My wife and I have always loved Italy. We’ve traveled over most of Europe, but we always seem to come back to Italy year after year.
For some years now, we’ve been spending a week in the old Italian resort of Viareggio on the Mediterranean Coast, just half an hour south of Pisa and Lucca. It’s an ideal family resort location, unpretentious, but with sandy beaches and a large promenade with boutiques, Gelato Ice Cream stores, cafés and small restaurants. Between the promenade and the road is a bicycle path. Both locals and tourists bicycle everywhere – from 70 year-olds to 7 year-olds – and parents with one or even two children in baskets in front and behind. No one wears a helmet, but I have yet to see a serious accident. Viareggio also has a large park, a few hundred yards from the beach, with cafés, donkey and buggy rides, slides, and lots of kid’s entertainment.
All the beach areas are privately operated and split up into sections with each “beach club” often having its own swimming pool, bar, restaurant, parasols and tents on the beach, and many facilities for kids.
Our family (all eleven of us) stay at the Principe di Piemonte, a beautiful hotel built in the 1920’s, but extensively refurbished a few years ago. This is across the road from the beach areas. We have a very European holiday – meaning everyone gets up late – we all breakfast around 9:30, wander down to the beach by about 11:00, swim, read, or take a morning stroll up and down the beach, then have lunch, a snooze – more swimming in the pool or in the sea – and then it’s drinks and ready for dinner at one of the small local restaurants, which specialize in local fish and pasta.
This is often followed by an evening walk along the promenade where there is musical entertainment, jugglers, and street salesmen keeping a watchful eye out for the police, selling copies of Prada, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton purses and bags. Our evening ends with a Gelato and a coffee in one of the cafés – a very lazy day.
We have of course, over the years, taken advantage of being able to drive to see the sights of Pisa, its magnificent Cathedral and of course the Leaning Tower, and the medieval beautiful walled city of Lucca, with its squares, marble churches, and narrow winding streets full of boutiques and cafés.
We have also visited the adjoining exclusive Italian resort of Forte dei Marmi. This resort has beautiful homes and villas owned by wealthy Italians who are tanned and elegant, riding their bicycles in the quaint downtown area of up-market boutiques and restaurants.
However one of our favorite local places to visit is the small village of Pietro santa, a few miles into the hills behind Forte dei Marmi. This town is a center for the world famous Carrera Marble and the industrial plants cut large chunks of marble, which are shipped all over the world and eventually form kitchen and bathroom counter tops and grand entrances to apartment and office buildings. The old walled-center of the town, however, is a medieval gem, which attracts many artists and galleries. There are always major art exhibitions going on in the main square, which is surrounded by large cafés. From the square, branches out a number a number of narrow streets with no motor traffic, but with little arts and crafts stores, boutiques, and restaurants on the street.
Right in the entrance to the old town, we visited a restaurant cut into the main wall of the town called the Gotto Nero (Black Cat.) This restaurant, with a capacity for approximately 100 people, had tables and chairs out onto the cobblestone street. The food there is magnificently Tuscan. There is no menu, but you are offered appetizers such as green figs with Parma Ham, antipasti – home-made salami and other meats, home-made corn and barley soup, local mussel soup, prawns or small lobster legs, and of course a variety of pasta dishes. The main courses include calf’s liver with onions, veal picata, charcoaled grilled veal chop or steaks, grilled sea bass, bream, or dorade. Local house wine, was only six Euros per bottle ($8.50 per bottle), and desserts included wild strawberries and raspberries, and home-made cherry, apricot, or chocolate flan. We loved this restaurant so much we returned for a second helping later in the week.
We feel we have participated in a typical European holiday. Unlike American frantic activities, the Europeans just laze around eating and drinking, for a week in the sun, and we felt right at home. You should try it some time.