….. And blend in like a local!
I’m not talking about driving directions with my post title! And it might seem obvious how to go to the beach but I think the beach experience in Italy deserves a post!
Being the middle of Summer here at the moment, the majority of Italians are making the weekend pilgrimage to the beach. We joined the masses today and went to Pietrasanta which is in Versilia, about an hour from Florence. On the way you pass Pisa, Lucca and Viareggio, then if you pass Marina di Pietrasanta you arrive in the very exclusive Forte Dei Marmi so don’t stress if you left your Gucci bag and Prada sunglasses at home! Here you can find all that your heart and credit card desires! People-watching here in the summer is also very entertaining as the VIP’s and beautiful people strut their tans, designer wardrobes and zip by in their ferraris and porshes. Forte dei Marmi is also the home of the famous tenor, Andrea Boccelli.
We were very fortunate as the traffic moved smoothly the whole way. We were expecting heavy traffic considering it was the first weekend of August and the official start of the Italian holidays. Despite popular belief and the historical tradition of Italy, all businesses do not close for the month of August. Times have changed and unfortunately the office where I work remains open for the whole of August.
I love the beach road that passes through Viareggio. The beautiful old palazzos with their balconies, striped awnings and classic glamour transport me back to a time where I can imagine the elegance of the this area in the 50’s and 60’s.
Arriving at Marina di Pietrasanta, we are met with the view and backdrop of the Carrara mountains. The white marble veins running down it’s sides give the illusion of snow capped mountains and always leave a lasting impression.
Going to the beach in Italy can be quite the experience for those of us who have grown up in places where the beach is free and by free I mean no charge! In Italy the beaches are mostly private and you must pay to use the services of the beach club or Bagno as it is called. Depending on how exclusive the area is, people pay from 5 – 30,000 euro for the whole season! The ‘season’ being from mid June until mid September. Of course you can also pay for one month, a week and even a day.
So what do you get for this huge fee? An umbrella or ‘tenda’ 2 deck chairs, 2 flat beds, a beach table which doubles as a safe box with key, use of the pool if they have one, plus a ‘cabina’ for changing in. Some cabins also include a private shower.
The very exclusive ‘Bagnos’ have waiters to bring you drinks when you call them with your private phone supplied with the umbrella. Also supplied are towels and matching cushions.
There are showers, toilets, restaurants and a bar in all bagnos so you can arrive in the morning, have your morning coffee and then stay all day at the beach. At the end of the day you can shower and can leave all clean and refreshed ready for your aperitivo.
For the Italian family with young children, the daily routine is to arrive at the beach around 9.30am then at 12.30pm go for lunch. Many go home, where the extended family awaits for the Mama and or Nonna to serve a ‘light’ lunch of pasta, salad, fruit and of course an espresso. Babies will be given a nap and after this ‘siesta’ the family returns to the beach around 3pm until 7pm. This break is also because the majority of Italians believe one must wait 3 hours after eating before going in the water. Obviously after eating a typical Italian lunch, it would not be advisable to swim a few kilometers but I must refrain from commenting here as my sister and I have had many a heated discussion with our husbands and Italian friends as we scoff at what seem to us to be strange Italian traditions and myths. Another that comes to mind is – One must not jump directly into the cold water for a swim on a hot day as the change of temperature is too much of a shock to the system. It is recommended that you wet your pulse points, behind your neck and stomach to ‘acclimatize’ yourself before entering the water. Also it is very common to see mothers waiting at the water’s edge as their children come out of the water. They are then wrapped in a towel in the case they should get a chill. Then the children have a shower to rinse off the salt water before being wrapped in a toweling bath robe until they are dry. They then change into a clean dry costume and this routine will be duplicated each time the children go for a swim! So much for a relaxing day at the beach! The wind is also blamed for many ailments and of course the change of season brings many fevers and ills. I could go on but…………..
Getting back to the Italian beach experience, I must admit that I have got used to this lifestyle – it is a very civilized way to go to the beach and very convenient to have all that you need at your disposal. My sister tells me that it is also much more convenient when you have children as you can shower them at the beach and when you arrive home the kids are clean and ready for dinner and bed.
Now I must talk about beach fashion. If you decide to buy a bikini in Italy, be prepared for the bottoms to be cut significantly smaller than what you are used to. My beloved trusty (and what I thought very fashionable) Aussie bathers seemed 3 sizes too big compared to the other bathing beauties bronzing their bods or should I say bottoms. To explain my point better, (they say a picture tells a thousand words) please note the photos below……….
and I don’t think I need to comment further on this subject.
Men are safe – board shorts or speedos are commonplace although I would like to move a motion that white speedos, (budgie smugglers, onion bags or whatever other name you have for them) be banned from all public bathing areas. They are just so wrong in so many ways and I don’t think I need to elaborate here at all!
Regarding sun protection, well the Italians do not seem very concerned about the danger of UV rays and Nivea moisturizing cream is the standard of many Italian women. Coming from a country like Australia with the intense heat and the high percentage of skin cancer, I was shocked when I first saw an Italian woman smother herself with Nivea then lie with her face turned to the sun. I have been asked why I wear a big hat and put SPF 50 on my face many times. It is hard to look the prematurely aged people in the face and not tell them what I am really thinking.
Overall, we had a lovely day at the beach with my sister and her family on Saturday and then Emiliano’s family in Cecina near Livorno on Sunday. Joseph, my six year old nephew had is 3rd surfing lesson and I must say we were very impressed considering last year he wouldn’t have had the courage. He even managed to stand up! We had a lovely simple lunch at the beach (and were back in the water within half an hour).
It is always a pleasure for me to spend time with my family, of course if I catch a few rays at the same time it’s a nice bonus!
If you do decide to go to the beach during your visit to Italy, depending on where you are, be prepared to pay anywhere from 20 – 50 euro a day for the exclusive use of your chosen bango.