There are some places you never leave.
Tuscany is spoiled for choice. There is so much to see and so little time—but save some time for Livorno!
When visiting the well-known Tuscan cities of Florence and Pisa, often the only other people you’ll see are tourists. But in Livorno, you’ll rub shoulders with the locals all year round.
The second largest city in Tuscany, Livorno is so much more than a typical port town. Livorno’s architecture reveals its more than 1000-year history, from the influence of the Italian Renaissance to the perils of World War II, and has long been well known for its Navy. Today Livorno is most famous for Benetti Yachts, Bolgheri Vineyards, and among the sailing community, the wind.
Indeed, most of the members of the Italian America’s Cup team, Prada’s Luna Rossa, hail from Livorno, not to mention many other famous America’s Cup sailors like Alberto Fantini. It was very surprising to run into team members from the Farr 40 Enfent Terrible at a Le Corbusier-themed Christmas party hosted by Oficina94, a very well known local architecture firm.
We arrived at Pisa International Airport on a pleasant winter Sunday—the temperature outside was only 50 degrees, but it felt much warmer. Despite being a coastal city, the winter Livorno air was surprisingly dry.
The majority of my travel to Italy recently has been for one sailing event or another, but on this trip, I was looking forward to some rest, relaxation, and sampling the local fare.
Central Livorno is a comfortable 30-minute drive from the airport. We checked into our hotel, the Grand Hotel Palazzo — a beautiful 19th-century villa that used to belong to the House of Savoy (Casa Savoia), one of the oldest royal families in the world. The hotel has 123 large and elegant rooms with modern furniture and stunning views, especially from the higher levels.
The Grand Hotel Palazzo occupies an unequalled position on the shore of the Ligurian Sea, a short walk from the Naval Academy. As soon as you step out of the hotel you’re engulfed in an expansive blue, unclear where pristine water meets sky.
The waterfront walkway Terrazza Mascagni leads willing guests to a host of local bars, restaurants, and the popular aquarium along a 20-minute walk to the center of town.
We rested our legs at Chez Ugo in the Venetian Quarter, a great little spot with fantastic pizza. Pizza’s come piled with Parmesan cheese, Serrano ham, or grilled eggplant, among other mouthwatering toppings. One is big enough to share for lunch, but why would you want to? Well, if only perhaps because of where we were going for dinner…
L’Andana Degli Anelli is located in the Port of Livorno. With high ceilings and indoor/outdoor seating, it exudes a casual but cozy atmosphere. We started with the mixed seafood appetizer with anchovies, prawns, and baccalà or salted cod. Their portions are large and sharing one appetizer will be plenty for two. Especially if you follow that with their famous Cacciucco, a hearty fish stew with several different types of fish and shellfish. San Francisco’s Cioppino is based on Cacciucco, but adds Dungeness crab.
Although we were in Livorno to relax, we couldn’t pass up a special invitation to tour the Benetti Yachts shipyard. It was incredible to see the quality of workmanship when it comes to building these spectacular vessels. The company’s motto is “Italian Elegance,” and it showed. There wasn’t a single drop of oil to be seen anywhere, a sure sign of their respect to their craft. Twelve custom steel and aluminum mega yachts can be built at the same time in their modern production facility.
Lunch was at Porto di Mare, a lovely little place with a colorful and creative interior across from the Livorno Bay. The menu is diverse, and offers an great combination of classic Italian and Mediterranean dishes with pasta, pizza, and seafood.
A short drive to the south and a quick jaunt inland, and we found ourselves in the ancient village of Bolgheri. Invited there for wine tasting, we visited the important local wine tasting restaurant, Enoteca Tognoni.
Then we set off to visit the source. Our first tasting was the home of the divine Super Tuscan Sassicaia at Tenuta San Guido. The Tuscan tradition of winemaking is heavily based in Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, but Marchese Mario Incisa’s Sassicaia wine is a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend.
It’s worth noting that Tenuta San Guido also makes an award-winning grappa served in a tulip-shaped glass—a perfect accompaniment to almond biscuits, dark chocolate, or a good cigar.
We also visited Michele Satta, a more traditional though hardly ordinary Sangiovese, and also features blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah. We had the privilege of tasting the very last bottle of their 2013 white wine, Giovin Re.
We also sampled lovely wines from Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia and Guado al Tasso. Along with our wine, we delighted in local antipasti Parmigiano, bruschetta, and salami made from Cinta Senese, a special breed of free-range pigs from the Siena region of Tuscany that roam the mountains, identified only by the white stripes on their bellies, as well as some of the best prosciutto I’ve ever tasted.
The more I visit, the more I fall in love with Italy. And the whole Livorno region, from the vast blue sea to the rolling wine-covered hillsides, remains one of the most authentic Italian experiences. Filled with elegance, it is always meaningful to me.
Upon completing successful 20 year banking career at Deutsche Bank, Sena established her own business. She is high performance sail boat racer and Farr 40 Class Association European Representative. She has WSET level 1 wine tasting certificate. She is multi local raised with German and American education abroad.