Having just returned from my latest beach holiday in Italy, I feel perfectly poised to tell you all about the experience of lying on an Italian beach.
To date, I have experienced the delights of five Italian beaches on a year-by-year basis. Beginning in Liguria, both east and west, I moved on to Tuscany, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.
My seaside adventures began when I visited the Cinque Terre to walk in the hills. I rented a little apartment in Monterosso al Mare close to the station for two weeks. I never did become accustomed to the Turin express train roaring past the head of my bed at 11.00pm, but I loved the view of the beach from my kitchen window.
Monterosso al Mare: view from my kitchen
After the first day of walking in the hills, I found myself at a loose end by noon and wondered how to spend my afternoons. Everyone, except for me, was lying on the beach, so I thought I might as well join in. Resurrecting my ancient yellow, floral swimsuit (bought in Mauritius in 1997) that I had had the foresight to bring, I organised the rental of an umbrella and lounger for €12 per day on a prime part of Monterosso beach.
Exposing my lily-white Irish limbs to the Ligurian sun – especially in that swimsuit – and reclining amongst thousands of tanned Italians was quite challenging, but I soldiered on regardless.
Being August, the beach was packed with families and very lively. Getting a spot to swim meant elbowing my way past parents keeping a careful eye on their children, then getting splashed by hundreds of tiny tots learning to doggy-paddle.
As I floated on my back past the tiny tots’ outer limits and looked up at the gorgeous hills behind Monterosso, I decided I was in heaven. In the evenings I wandered into various restaurants along the lungomare with my book tucked under my arm and ate grilled swordfish, Ligurian style. I don’t think I spoke to anyone during that fortnight except the beach umbrella man and a few waiters, but I went home to my busy life in Ireland feeling completely rejuvenated.
My next Italian beach experience was in a little place called Latte in western Liguria, close to Menton on the French/Italian border. I stayed in a B&B in Mortola Superiore, at the top of a steep, hot and exhausting climb. The beach was small and secluded – quite unlike Monterosso – and there was a restaurant and pool with full facilities, including the rental of loungers and umbrellas. I mostly ate lunch there and lay supine with my books in the sun for an entire week. In the evenings I went to the Conad supermarket and bought some vegetable torte, or similar, to take back to the B&B. After the first evening, when I toiled the five kilometres uphill in the blazing sun, almost having a heart attack and being savaged by an Alsatian dog in the process, I got sense and organised a local taxi driver to pick me up.
Villa Eva, Latte, Liguria
Castiglioncello, south of Livorno in Tuscany, was my next sun holiday. By now, my beach attire had improved considerably and my knowledge of how to hire an umbrella and lounger was standing me in good stead. Castiglioncello was very upmarket, full of glamorous Milanese ladies in full regalia: big jewellery; sparkly bikinis; towering espadrilles; gigantic sunglasses; immaculately coiffed hairstyles and sickeningly perfect, tanned bodies. On top of that, they all appeared to be reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” in Italian. I decided that Milan must be an exciting place indeed!
Again, being August, the beach was completely packed. Situated at the bottom of vertiginous steps and comparatively small, it was the most crowded beach I had ever seen in my life. Getting into the sea was just about impossible on the Sunday I was there, but luckily the crowd thinned slightly on weekdays. Castiglioncello was full of excellent restaurants and expensive boutiques, with a nightly fashion show – or so it seemed – as visitors paraded the streets in their finery.
Next stop on the trail of the perfect Italian beach holiday took me to Caorle, just north of Venice in the Veneto. This time I went with two female friends and we rented an apartment. It had two bedrooms; one with a double bed, one with a shelf-like bunk-bed and a fold out sofa-bed in the kitchen/living area. I was allocated the bunk and, after the first night of terror that I was going to roll out, I slept quite soundly for the duration.
The beach in Caorle was absolutely enormous. I lay supine in my, now, strictly Italian swimsuit from Calzedonia and had even attempted to kick-start my tan before I left. This was now entirely possible, as I had moved from Ireland to Italy in the meantime. The hordes of sun-worshippers consisted mainly of Eastern Europeans from Slovenia, for whom it is a relatively easy drive down the autostrada. Lots of blond children ran around speaking incomprehensible eastern European languages, parented by large-boned men, and women with Slavic eyes.
The old town of Caorle was full of character and the endlessly long lungomare was perfect for my early morning walks. This resort had great appeal and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday there.
Last but not least, I have just returned from a week in Cattolica in Emilia Romagna with my great friend: a fellow blogger/writer and general funny-man, who kept me entertained all week.
I think that this has to be my number one beach resort so far. Every facility one could ever need for a beach holiday is there and easily accessible. The lungomare consists of a fabulous boardwalk with restaurants, swimming pools and cafes dotted everywhere, while upstairs the terraces boast brilliant views of the beach. Aperitivi invariably come with glamorous snacks and the beach itself is immaculate.
The hotel was a great disappointment, however, and I would recommend that, if you are booking a hotel in such a popular beach resort, check that it is not too family-friendly, especially if you are holidaying without children. I am aware that the Italian birth-rate is one of the lowest in Europe, but this was not evident at our hotel. I began to think that possibly all of the babies born in Italy in the past year were staying there. The din in the dining room was intolerable – screaming babies combined with bad acoustics are a fatal combination – and the food was rough, ready and boring: ‘You want salt? Here’s a tiny packet.’ ‘You want brown sugar in your coffee? We should have it by tomorrow.’ After a couple of days of stress, we decided to throw in the towel as regards dining there and ate along the lungomare for the rest of the week. Which was perfect, as it turned out.
On a beachside terrace looking out over the Adriatic, we dined on freshly grilled fish, served on skewers, and sipped our chilled Prosecco as the sun went down. Bliss.