The Best Wildlife Spotting in Tuscany
Incorporating wildlife and nature treks into luxury holidays has surged in popularity in recent years, and has also provided a welcome opportunity for many much-loved destinations to showcase their less familiar natural resources and riches.
For many enthusiasts, birding is the most obvious, quick and accessible entry for deepening their acquaintance with Tuscan wildlife. Although beautiful birds can be seen all over the region, the marshlands and mountains are particularly good starting points for ornithology enthusiasts. The wetlands of Padule di Fucecchio outside Florence boast varieties including many herons and the rare glossy ibis. Near the striking site of the Carrara marble quarries in the Alpi Apuane, once frequented by Michelangelo amongst many other famous sculptors, there are plenty of bird-watching opportunities and vantage points. The Casentino Valley is another hot spot for dozens of species including the tawny owl, ring ouzel and Sardinian warbler, many of which can be spotted by amateur hikers without a guide.
The magic hour of twilight in Tuscany is a good time to spot both fallow deer and wild boar grazing on farmland. Roe deer are more commonly spotted in the forests. A wonderfully Tuscan treat is to spot a family of wild boar munching on grapes in a vineyard, although, understandably, many local farmers and viticulturists are less enthused about their presence. Some caution is advised in wandering through wild boar territory during the hunting season which runs from September to January, although the fruits of that activity in the classic boar dish Pappardelle Cinghiale are irresistibly tasty, particularly when accompanied by one of the many excellent Tuscan red wines.
They may possibly be less welcome than the glimpse of a hare or a hoopoe, but Tuscany has a couple of intriguing and unexpected natives, including many beautiful snakes, an indigenous horned beetle and a petite black scorpion. They’re all rare, shy and interesting enough to make a sighting a novelty rather than a nuisance.
The region’s porcupines look spectacular but can be far more dangerous than snakes and scorpions if cornered, although, again, particularly as they are nocturnal, the chance of actually spotting one would be a fine thing. Many other mammal species call parts of Tuscany home, including wolves and mouflon in Casentino National Park.
With such a stunning interior, it can be easy to overlook Tuscany’s exciting marine life. The waters off the Tuscan coast are part of what is known as the Pelagos Sanctuary, a large and important protected reserve for whales, mainly pilot, sperm and fin, dolphins and other biodiversity. Within this expanse it is possible to tour the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, a good starting point for cetacean and fish-spotting. Child-friendly short trips to see the dolphins also leave from Viareggio harbour on a regular basis, with a very good chance of sightings. For those not content with looking from a distance, numerous tour companies also offer both fishing and swimming out in the open water.
Wherever you have the great pleasure of staying in Tuscany, at least one of these wildlife encounters is an easy day’s journey away, and a memorable addition to any itinerary.
By Phileas French, Travel Writer