We spent most of a day making our way from Rome to our villa in the tiny Tuscan town of Celle Sul Rigo. This time we opted to take a city bus to the main train station in Rome and then a coach bus from there to the airport where we picked up our rental car which we thought was going to be a Ford Fiesta. We didn't read the fine print, however, and after the finding our way through the airport maze and waiting in a painfully long line we were presented with keys to a smart car. We thought there was no way the three of us and our luggage would fit in a smart car but were surprised to find it had 4 doors and just enough space. Not going to lie, we were a little rattled but eventually had to laugh about how movie-like our situation was, with three tall Canadians squished inside a tiny rented smart car driving around the Italian countryside.
I took the front seat while my dad drove, as I get car sick on windy roads and this navigation method worked well for us when my parents visited me in Spain in 2012. Other than a little hiccup with the GPS taking abnormally long to acquire satellites the trip went surprisingly well. We realized that google maps worked much better than the GPS (helps when your dad is not concerned about paying for an international data plan) and we managed to figure out the roads and toll system pretty quickly.
Once we got off the freeway we drove windy roads up the hillsides to our picturesque villa with amazing panorama views. That evening was complete with a welcome party (wine and charcuterie were in abundance) where we quickly made friends with other new arrivals before sitting down in the outdoor dining area overlooking the mountains and valleys for our first meal. Our booking fees included breakfast and dinner and though the meals were always delicious by mid-week we realized that for the added price of the half-board it really wasn't worth it. But look at how cute we are eating our breakfast.
On our first full day in Tuscany we decided to head west to the Mediterranean coast. I had been itching to get the sea so we pulled up a map and looked for a coastal town with a beach to explore. We decided on the island of Monte Argentario, which was connected to the mainland by 3 land bridges and was full of little towns and beautiful vistas. We followed google for a couple of hours and stopped first in Orbetello. It was a cute little town with fisherman set up along the bay and a market in the centre. We wandered shops for a bit and then took the land bridge onto the island to a beach near Poggio Pertuso.
Parking took a while to figure out but we found a spot and followed the crowds to what we assumed must be the beach. There we set up in the sand and my dad and I hit the sea for a swim. It wasn't long after our arrival, however, that rain clouds appeared overhead and we raced back to the car to avoid getting soaked. I'm not sure if it did end up raining or not, but the dark clouds spread into a lighter overcast and we stopped next in Porto Ercole for lunch by the harbour. It was a cute little town with some more beautiful views.
After lunch we decided to continue down the narrow but nicely paved road around the island in search of photo ops and maybe another beach, eventually making our way to Porto Santo Stefano. The views out our windows were outstanding, complete with big rocks, greenery, islands, and yachts. As we drove along the coastal cliffs we past a few signs that had pictures of the beaches you could hike to below. Most of these spots had no real parking, just a few cars lining the road, but we found one between Lo Sbarcatello and Il Carrubo that had a convenient parking lot so we decided to pull off and walk down to the water.
It took a bit of a hike to get to the swim spot but it was so worth it. The steep trail lead to a little rocky cove with crystal clear water and a few locals enjoying their Sunday. It was made complete with some big rocks practically made for cliff jumping. I'm not one who's often keen to jump off tall things, but this one wasn't too high and the children made it look way too easy. I swam out and joined them for a bit while they laughed at my pasty skin and need to talk myself into the jump. The water was so clear that it looked far too shallow from where I stood, but as I entered the water I was nowhere near the bottom. After a couple of jumps I swam back to shore and we continued our coastal circle of the island.
This is when things got interesting. Just as we left the parking lot the road turned from nicely paved to rocky gravel. There was some sort of sign at the beginning that I suspect warned of broken pavement but I only glanced at it and couldn't really understand what it was saying. We thought the road was only going to be this way for a few hundred metres, but as we continued it got worse and worse. The road was only wide enough for one car and was straight up the mountain on one side and straight down into the sea on the other. A small slip of gravel and our smart car would be going for a swim. Not only that, but it was not a nicely groomed grid that you see in Saskatchewan (yes, I just used the word "nice" to refer to an SK road) but was a mix of rocks the size of our tiny tires and potholes just as big. We were one false move away from being stranded with a flat tire or broken axel.
We debated turning around a few times but with spotty cell coverage and google maps giving us no indication of how long this would last, we continued on our way hoping we'd be back to pavement around the next corner. Besides, the road wasn't wide enough to turn around! Here and there we'd come up to a gate clearly leading to a lofty vacation house below, but even those pull-offs didn't provide room to park. Of course I didn't even think to take out my camera in any of this - my eyes were too fixed on the road as I prepared to give warning of an oncoming car around each corner. Not that we'd really be able to avoid a collision if one approached - there was no way two cars could pass each other! The views were spectacular as we drove, but we didn't have much opportunity to enjoy them. My dad was far too focused on the road, my mom was practically hyperventilating in the back seat attempting to overcome her fear of being stuck in a car in water while also trying her hardest not to gasp or squeal at every move, and I knew my parents comments of "just let us know if you want to stop for pictures" did not apply to this portion of our trip.
We ended up travelling over 14km on this road which according to the metadata on my photos took about 30 minutes The road turned back into pavement just south of the town of Cannetelli which was when we met another vehicle for the first time. The driver asked us (in Italian) how bad and long the gravel road was ahead and I tried to help him out but he wasn't too interested in my broken Spanish. There was a decent pull off here as well where we were able to stop for a few pictures and collect ourselves after the treacherous journey.
With all of us on edge we decided to scratch our next planned stop and head back to the villa to avoid driving in the dark and adding yet another questionable experience to the day. Back in our living room, over a relaxing glass of wine, we reviewed various online maps of the island. We noticed that on Apple Maps (unlike Google) the white line indicating the gravel road was much thinner than the other main roads. Though on Google Maps it listed going around the other side of the island as the faster, recommended route, it did state that the 14km would take about 45 minutes. But as we had simply used google maps as a reference, and had not typed in a destination to be given actual directions, we left the beach parking lot completely unaware of what was ahead. We eagerly shared our adventure from the day with our new friends over dinner and one family even made the trip the following day - though they stuck to the north of the island and followed our advice in avoiding the beautiful but potentially fatal road we took.