The Parco di Punta Falcone in Piombino is a surprise. But not just one. You'll not have heard of it. Nobody shouts about it. And. Likely as not. If someone has mentioned it to you and you're driving through the city to reach it, as you approach you'll start to have serious doubts that it is the kind of place you'd want to visit. Enough to stop the car and go somewhere else instead.
But you are going to have to trust me on this one.
Especially the closer you get into the heavily built up urban area and arrive at the cliff top car park. Which, on a weekend, is very busy. With the adjacent area full of motorbikes and lots of people meeting-up and taking a stroll.
Once you have parked and gotten out of your car, I'll forgive you for thinking again of turning around. After all. With this many people. And their dogs. It isn't going to be the kind of quiet nature park experience you had anticipated and like.
Nevertheless, hold fire. Above that same said car park, there is the sign for the route to Punta Falcone. Along the beginning of a single track road that leads to some houses. Follow it. And then follow the signs to the astronomy observatory, the "Osservatorio Astronomico".
All will be well. Wonderful in fact.
Even on a warm spring Sunday afternoon when the bar at the top of the cliff is packed and there are lots of motorbikes and people milling around, very few will venture far into the park. On the day I took these photographs I counted one couple on the secret beach and three fishermen.
You see. Most visitors are there to catch-up with friends at the bar with a terrific view. To while away a few hours outdoors in true Italian social style with a good does of sea air. Which, as any Italian doctor will tell you, cures most ills.
Or. They are going to take the trek that starts at the bat, along the old Cavalry Road - I'll tell you about that too at the bottom of the page as it makes a great day out with some spooky finds along the way.
And so you will very likely nearly have Punta Falcone to yourselves.
The route will take you on a full circular tour of the park - which consists of Piombino's northern-most promontory - and back again.
The further you go through the flower covered bushes, especially once you are past its World War II cannon, the less likelihood you will have of meeting anyone else.
The vegetation in the park isn't the usual Maremma coastline Mediterranean macchia. At the end of the second World War it was totally cut down and cleared to provide broom wood and what has grown is an array of fragrant, and edible, bushes, trees and plants that love the promontory's combination of the Mediterranean climate, the sea cliff top conditions and its underlying basalt rocks.
And they aren't shy about introducing themselves!
Tagged as they are with both their Latin and common names, so that you can get to know them better - old and new friends alike - as you make your way around.
Spot the "Carota di mare" - the carrot of the sea Daucus gingidium, the creamy blooms of Barba di Giove (Anthyllis barba-jovis), The sicilano white hedge-nettle (Prasium majus), the Strawberry tree "Corbezzolo" (Arbutis unedo), Myrtle and more.
This tiny tucked-away park is beautiful and nothing less than a haven for botanists landscape and nature photographers. As well as geologists.
If you want to see pink carpets like these, visit Punta Falcone in April.
Down at the waters edge is the "la Buca del Bove". A small natural cave reachable only from the sea that takes its name from a one time inhabitant, a monk sea who was locally known as "Bove Marino".
When you are stood on Punta Falcone looking out to sea, you are in fact looking at two. For the straight that separates the east coast of the Island of Elba from Tuscany is the meeting point of two seas: the Ligurian sea to the north and the Tyrrhenian sea to the south.
There is another here. Much bigger.
And this is the part of the park of Punta Falcone that I love the best. The tale of its long lost ocean.
A Jurassic ocean lost forever to the world 70 million years ago.
The geology of the Punta Falcone promontory is different from the land surrounding it. It is a basalt extrusion.
But it isn't just any extrusion. Because the basalt pillow lavas under your feet are the only (unaltered) remains - a slither of geological time and evidence - of the Piedmont-Liguria ocean.
First created 150 million years ago, at a depth of 3,000 metres below sea level and at temperatures of over 1,000 degrees C, these mantle magmas were extruded underwater as pillow lavas on the seabed along a new fracture in the earth's crust. The middle of a seismically active ocean ridge formed when the paleocontinents Laurasia (with Europe) and Gondwanaland (with Africa) began to move away from each other.
Throughout the Trias to the middle-upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous period, the paleocontinents continued to move apart. The fractures continued to grow and the new ocean floor that emerged from the ocean ridge and spread between them became the Piedmont-Liguria ocean.
Then, in the late Cretaceous, with the ocean now lay on the earth's surface between the Iberian and Apulian plates, the Apulian plate began to move. To the northwest. Forcing the Piedmont-Liguria ocean to subduct beneath it.
By the Paleocene the Apulian plate collided into Europe and all traces of the ocean were gone. Apart that is from Punta Falcone's pillow lavas. And some ophiolite fragments that were uplifted above sea level and exposed in nappes as the collision formed Alps and the Apennines.
But those ophiolites were then subducted to great depth and metamorphosed into blueschist and eclogite rocks, before being obducted to the surface again.
So. The only original ocean floor basalt that remains is that in Punta Falcone in Piombino. In Maremma :)
And you get to walk on its seabed. A I know of no other place on this earth where you can!
The pillow lavas.
The first signs of World War II are at the beginning of the trail through the park: the underground depots for the protection of 90/53 anti-aircraft projectiles. Built by local men under the order of German occupation troops.
The depots were used to supply the anti-aircraft battery located on the highest part of the promontory. Installed to counter the allied air raids from the airports of Corsica.
Two Ansaldo-type "cannone da 90/53" - a highly effective, Italian designed cannon with a gun of 90 mm caliber and a barrel 4.736 metres long (53 caliber lengths.) Each one needing a crew of 6 to man it and fire its 19 rounds a minute.
Little is left to see as the cache of arms was set ablaze by the retreating German army.
The four circular "riservette" - gun posts and reserves - are still there to stand in and look out to sea. Covered in flowers.
The original bolts that held the gun carriages are still place in each of their floors. And their two underground doorways lead to either end of horseshoe shaped corridors that housed the ammunition and the on duty military personal.
Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the naval battery was staffed with around 80 soldiers, armed with medium caliber 152/45 guns.
The underground corridor of one of the "riservette" - number 4 - has been transformed into a mini museum. It tells the story of the military occupation of the promontory from the time of the Appiani soldiers that fought for the Lords of Piombino when the city was part of the Principato di Piombino and Lucca. To the horsemen of Princess Elisa Bonaparte and her coastal cavalry, the "Cavalieri di Costa".
Through to the artillery of the Second World War; first the Italian military, then the German and finally the English.
The underground corridors of the other three have each been dedicated to sharing the entomology, botany, and geology of the park.
Visits are possible - with prior arrangement - with the Entomology Centre - the Associazione Microcosmo - in Piombino.
Via A. Modigliani, 2
57025 Piombino (LI)
Tel and Fax: +39 0565 41672
Today, only one cannon remains, "il cannone della pace" - named the cannon of peace. An Ansaldo-style 90/53 cannon.
Although everyone ignores this - the photo opportunity is just too great - be aware that it is forbidden to enter within the fenced area. And that the park authority clearly state that it accepts no responsibility for any accidents.
The only thing I would add is to be aware that, regretfully, the cannon isn't immune to vandalism. So, you might just want to check its condition/stability.
The "casamatta" building on the cliff top visible from the beach below once housed the photoelectric plant. There is also a now semi-submerged water reservoir.
Built upon the remains of the World War II radio telemetry station, the Osservatorio Astronomico di Piombino is open to the public to star gaze through its telescope and with the naked eye every Friday evening from June to September, at 21:30. And by appointment between October and May.
The members of the Associazione Astrofili of Piombino are at the observatory every Friday, but visits can be arranged for other days of the week too. As well as evening sessions for private groups, other associations and schools etc.
Tel. +39 4126725
Their website is http://www.astropiombino.org
If you prefer binoculars and birds to telescopes and stars, then Punta Falcone has those too. Enough resident and migratory species to keep anyone happy.
Including Peregrine falcons, from which it is thought that the promontory takes it's name. That, or the fact that the promontory from the air looks like the shape of a falcon in flight.
Punta Falcone is well known for its beach Cala Moresca, but there is also an unnamed secret beach for those for whom a tiny private cove world to call all their own, even for just an afternoon, is a dream come true.
But you will have to walk down through a path cradled on either side by Mediterranean bush, flowering French gorse and more to reach it.
With a view of the Isola d"Elba along the way.
Perfect for one family or a couple.
This is the popular cliff top bar and meeting place that I mentioned at the top of this page.
Early on a Sunday evening it was quite surreal walking the last stretch along the Via dei Cavalleggeri coastal path on our way back from the cove of Fosso alle Canne to the sounds of live jazz music.
Only a few families had ventured to dip their toes on the overcast late April day we visited, but given its proximity to the residential area of town close by, I have no doubt that it is packed on warmer, especially summer, days.
Although not part of the Parco di Punta Falcone reserve, the Via dei Cavalleggeri starts at Calamoresca beach and takes you along the whole stretch of the Piombino promontory north to Populonia.
It is no ordinary road. Once part of the coastal protection system with lookout towers and the cavalry of Princess Elisa Bonaparte, it is now a haven for walkers and more in earnest trekkers alike. On a Sunday, the inhabitants of Piombino will be out along its initial stretch running, jogging, or walking their dog whilst chatting away at a very slow pace.
But then there reaches a point where you will only pass those on a mission. To get to a haven of a tiny beach. Or cove.
Or. To complete the whole circuit. To the Etruscan promontory and Acropoli at Populonia and then back along the crest of the wooded hills past an abandoned ancient church and monastery. Before dark.
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