Viareggio & Versilia Riviera
The Versilia Riviera is a beautiful stretch of coast, comprising several seaside resorts, in Northern Tuscany. It’s on the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean.
It’s close to many Tuscan cities of art, among which Florence, Pisa, Lucca. Nearby is Torre del Lago Puccini, with its charming lake and the villa where the great composer Giacomo Puccini lived.
Versilia resorts are Viareggio, Lido di Camaiore, Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta.
Also in Versilia is Pietrasanta, a historical town which is the capital of the world for marble working and is home to sculpture laboratories of international importance.
Viareggio is Versilia’s main centre, a town of about 60,000 inhabitants. It’s not only a resort but also a major town where you can find all sorts of shops and services.
Viareggio is a beautiful seaside town which became a holiday resort at the turn of the 20th century. It is graced by many exquisite buildings in Art Decò style, called “Liberty” in Italian, from the early 1900s, lining its streets and boulevards.
To be on the beach in Viareggio in the summer is to experience a direct, physical contact with nature: the hot sun caresses your skin, the cool seawater refreshes it, the soft, velvety sand plays games with it.
All along the several miles-long beach is the seafront of Viareggio, called by the locals “la passeggiata” because it’s where people go for their late afternoon walk. It is an uninterrupted promenade of trendy boutiques, fashionable shops, gelaterie (ice-cream parlours), cinemas, pizzerie to buy and eat pizza slices on the go, art galleries, discos, stylish patisseries, lively bars, elegant cafes and restaurants with pavement tables to watch the world go by. Some of these venues are household names.
The interior of Viareggio is varied, hilly and simply superb.
Soon after you leave the town, you climb up hills rich in Mediterranean vegetation, groves and forests, with ancient villages perched on top and, further on, high-peaked mountains, some of which made of the splendid, white Carrara marble.
From some hamlets and hilltops you can have a stunning view of the sea at the end of the vast plain below. Trees abound everywhere, king among them the olive tree, easily recognisable from the silver accompanying the blue-green of its leaves, a lovely colour no other tree has.
From Viareggio in the summer you can take daily boat trips to many places, including the Cinque Terre, Portovenere, Lerici, the Bay of Poets and the isle of Elba. You can even reach the French island of Corsica: the Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio is an annual boat race from the Versilia resort to Bastia, in Corsica, and back.
Where is Viareggio
Viareggio is in an excellent location. In Northern Tuscany, in a central position in Italy, near Liguria, Cinque Terre, Italian Riviera, Portofino, Viareggio is also very close to the main cities of art of Tuscany.
From Viareggio there are frequent trains, coaches and buses to Florence (90-120 minutes by coach, 1 hour by car), Pisa and its international airport (20-30 minutes by any means of transport), Lucca (20-30 minutes), Torre del Lago Puccini with its lake and the villa where Giacomo Puccini lived and the Puccini opera festival (10 minutes), and many other cities. Fast motorways and toll-free superstrade also connect Viareggio to these towns.
Of the other Versilia resorts, Forte dei Marmi is the most upmarket. In the summer it has several auction rooms selling mainly paintings and antiques.
The Riviera della Versilia, as it’s called in Italian, is a very popular holiday destination during the summer, when Italians leave the hot cities en masse, especially in the middle of August (the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, painted by Titian in his Assunta, is known as “Ferragosto” and it’s the peak of the summer holidays), and head for the seaside or the mountains. “Mare o montagna?” is a common question debated in families during those days. Luckily, Versilia has got both sea and high mountains. The Apuan Alps range of mountains is the immediate hinterland of Versilia Riviera, and forms the dramatic backdrop to its colourful, trendy beaches.
Versilia spreads across several kilometers of sandy beaches, each resort joining into the next. The beaches are covered with big umbrellas and deckchairs, belonging to the many fee-charging bathing establishments. Free beaches are few. But you are entitled to walk along the shoreline for all its length and to bathe wherever you like, even if you’re not a customer of any bathing establishment.
Versilia has been famous in Italy for its nightlife since time immemorial. Its celebrated nightclubs (La Bussola is the top venue in Italy) and, more recently, discos have been synonymous with rich-kid, trendy summer fun since the beginning of the 20th century, but reached their peak in the 1960s.
Viareggio has a large, prestigious and important yacht harbour, where the ultra-rich keep their leisure boats. The town boasts shipyards world-renowned for the construction of yachts, superyachts and leisure boats. Rich people from all over the world, like the late Dodi Al-Fayed, have had luxury yachts built by Viareggio shipyards.
But Viareggio is not just fashionable spots: it also possesses a prominent dimension of natural beauty. It has two vast pinewoods, one (Pineta di Ponente) on the north side of town and one on the south side (Pineta di Levante). The latter in particular is of considerable naturalistic value and is part of a protected area, the Migliarino-San Rossore National Park. The Park runs south along the coastline from Viareggio almost as far as Pisa, comprising wild beaches, often deserted, and the bush behind them, rich in pinewoods and Mediterranean vegetation. You can easily hire a bicycle to explore the beautiful paths of both Viareggio pinewoods.
In the summer there are mosquitoes in Viareggio, but they can be easily kept away by air conditioning or any type of fan. You can also spray yourself with a mosquito repellent.
Viareggio is home to one of the most important carnivals in Italy and indeed in the world. Viareggio Carnival attracts every year large crowds from everywhere to participate in the fun and see Viareggio’s artistic floats parade on the seafront.
Last but not least, a community of artists and writers has been part of Viareggio life for a long time.
And we must not forget that Viareggio is the proud hometown of Marcello Lippi, the football coach who brought Italy to their fourth victory in the World Cup in 2006.
Useful Numbers in Viareggio
VIAREGGIO PHONE AREA CODE – 0584
VIAREGGIO POSTCODE – 55049
Taxi Rail Station Square (Piazza Dante) +39 0584 47000
Veterinary Service: AMBULATORIO VETERINARIO VERSILIA 0584 30711
NATIONAL EMERGENCY NUMBERS
Police, including Traffic Police 113
Medical Emergency 118
Fire Service 115
Veterinary Emergency 199.302.118
ACI (car breakdown assistance) 803.116
Photo credits: Apuan Alps from the sea by Piergiuliano Chesi.