It seemed like the whole of Italy was at the beach today.
They bussed into Viareggio from miles around – disembarking, clutching their beach gear and wearing their designer sunglasses. But it was beautifully hot here in Tuscany and a day at the beach was very welcome. Viareggio felt the epitome of all that is good about a European summer. The stress of living really fell away today.
I have a very soft spot for Italy. I am lucky to have Italian friends and live in a country where budget airlines allow me to visit them for a reasonable cost. Due to the credit crunch a long haul holiday was out of the question in 2009 but it did allow me a week in Tuscany and to catch up with people. I borrowed the flat in Pisa of a friend in London and in the evenings had dinner with Italian friends. On previous trips to Tuscany I have enjoyed the delights nightclubs at the beach in the Torre del Largo. I was trying to reach that stretch of beach today.
It didn’t quite go to plan. When you look on the map of Viareggio it blends with the beach/pineta to the east to become the Torre del Largo. So I was to try and catch a train to Viareggio and walk from there. It is only a twenty minute train ride from Pisa to Viareggio and this being a summer Sunday morning the train was absolutely packed. African vendors target the beach and filled my carriage. A conductor boarded the train and asked them for their tickets. She was on to a losing streak as they were trying to get off. When I was disembarking I did hear one say to her "Why don’t you ask those people for their tickets? Why is it always us?" I felt a faint stab of guilt at that.
The streets south of the Stazione lead to the beach. I immediately liked Viareggio – this smart resort has a touch of art deco about it. The boulevard I traversed was dotted with gelatarias, pizzerias and small hotels. The big blue horizon at the end promised the sea so I gamely carried on until Via Reina Marguerite. The promenade was gorgeous – beautiful belle époque buildings set off by palm trees each building the colour of cream or light blue. There was an elegance to the place that I didn’t expect.
The beach was blocked from the road by numerous stablimimenti balneari . These private clubs own the stretch of the beach they adjoin and charge for the use of their facilities. The plus side to these establishments is that you have toilets, showers, changing rooms and even swimming pools at your disposal. You can still reach the beach through the gaps in the balneari. But often the gaps are plugged with fashion boutiques, pavement restaurants and boutique hotels.
But the beach, while not free, is very impressive. It stretches for a mile in every direction. To the south it is broken by a breakwater leading to a yachting marina. Every inch is covered in people – shouting, laughing, and kicking footballs around. The sea is warm and you don’t have to move from your sunlounger (at 10 Euros a day why should you?) as the African vendors will provide everything you need.
Towards the evening I took a look at the breakwater and the marina. A long stone jetty extends out to see where you can view the yachts of the rich and famous. I gave up trying to get to the Torre del Largo as the distances were too big and instead just lapped up the sun in this extraordinarily classy Italian resort.
I was speaking to an Italian friend that evening about Viareggio and he didn’t have a good word to say about it. He said it was full of geriatrics. I must admit that many on that beach would never see seventy again.
This reminded me of that joke about the English seaside resort who share the same demographic as Viarregio "Harwich for the continent....Frinton for the incontinent?"