Italian Seaside Resorts
Italy is a very long peninsula stretching far down into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
There are various arms of the Mediterranean which wash the shores of Italy: along the west coast, the Ligurian Sea north and the Tyrrhenian Sea south; along the east coast, the Adriatic Sea; and finally the Ionian Sea on the south coast, bridging the two sides of the Italian coastline.
Most of Italy is close or very close to the sea. So it’s not surprising that the country has plenty of different seaside resorts, many of which extremely well-known the world over and international fashionable spots.
Let’s go down the peninsula, starting from north-west.
From France to Tuscany
In the North-Western corner of the Italian coastline we have the popular Italian Riviera, so called (only in English) because it is a continuation of the French Riviera across the border at Mentone.
The Italian Riviera has the shape of an arch all along the Mar Ligure, an arm of the Mediterranean, the section of the Tyrrhenian Sea which is north of the mouth of the Arno, the river which goes through Florence first and then, just before flowing into the sea, through Pisa.
The Italian Riviera lies entirely in the Liguria region, and is divided into two parts, with Genoa, the capital of Liguria and one the largest ports in the Mediterranean, in the middle: Riviera di Ponente, west of Genoa, and Riviera di Levante, east of Genoa.
Sanremo, Bordighera, Alassio are some of the most famous resorts in the Ponente section; Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Camogli, the Cinque Terre are some of the most renowned in the Levante.
The Bay of La Spezia, at the extreme right end of Liguria, is also noteworthy for its astounding beauty and for its associations with the great 19th-century English romantic poets Byron and Shelley, who lived here. This is why it’s known as the Bay of Poets, or Golfo dei Poeti. The most well known resorts in the Bay of La Spezia are Portovenere and Lerici, at the opposite ends of the Bay. La Spezia is the main town and capital of the province.
From Versilia to the Etruscan Coast
Moving south from Liguria along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, on the western side of the Italian peninsula, we enter Tuscany, the region whose capital is Florence.
Before reaching Pisa we find the Versilia Riviera.
Versilia spreads across several kilometres of sandy beaches, each resort joining into the next: Viareggio, Lido di Camaiore, Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta.
In the hinterland of the Versilia Riviera is the magnificent backdrop of the Apuane Alps. It is a range of mountains of great beauty, dramatic scenery and high and rugged peaks.
The Apuane Alps are rich in marble, the precious, white marble of Carrara, so called because of the nearby port from where it is shipped.
Michelangelo himself, the greatest sculptor of all time, recognized the beauty of the Carrara white marble: not only did Michelangelo use it for his own sculptures but he also worked in the Apuane marble quarries.
Here in Versilia mountains and sea blend together beautifully.
But Versilia resorts are also very popular holiday destination, well known for their nightlife.
Viareggio, the largest town and resort of the Riviera, has a large and important yacht harbour. The town boasts shipyards world-renowned for the construction of yachts and leisure boats. Rich people from all over the world, like Dodi Al-Fayed, have had luxury yachts built by Viareggio shipyards.
Near Viareggio is Torre del Lago Puccini, with its charming lake and the lakeside villa where the great composer Giacomo Puccini lived.
Tuscany has a great variety of coastline. South of Leghorn the coast becomes rocky and full of promontories.
Leghorn (Livorno) is an important port with which the Medicis, lords of the region, replaced the ancient port of Pisa as the main port of Tuscany when this great, former naval republic fell into decline in the 15th century, as its port was silting up and was cut off from the sea. Now Pisa is not on the sea anymore.
The Tuscan Archipelago, off the southern Tuscan coast, is made up of seven islands, the largest of which is Elba, historically important also because Napoleon lived here in exile. The island of Elba has gorgeous white fine pebble beaches, the most beautiful of which is Cala dei Frati Beach.
The Southern Tuscan coast is not only visually stunning but also archaeologically of unique importance for its many Etruscan vestiges, from necropolises (cities of ancient tombs) to entire towns rich of Etruscan remnants and sites.
From Lazio to Sicily
Still going down through the coast of Lazio, the region of Rome, which boasts the splendid Circeo National Park with the Circeo sea promontory, the forest of Sabaudia and many lakes, we move to Campania, the region which has Naples as its capital.
This is a region with so many beauties, both natural and artistic-historical, that we cannot even begin to cover them in a short summary.
The area embracing the Bay of Naples and the Sorrento and Amalfi Coast must be the part of the world most fully packed with great attractions. In a relatively small area you have the most diverse, world-class types of sites.
The Bay of Naples itself is of stunning scenic beauty. Near it you have the still-active volcano Mount Vesuvius, and along the bay shore are the extensive ruins of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are Greek temples at Paestum, on an amazing hilltop. At the bay’s entrance are the islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri.
The Amalfi peninsula, south of the Bay of Naples, coated in vineyards, citrus and olive groves, almond trees and bougainvillea, is a place of astonishing beauty. The short stretch of coastline between Sorrento and Salerno has been repeatedly dubbed the most beautiful and dramatic in the entire Mediterranean.
And then, if that’s not enough, you have the resort town of Sorrento, and the ancient naval republic of Amalfi, which at the time of its greatest glory rivalled Venice, Genoa and Pisa for the supremacy over the Mediterranean.
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia, the two largest islands in the Mediterranean and two of the 20 regions into which Italy is divided, are also rich in splendid coastlines, beaches and resorts. Most notable are Taormina in Sicily, near Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, and the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, the riviera which only the truly rich can afford and where being famous seems to be the required residence permit.
Apulia, the Heel of Italy
Still in Southern Italy, but this time on the eastern side of the Italian peninsula, on the Adriatic Sea Coast, is Apulia, the region with Bari as its capital, the heel of the Italian boot.
Southern Italy in general, and Apulia in particular (along with Calabria and Sardinia) has a record: here are the highest number of free beaches in Italy. The ratio in these areas is three free beaches for each paid beach. In the province of Bari, Apulia’s capital, for instance, there are only 29 private bathing establishments in 95 kilometres of coastline. In the large island of Sardinia, in nearly 1,200 kilometres of coastline (including smaller islands) the paid lidos are less than 500.
Apulia is the region of Alberobello and its Trulli, singular, ancient stone buildings. Alberobello is close to the Apulia Coasts: in every direction, the sea is never far away. Not far from Alberobello, in Castellana (province of Bari) there are renowned caves, the biggest cave system in Italy.
Apulia is also the area of the Gargano peninsula.
The Gargano is a promontory of breath-taking beaches, cliffs and forest.
Vieste, Gargano’s main town and resort, has a 13th century castle built by Frederick II.
Many of the coastal towns in Apulia and Gargano are very picturesque, whitewashed villages with a Greek feel to them.
The remoteness of the Gargano region from well-travelled areas has resulted in the advantage that its beaches are not so crowded, and to holiday in its resorts not so expensive as in other parts of Italy.