Tuscany is synonymous with beautiful old towns, hilltop villages, vineyards and fields of sunflowers. It’s not somewhere that you usually associate with a seaside break!
Where is Viareggio?
When friends suggested a short break in Viareggio, I must admit I had never heard of it! Its actually located on the Tyrrhenian Coast about 13 miles west of Pisa. Its easily accessible by train or bus from Pisa and other Italian cities. We travelled from Florence by train in about 1 hour 15 minutes. It’s a good option if you fancy both a city and a seaside break (more on planning a break to Florence here).
Viareggio is the atypical Italian seaside resort. It has miles and miles of sun loungers and umbrellas arranged pristinely in rows from the promenade down to the sea. The beach is serviced by private beach clubs with bars and restaurants. There are changing and locker facilities, and some of the beach clubs have a swimming pool. Most hotels have arrangements in place for use of beach club services, some free and others discounted. Although the beaches are kept scrupulously clean and tidy, with the sand raked several times a day, I did find it all a bit too regimented and cramped in terms of space and proximity to others.
The Promenade or La Passegiatta
There is a wide promenade called La Passeggiata. This is an apt name as it is also the term for the traditional evening walk Italians take with family and friends. There are numerous restaurants and bars along the promenade, offering snacks through to a la carte dining. Many bars serve a selection of antipasti included in the price of drinks. In fact you can get away without actually buying dinner. You can just move from bar to bar having one drink and sampling the different antipasti.
Another feature of the promenade is the array of elegant, upmarket shops. They offer high quality designer goods at similar prices to the UK. The shops are open late in to the evenings, the Italians definitely love their shopping! At the southern end of the promenade is the harbour and the public beach. Here you will also find family seaside attractions, including a large ferris wheel and other fairground rides.
On the canal that separates the promenade from the harbour, there are a couple of floating takeaways. One is a fish and chip boat which travels back and to from the beach front in to the town. It certainly appeared to do a roaring trade with local workers at lunchtime.
Back from the promenade is a warren of streets, not very picturesque, but this is where many of the restaurants and tourist hotels are situated. The vast majority of visitors are Italian with a smattering of British and German tourists.
Accommodation in Viareggio
There is a wide choice of accommodation available in Viagreggio from 5 star hotels on the promenade, through to smaller B&B’s and apartments in the town.
We stayed in the Grand Royal Hotel which certainly looked very grand at first sight, dominating the promenade. It is an imposing art nouveau building similar to hotels you see in traditional British seaside resorts. The public areas were certainly grand with comfortable lounges and outside sitting areas. The restaurant was rather old school. It was a huge cavernous room, very ornate, formal service and uniformed waiting staff. There was also a large outside terrace where dinner could be taken. The pool area was lovely with plenty of beds, a large swimming pool and a bar serving drinks and lighter meals. The only thing that let the hotel down in my opinion was the bedrooms. They were a bit on the small side and rather tired in terms of the decor and furniture. I was expecting better for the price too as we paid almost €200 per night.
Places to visit from Viareggio
As well as being a destination in it’s own right, Viareggio is also a great base from which to explore some of the other towns and resorts of Tuscany. Here’s my favourites to include if your trip:
We went to Lucca for the day on the local bus. Lucca is a beautiful walled Tuscan town which I would highly recommend. We will definitely be returning for a longer stay! Our bargain meal of the whole holiday was in Lucca in the Pizzeria Santa Maria just off the city walls. The six of us had 3 huge Pizzas, a salad, beers, and 2 large carafes of wine for about €50. This was less than the 6 beers we had in the main square earlier in the day!
Forte Dei Marmi
Another place I would highly recommend is Forte Dei Marmi, about 6km north of Viareggio. This resort was recommended to us by a waiter in La Fattoria, our local Italian restaurant in Chester. He said we’d love it and we certainly did.
Forte dei Marmi is more upmarket than Viareggio with a lot of big name designer shops such as Gucci, Prada, Hermes etc. It is a very attractive town with amazing displays of bougainvillea and picturesque piazzas surrounded by traditional restaurants and bars. There are amazing views of the lower Apuan Alps which tower above the town. You can see marble fissures sparkling in the glorious sunshine. This is where the famous Cararra marble comes from. The marble was used to build famous buildings such as the Pantheon in Rome, and used by Michelangelo when creating his most famous sculpture David.
Forte dei Marmi also has a wide stone pier extending from the promenade a kilometre or so out to sea and the views back to the main square and the mountains beyond are awesome.
Once again we were fortunate in our choice of restaurant. We chose the busiest restaurant on the main square, Al Bocconcino. It appeared that most of the diners were Italian, always a good sign when looking for a restaurant in Italy! The head waiter was very accommodating, actually moving other diners to accommodate us. Without a doubt this is where I had my dish of the week. The homemade tagliatelle with lobster in a creamy tomato sauce – it was absolutely delicious.
All in all Viareggio gave us a great introduction to the Tuscany Coast. Maybe not your typical beach holiday, however Viareggio is an excellent base from which to explore. With easy access to other delights such as Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terra and Portofino.
The Guestbooks Comment: “We will return to the area but next time we will base ourselves in nearby Forte Dei Marmi.”
Fancy trying somewhere else that’s not on the popular tourist trail of Italy? Head to the beautiful and unique Matera to experience a whole new Italy (and stay in a cave!). See Kate’s guide to why it’s a must visit destination.