fences dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, so they dumped a shed­load of ex­plo­sives on the strate­gic port – largely miss­ing the Ger­mans, ap­par­ently, but clear­ing the town for con­sid­er­able re­build­ing in the Fifties and be­yond.

“I came here as a girl,” said Florence, one of a mixed crew of old friends and older fam­ily who had gath­ered on the penin­sula for the week. “And there was none of that up there…” She waved vaguely at the pink and or­ange build­ings cling­ing to the cliffs above. The higher ones are vil­las, but oth­ers, down the hill a bit, house the peo­ple of the port, which is still crammed with fer­ries, fish­ing boats and, re­as­sur­ingly, fish – landed fresh from the Tyrrhe­nian Sea and on sale at two huge stalls down by the har­bour.

The moun­tain of Ar­gen­tario, on which Porto Santo Stefano sits, is an en­chanted semi-is­land tied to the main­land by two ropes of sand. These twin cause­ways are called the “Tom­boli” and en­close a huge lozenge of muddy swamp, the “Stagno” of Or­betello, once renowned for its eels. The town of Or­betello sits on a small, tongue­like penin­sula stick­ing out into the brack­ish la­goon. This pe­cu­liar ge­og­ra­phy meant we were now slightly be­yond the coast, roughly half­way between Rome and Pisa, on a big lump of rock cov­ered with prickly un­der­growth and mostly des­ig­nated as na­tional

On the Monte Ar­gen­tario penin­sula, Griff Rhys Jones ex­plores a cor­ner of coastal Tus­cany that time – and tourism – for­got

park. Monte Ar­gen­tario is so named be­cause the fam­ily who owned it lent money to the Ro­man Repub­lic ( ar­gen­tarii means money­len­ders) to fi­nance the Pu­nic Wars. To­day’s equiv­a­lent – bankers and hedge fund mangers – still ap­pear to own most of the place, nest­ing in ter­ra­cotta-coloured vil­las wedged into the slopes among the um­brella pines and en­joy­ing sun­set views across to the Tus­can archipelago and Cor­sica be­yond.

Out there, the first big lump you see is Giglio. That is­land’s most re­cent adorn­ment, the wrecked Costa Con­cor­dia cruise ship, has only re­cently been carted off. Last time I was here, it was the sin­gle fo­cus of ev­ery­body’s binoc­u­lars.

June is a good time to be on this coastal knoll: most of the hol­i­day homes are shut­tered up and un­in­hab­ited; the heat is warm­ing rather than scorch­ing; there are places to park (if you are pa­tient); and cafés will will­ingly squeeze you a fresh or­ange juice while you wait.

We set­tled into our villa on Livi­do­nia point. It’s a for­mer farm­house on the far side of the hill, built from big, gnarly lumps of tufa, or lava stone. The house had the sat­is­fy­ing smell of a prop­erly ar­ranged bolt-hole from the Six­ties – and not one that had been much re­ar­ranged since.

El­e­gant and not too up­hol­stered, it had an­tique fur­ni­ture in the liv­ing rooms. In our bed­room, heavy white cur­tains hung from thin iron cur­tain rails. The bed was hard but high. There was a desk, a small stove near the en­trance to the bath­room, and a

Porto Santo Stefano in south­ern Tus­cany, above; and Griff Rhys Jones, be­low

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