Located between the Apuan Alps, with their white marble caves – said to be the place where Michelangelo sourced his marble blocks – lush pinewoods and the long sandy beach, Versilia is among the favorite holiday areas for Tuscan people. It is common for families to come back, year after year, to the same Bagno – beach club – where they still eat the same Bomboloni – deep fried dough filled with cream – their grandparents used to eat, welcoming September with the same bittersweet nostalgia of returning back home. The fine sand beaches are comfortable for families with young children, but thanks to the bustling nightlife, it is also considered a fun zone. Many famous poets, artists and musicians lived or left their imprint here: Giacomo Puccini, whose Villa is still in Torre del Lago, the Italian Poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who wrote his most famous opera in Marina di Pietrasanta, and many Italian and international artists such as Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Mina, who used to exhibit in La Bussola, a nightclub popular in 1960s.
Among the best places to visit, there is the marble capital Pietrasanta, called “Little Athens” because of the various art galleries, marble sculpture studios, and many artists who have lived there. Now, it is an elegant city, an open-air museum that hosts art exhibitions – sculptor Ferdinando Botero is a regular – but also a popular destination for shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Nearby, anyone who desires can experience the marble caves: you’ll be brought inside the belly of the mountains, and see how marble is extracted, ready to decorate luxury villas all over the world. If all these activities made you hungry, stop in Colonnata, a picturesque village perched between marble caves, and taste their specialty, produced inside the marble caves: Lardo di Colonnata.
Among the other beauties to visit: the town of Viareggio with its waterfront filled with lovely Art Noveau buildings, and the posh Forte dei Marmi, famous for its luxury villas and fashion boutiques, as well as expensive restaurants and beach clubs – if you are in the mood visit Twiga Beach Club owned by the Italian billionaire Flavio Briatore, immediately recognizably for its huge giraffes visible from the beach. Forte dei Marmi also hosts the legendary club La Capannina with flashes of 1970s Italian lifestyle, still today one of the most popular, vintage-inspired nightclubs. For shopping lovers, don’t miss the renowned Mercato in Forte dei Marmi every Wednesday morning: you’ll find the best straw bags and hats, cashmere and home accessories at the best prices (be ready to fight against old but determined ladies). And if you are still here at the end of the summer, on August 28th, the day of Sant’Ermete – Forte dei Marmi’s patron saint – everyone will gather on the coast for a spectacular firework show.
If all of these activities have not convinced you yet, you can maybe be persuaded by the delicious seafood enjoyed on the beach, or by renting a boat to explore the nearby coast of Cinque Terre, or maybe by visiting Viareggio in February, when Carnival is celebrated with huge papier-mache creations and widespread parties.
WHERE TO HAVE BREAKFAST
Bar Versilia (Marina di Pietrasanta)
Their cream “Sfogliatine” are to die for. If you eat more than one, be ready to skip your lunch later (and be careful, if you wake up too late and it’s a weekend, they may run out of them very early).
Caffè Principe (Forte dei Marmi)
If you are visiting the fancy Forte dei Marmi and you are willing to have “the” experience, sit in this central bar, have breakfast next to the well-dressed Forte dei Marmi ladies, and start your “people watching”. It is a little bit pricey, but consider that you are paying for the location (what’s not pricey in Forte dei Marmi?)
Quite the opposite from Caffè Principe, this small but crowded bar in the Viareggio “Passeggiata” serves the best “Bombe alla crema” in town. Deep-fried dough filled with cream and covered with sugar. Be ready to queue a little bit next to locals.
WHERE TO HAVE A GOOD GELATO
Located inside the town of Viareggio, this Gelateria serves great gelatos and pastries, and has also a wide vegan and gluten free selection.
Cremeria Lola (Lido di Camaiore)
Follow the smell of fresh baked cones and waffles and indulge in this great gelato, served by the sea in Lido di Camaiore.
WHERE TO HAVE AN APERITIVO
Essenza (Marina di Massa)
Sit with your feet in the sand and enjoy a good (and rich) aperitivo while sipping your favourite cocktail, looking at the sun setting down in the sea. If you are in the mood for dancing, this bar also opens after dinner for drinks and dancing.
Pesce Baracca (Forte dei Marmi)
Pesce Baracca serves the best fish caught at night. It’s suggestive terrace overlooks Forte dei Marmi beach where you can have a drink paired with fish-based snacks and crudi.
Pinolo (Lido di Camaiore)
Nothing fancy here. This small and vintage bar located in a secondary street in Lido di Camaiore with yellow tablecloths is famous for its aperitivo: the best Italian crostoni paired with a Spritz (or a Negroni, for the braver ones). Go there hungry.
WHERE TO EAT
Bagno La Pia (Viareggio)
A proper seaside restaurant located in a beautiful white veranda by the beach, with white curtains flowing gently with the wind. They serve excellent pastas with fish and the owner is very welcoming and friendly, we suggest a chiacchera (chat) with her. Reserve your table in advance (2 or 3 weeks in the weekends of July and August).
Bagno Patrizia (Lido di Camaiore)
Small and quite unknown restaurant by the Beach in Lido di Camaiore, they revisit traditional Tuscan dishes with a twist in a great location and with friendly service. You also find good options for vegetarians and meat lovers (not so common in beachfront restaurants).
Bagno Vittoria (Forte Dei Marmi)
Elegant but not showy, a new beach club 5 minutes walking from Forte Dei Marmi’s town center, with some of the best bavette alle arselle on the coast
Punto Nave (Viareggio)
This boat moored in Viareggio Harbor is one of the most popular and traditional places to buy and eat one of the best Fritto di mare in Versilia. They only sell take away dishes (try their fried fish and crab legs). Be ready to wait a little bit.
Bar Milano (Focette)
If you want to smell Versilia of the 60s sit in this Restaurant that has the same tablecloths and menus since 1959, and order Pane Arabo, Penne all’imperiale and Spaghetti alle arselle. Watch groups of friends having dinner before going clubbing – riding their bicycles – sitting next to old couples who have been eating at the same tables for decades.
Il Lunedì dello Studio (Pietrasanta)
Located a little far away from the crowded Pietrasanta centre and difficult to find, it is worth the struggle. Sitting in a hidden garden filled with statues, in this unconventional place you can eat remarkably interesting dishes, a little bit out-of the ordinary, in a bohemian location.
PIZZA AND FOCACCINE
Orlando (Forte dei Marmi)
Undoubtedly the most famous (and expensive) Focaccine in Versilia, if you stay in Forte dei Marmi you need to try Orlando. Always packed with people (reserve your place in advance but be ready to wait a lot), this historic restaurant has served generations of people and still prepares the same focaccine and delicious cakes since 1973. Be ready to spend around 10 euro for each (small) Focaccia – if you’re not in the mood, we suggest you stop by after dinner and try a slice of their cream and wild strawberries (or fig) crostata. Heavenly.
Il Nicchio (Marina di Pietrasanta)
The “cheap” version of Orlando, Il Nicchio is super popular among locals for lunch and dinner, and serves great Focaccine with clams, mushrooms and pizza. Amazing desserts too — try their strawberries served with Chantilly cream.
This take-away traditional Pizzeria located at the end of Viareggio’s Passeggiata serves delicious slices of Pizza and the traditional Cecina, made with chickpea flour, a specialty of the Tuscan coast.
Apogeo (Marina di Pietrasanta)
If you want to sit down and have a good Neapolitan pizza in a beautiful garden, try Apogeo. Located in the hinterland of Marina di Pietrasanta, they have an extensive selection of gourmet Pizzas – try their pizza tasting.
COUNTRYSIDE AND HILLS
Il Trillo (Massa)
One of the most beautiful terraces of the whole Versilian coast, Il Trillo welcomes its guests under an outstandingly beautiful lemon orchard (they will never share with you how they manage to keep them so full), and serves a fine dining, delicious menu. End your evening with a taste of their home-made Limoncello.
Osteria Candalla (Camaiore)
One of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen, and one of the most difficult ones to find an empty table. Perched between the walls of an ancient mill, alongside the shores of a small river, you can dine overlooking this little “jungle”, an uncommon and extraordinary location. Before dinner, enjoy an aperitivo in the shade of large banana trees beyond the river, and try their “Testaroli with celery pesto” or the typical “Tordelli with Ragout”. Tips: They are always (always) full. Call them a month in advance and get ready to visit them when they have an empty space – especially during weekdays.
AFTER DINNER (Dancing and Drinks)
Bambubar (Marina di Pietrasanta)
This is the perfect place if you are looking for an easygoing beach bar where to have a drink while listening to some music. It has free entrance but be careful as it becomes very busy on weekends.
La Capannina di Franceschi (Forte dei Marmi)
Said to be “the oldest nightclub still open worldwide” – it was founded in 1929 – popular amongst poets, artists and nobility, it still has the same vintage atmosphere architecture from 100 years ago. Today it periodically hosts celebrities and important singers, but you can also find popular DJs and great drinks. Every Wednesday, the Italian actor and singer Jerry Calà performs the most important Italian songs from the 60s – even if you don’t know them, trust us, it will be a very fun experience.
Bar dello Studio (Marina di Pietrasanta)
Try their raspberry Mojito and sit in this eclectic bar in the heart of Marina di Pietrasanta. The owners are funny and interesting people to speak to.
WHAT TO DO (if you’re not a beach person)
Visit to the Marble Caves and Colonnata
This interesting visit brings you inside the majestic marble caves – it seems like being on the moon – and the guide will tell you everything about how marble is extracted, worked and transported – in case you are willing to know how Michelangelo could transport 100 kg of marble blocks in the 1500s. In some of those caves, you’ll also see enchanting graffiti representing Michelangelo. After the visit, 10 minutes away you can refresh with an aperitivo in Colonnata, tasting their “Lardo” – sit in the marble tables of “Larderia Il Poggio” and enjoy the “Lardo” cream. Delicious, but don’t make other food plans for at least 8 hours.
The Apuan Alps are great for trekkers with their beautiful and well-kept paths, but you need to be in decent shape. If you reach the top of them, you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view of the entire Versilia coast. If you are brave enough, try the “Altalena del monte Forato”, a panoramic bungee jump overlooking the sea.
Being the most “intellectual” and “artistic” city in Versilia, Pietrasanta is worth a visit for a walk in it’s small streets, hosting many art galleries and boutiques. There are several expensive restaurants (be careful), if you want to dine in the center and you are curious about vegetarian options, try “Sementis Veg”, while “Giacomo a Pietrasanta” is much more expensive but located in an enchanted garden, where you can choose your favorite, freshest fish.
La Versiliana is a huge park in Marina di Pietrasanta with pines and trees, which hosts an 18th century Villa and a theatre. Every summer, it offers a rich calendar of cultural events, such as book presentations, concerts, theatrical shows. The park is ideal for runners and walkers, and for those looking for some shade from the heat.
Carnevale di Viareggio
Dating back to the 19th Century, the Viareggio Carnival, together with the one in Venice, is one of the most important Carnival celebrations in Italy. Each year thousands of people of every age reach Viareggio (usually on weekends from the end of February to the middle of march) to assist the huge procession of papier-mâché floats. Everyone dresses up and after the parade, the fun continues in evening and night parties. Inhabitants are divided in “Rioni” and take the Carnival very seriously, competing with their papier-mâché, real works of art that need years of preparation. Do not forget your Carnival mask – otherwise you’ll be the only one not wearing it!