Dear Versilia, why did you come to my life just now?
I have been looking for you.
Now we finally met.
The moment I found out about you I almost couldn’t sleep just thinking about this day. My infatuation grew as I boarded my plane to meet you. There you were, in the plane’s free travel magazine, in full feature: beautiful and inviting. I smiled as I read about you. This was a sign. Could it be destiny?
My infatuation erupted the second I got off the train and met you for the first time that night. There was something about you that charmed me completely as I traced your contours and smelled the various scents of your skin.
I excitedly wrote this on my online diary about you:
Have you ever fallen in love with a place?
I have been traveling around the world the last 5 years and I am rarely impressed these days. I am game to go just about anywhere but I won’t profess my love to just about any place. New York did not impress me. And so did Paris on my first trip there. That changed when I went back last summer when I got to know the city a bit more intimately.
But there are very distinct instances that I knew I would fall in love with a place.
The first was Stockholm. If you’ve been following me, you would know by now that I am in love with this city. I dreamed about it for so long that even when I moved there last 2010, I couldn’t tell the difference between being awake and dreaming. It still is my favorite city in the world and I visit as often as I can.
The second was Berlin. I guess this was triggered by my first visit in Cologne, Germany. I really didn’t give a hoot about Germany until I went to Cologne. And then I kind of fell in love with Germany. My next visit to the country was in Berlin where I fell hard. Really hard. In the next 3 years I came back to Berlin dozens of times it almost made more financial sense to rent an apartment there.
Versilia was the third time.
You probably don’t even know where it is. I also did not until mere days prior. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why I love it. I am generally attracted to things/places/people/films/art that are not too mainstream. Granted, Berlin is pretty mainstream now but back in 2010 it was only popular to cool hipsters and city slickers who eschew the common European cities (hello Rome, Barcelona and Paris I am talking about you).
So what can I tell you about Versilia?
Should I tell you about its people and how nice, friendly and passionate they are about their place? You normally meet locals and they tell you how fantastic their city is. And when they pepper everything with superlatives you kind of start to distrust them. Not here. Instead you just feel how real and genuinely heartfelt they are about their love of their place.
Everything is fantastico, delicioso, bello!
Like this one day when I went to the beach in Torre del Lago (which by the way is one of the gay meccas in Italy, who knew?) and met some locals there. I biked back to Viareggio with Fabio, who moved to the city 10 years ago and never left. It was sunset and we were speeding through the highway when he suddenly stopped.
I stopped as well, confused.
“Look that. Fantastic,” he says in his broken English.
I turned my head and the sunset was indeed fantastic.
Should I tell you about it’s beaches with perfectly tanned beautiful people in various shapes and sizes enjoying the sun? Or how, even if it’s too commercial, the beach umbrellas perfectly lined up by the beach was symmetrically beautiful? Here’s a view from the top of the gorgeous Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte.
Well. Here’s Alessandro learning how to fish:
Should I talk about it’s cities like Viareggio, Torre del Lago or Lido di Camaiore which are all next to each other along the stretch of the Italian Riviera? All charming cities. And there’s Forte dei Marmi which I didn’t have the time to visit but I heard that’s where Italian celebrities spend their summers. Not to mention other great people like Giacomo Puccini, an Italian composer whose operas are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire, has chosen to live in Versilia as well.
And maybe tell you about how bike-friendly it was. Imagine yourself donning your summer hat and rocking your most ferocious shades biking the stretch of the coast on your way to meet your friends in the beach, heading to a gelato store or looking for the best fish soup in this side of the world. Imagine the Tyrrhenian sea to your left and the eclectic mixture of the art nouveau buildings to your right as you pedal forward. Imagine the smell of the sea and elicriso and the line of pine trees like giants with big green heads and skinny bodies.
Maybe we should talk about the food?
I mean you will never go wrong with authentic Italian food. But here they’ve got fresh seafood too. And boy did I enjoy the seafood in olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes! Don’t even get me started with olive oil. It’s like a religion here. I guess that’s true all over Italy.
I could tell you how the nice people at Bagno Arizona would serve me local food and wine and it already made my day.
I could say the same thing eating lunch at Antico Uliveto surrounded by dozens of olive trees of course. I was introduced to the various cured meats and cheeses produced in the tiny villages up the Apuan Alps, fresh ricotta, chestnut and beach honey (specially produced by the sandy beach of Viareggio natural park area called Lecciona) and wines that are preserved 60 meter below sea level for 6 months. It was major food porn:
I could also tell you how eating dinner alfresco by the garden at Hotel Club I Pini, the former summer villa of Galileo Chini (an important Italian artist), was easily one of the most romantic dinners ever. And that’s me talking about my experience eating alone. Imagine having your special someone with you!
Is it the Secret Side of Tuscany?
I could certainly keep talking about other things. Like how it has everything: beach, mountains, shopping, city life and nature. I could certainly rave about my time hiking five towns up in the hills that are a thousand-year old.
And then there was my day spent spelunking Antro del Corchia, one of the longest caves in Europe.
But I have to stop. It’s killing me just writing this post.
I have a huge smile on my face right now thinking about my time there getting to know you, Versilia.
I was only there for 5 days but my god, was my summer romance with you hot?
I shall return. I want to get to know you more.
If you’re going there, and you should, please tell Versilia how DJ misses it so.
How to travel to Versilia on your own
The nearest aiport is Pisa. Versilia is just 20 minutes away and it only costs 3.80 euros by train.
Where to stay:
Grand Hotel Prinsipe di Piemonte – grand, luxurious hotel right in front of the beach in Viareggio
Hotel Club i Pini – located in Lido di Camiore, this cozy hotel with a beautiful garden used to be the summer villa of Galileo Chini
Bagno Arizona – beach resort in Viaregeggio which is also near Torre del Lago. Great for beach sports and activities and for families. Well-run family-owned resort!
Where to eat:
Antico Uliveto Versilia - very nice place surrounded by olive trees serving great local cuisine
You can also eat at Hotel Club i Pini for dinner or Bagno Arizona for lunch! Lots of cool restaurants along the beach as well. And many more on side streets.
Cremeria Emma – for the best gelato in Viareggio
Where to go and what to do:
Beach bum at Viareggio, Torre del Lago or surrounds
Tour of the very old towns up in the mountains
Tour of one of the longest caves in Europe, Antro del Corchia
Tour of the Apuan Alps
Visit Giacomo Puccini’s house
Carnival in February! Apparently it’s huge here