Let’s go to the beach
One thing, of the many things, I love about Italy is the coast. From the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas to the Strait of Sicily, around the Ionian and up the Adriatic, Italy has approximately 4900 miles of beautiful beaches, craggy coves and cliffs, prehistoric rocks and flat sands. I love them all and find it hard to choose my favorite, as we say l’imbarazza della scelta. But lately, I’ve fallen for Forte dei Marmi.
Forte dei Marmi is a beach town on the Tuscan coast, just north of Pisa. But it’s not. It’s really a beachy luxe outpost on the gorgeous flatland riviera Versilia, a 15 mile coastal stretch from Viareggio to Massa backdropped by the Apuan Alps. In the early 20th century, Forte dei Marmi and surrounding towns were a playground for architects building incredible villas for the rich and off-the-record famous.
For peace and quiet, the glitterati hid in their mansions, but when they wanted to see and be seen, they went to the beach clubs. And they still do. Forte dei Marmi’s on-the-sand spots are the go-to for a day at the beach- stylish, serene and sexy with perfectly lined up sun beds and umbrellas (available to anyone willing to pay a premium fee) and beautiful restaurants boasting the best spaghetti e vongole and frittura.
While you think I’ve fallen in love with the beach clubs, the truth is I’m head over heels for the signage.
Font-astic on the beach
Forte dei Marmi’s beach clubs are undeniably amazing. Lining up the coast are beach clubs of all kinds- posh, fun, disco – all you have to do is pick, and for me, the best way is by bike and font.
The 13-mile-stretch of Versilia – from Viareggio to Massa- is flat and easy, ideal for meanders and idlers like myself. And also for vintage sign lovers and type designers. Every single beach club has a sign of gorgeous lettering- neon, die-cut lead, wood, handpainted – that would make fontophiles like me and Louise Fili and go crazy.
From a sexy cursive to an austere all caps, the beach clubs of Versilia have some of the most amazing fonts and signage that should be national landmarks. I’m told that most of clubs and signs have been around since the 50s, and some are pre-war.
The signs definitely give a few hints to their era like the imposing all caps Umberto and Tiki vibe of Sud Est, mean while other signs suggest more of a vibe like the flirtatious Alpemare (Andrea Bocelli’s beach club) and the girlie charm of Margherita.
To find them, all you have to do is rent a bike and push pedal north and south.
Hanging out in Forte dei Marmi
As I bike from Forte to Viareggio and back, I’ve decided that there is something about Versilia that reminds me of Central California’s coastal line up. Flat, long stretches of beaches, cute beach towns and a laid back vibe. But that’s where it ends.
This charming beach town is Antinbes and less Avila Beach. Forte dei Marmi is on the higher end of the spending spectrum. The small town center is a pedestrian paradise, with a clever curation of outdoor public art. The boutiques run from beach chic to haute couture, with every label from Madison Avenue and Via Montenapoleone.
In other words, it’s the perfect hang out town when you need to refresh. Take a few days or a week off, pick a beach club and make a faithful lunch reservation.
If kick stands are more your vibe than kick back, what I love about is that you can borrow a bike for your hotel, or rent one, and troll up and own the Versilia without really breaking a sweat.
A shout out for those who want to get out: there are great hikes in the Apuan Alps and the cavernous Corchia Park is an underground world to explore. That’s for my next visit.
Where to Stay
Forte dei Marmi (and the Versilia in general) was deliberately designed for beach sojourns, but it’s speciality is luxury boutique hotels. Here are a few of my favorites:
Chalet style landmark inn with 29 rooms, and just 50 meters from the beach club.
28 rooms. Very modern. Michelin star Lux Lucis restaurant on the rooftop while its lower level has a delicious spa. Its beach spot is Dalmazia, a five-minute walk from the hotel.
A Forte dei Marmi icon, 46 rooms and suites designed in yesteryear grandeur. Family friendly.
Just a quick comment on getting to Forte dei Marmi, or any of the Versilia outposts. Yes, you can drive from Rome or Florence, but who needs a car when you are going to beach and bike? The Versilia is connected to both cities by regional trains which run several times daily.
For Forte dei Marmi, you take the train to Massa Centrale. My suggestion is organize transport to hotel in advance.
May 18, 2022