Italians like to make many things difficult for tourists – devising opening hours that change by day and season, having no real bus schedules… But there is one thing that is super easy and civilized in this country: going to the beach. If you’re planning a trip to Italy and you think you can fit in a jaunt to the coast, do it! All you need to pack is a swimsuit. Some may say there is so much to see in this area that you ought not to waste your time sitting in the sun, something you can do in a hundred other destinations. But if you’re a seasoned Italy traveler, going to the beach is an important cultural experience to add to your repertoire. As a long-term expat in Florence, I have tested most of the beaches down the Tuscan coast and believe I have mastered the art of good Italian beach life; this is a guide to the best of it.
If you are fan of wild, empty beaches and of getting sand in uncomfortable places, you have come to the wrong country. Other than in Sardinia, most of Italy’s beaches have been partitioned up into private-run “bathing establishments” that rent you a day’s access to your own square meter of beach and associated services. Unfortunately, this means that there are not many free beaches, and a day in the sun can add up. On the other hand, for the traveler, this arrangement has its advantages. You could literally show up with just a bathing suit and a bottle of SPF. Anything else can be rented, or will sooner or later come around for sale by itinerant vendors pushing beach towels, sunglasses, hats and trinkets. No picnic to pack? No problem: many establishments boast full restaurants. Finally, sit cleanly on their beach furniture, and wash up with a hot shower at the end of the day.
Services vary at establishments down the Tuscan coast from Viareggio to just below Orbetello, as do the natural features of the beaches. Versilia is the coastal area closest to Pisa, composed of a continuous string of beach towns including Forte dei Marmi, Lido di Camaiore, Viareggio and Torre del Lago. It is accessible by public transportation and has excellent nightlife. This seaside can hardly be said to be untouched by man, and by August the water is often warm and not the most inviting colour.
Driving south, there’s the port town of Livorno – great for a meal but not for swimming. Further down the Aurelia highway from there is an unusual “white beach” at Vada (also known as Rosignano Solvay), where Calcium Chloride produced in the nearby factory has made the sand entirely white and the water a particularly impressive turquoise. It’s referred to as the Caribbean of Tuscany. It may not be entirely healthy to bathe here, but that doesn’t stop sun goddesses from working on their sunburns!
Things get rather more beautiful the further south you go. Cecina is a beach town that is as convenient as Viareggio but cuter and more economical. Much of the beach here is rocky so the water is refreshing and clean. If you stay in town, beach, stores and restaurants are all at convenient walking distance.
Keep going down the coast south of Piombino (where you could get a ferry to Elba, gorgeous beaches there too!) and you get to my favourite area, Castiglione della Pescaia. Here, the water is pristine and the beach is sandy and protected by a thick pine forest. The largest bathing establishment belongings to Hotel Riva del Sole (daily access also available), where there is also a good windsurf and sailing school. Castiglione itself is a medieval town that develops uphill and offers a good selection of restaurants and chic stores. In my custom guide to Tuscany’s beaches on Gogobot I have listed a few places to eat nearby, and suggest you head over to neighbouring hilltown Tirli to get away from the crowds.
Now you’re getting to the heart of the area of Tuscany called Maremma and the marvellous coast continues! Each beach has its own character: Talamone may be one of the most beautiful for the way the rocky coast meets the water here, but Ansedonia, just a few kilometers further down, is also worth a visit.
Some practical information
For the most direct access the Tuscan coast, fly into Pisa airport, a destination for many European low-cost flights. If you’re aiming for the more southern destinations that I’ve mentioned in Maremma, consider Rome airport and a drive up the coast, which may be slightly shorter than driving from Florence.
A vacation in the Tuscan sun is feasible from mid May to mid September most years, although if you want guaranteed good weather, July and August are a sure bet, but with crowds and higher prices.
If you need to suit up for watersports in the city before you head to the coast, the least expensive chain store for outdoor gear is Decathlon, which has 6 locations in Tuscany including Livorno and Prato (the closest to Florence) and is a resource for hiking and camping material too. Swimsuits for men and women are sold in many stores in any city or town – Calzedonia, Intimissimi and Tezenis are three lingerie store franchises that sell almost exclusively swimwear in the summer, with good variety and prices.