Viareggio, a Tuscan Culture and Coast Weekend

Tuscany + Beach + Sea + Sun + Italian Food = What more could you ask for? It’s all in Viareggio, on the Versilian Coast of Tuscany. Our first trip here, unlike the stop in Lucca, was totally planned. Mapping out our first Italian holiday adventure since moving to Europe, I thought what about a few September days at the beach while in Tuscany? Beach doesn’t typically come to mind when you think of Tuscany but we found it and loved it!

We crossed the mountain headed northeast from Lucca and within 40 minutes arrived to a quiet dark Viareggio and the Hotel President. Excited to see the town the next morning, we awoke early and out our big windows was the perfect view…long beach, beach clubs, a boardwalk, sunshine and sea.

The Versilian Coast is one of the oldest sea resorts in Tuscany runs north to Forte de Marmi and sits between the Tyrranean Sea and Apuan Alps. Viareggio’s name came from the fortress that Pisa, Lucca and Genoa built here in 1172 to defend the coast at the end of the road, via regia. Beach clubs first opened here in 1828 and since its been a hub for Italian family holidays. It peaked as a resort in the 1920’s and while La Passeggiata (‘the boardwalk’) is a bit worn now, you can still imagine the splendor looking at The Liberty Style/Art Nouveau buildings.

The town has been a port since 1913 and now some of the biggest yachts in the world are made here by companies like Perini Navi and Benetti. You won’t believe the size of these things!! Walk down to the pier to check them out sitting in the port and being made in massive hangars.

Viareggio’s most famous event is Carnevale di Viareggio, one of the biggest carnival festivals in Europe. Taking place since 1873, it now draws over one million people each year for its five masked parades full of papier mâché.

Overall there isn’t a ton to do here which makes it perfect! On our second visit we felt like regulars and hit the same spots. We spent most of our time at Bagno Irene, one of over 100 beach clubs lining the sand of Viareggio. Family run like most of the clubs, its been in the family since 1943. You feel the Italian hospitality the moment you walk in. Hotel President has a special rate (for chair, umbrella, use of their facilities) with them so we headed over late morning after the hotel’s yummy breakfast and lazed away the day on the beach surrounded by Italians on holiday. If you need an espresso or beverage, make the short walk to the club. If you’re hungry, they have amazing food. And if you want a beach massage, just look for one of the many great Asian masseuse strolling the beach offering their services (and don’t be intimidated…it’s fabulous!).

After sunset drinks on the beach, we cleaned up for dinner and strolled La Passeggiata. The town is very low key and casual. There are tons of restaurants to chose from…pizza, pasta and seafood are plenty. We like Sa Playa (V.le Margherita, 68) and Tito Pizzeria (Lungomolo del Greco 3). La Passeggiata is also fun to walk in the morning down to the pier to see the fresh catches on display or rent a bike in the park to explore.

So if you’re looking for an incredible Tuscan weekend of culture and coast, Viareggio and Lucca are perfect!

More great Viareggio photos are in the gallery!

Lucca, a Tuscan Culture and Coast Weekend

A missed turn on the A12 in northwest Tuscany led us to Lucca, a medieval gem of a Tuscan town. (Original destination…Leaning Tower of Pisa…we saw it from the road. 😉 ) And while only there for a few hours, we knew we’d return.

Developed as a Roman city in 180 BC, Lucca sits inside still intact 16th century ramparts. With the Apuan Alps in the distance, the town and its 2000 year history are beyond charming and perfect for a day, long weekend or week’s stay anytime of year.

Our first visit was in September which lucky for us is festival month. We stumbled upon the happening main Piazza San Michele where we discovered the most delicious traditional pastry of Lucca dating back to 1893, Frate (like a lemon donut), and yummy fresh anisette crisps being made on the spot. After a short exploration, you can walk the tiny town’s picturesque streets and squares in a few hours, we relaxed at Ristorante del Teatro for an amazing dinner of bruschetta, gnocchi al pesto and tagliatonni pomodoro paired with a local red wine, Montecarlo Rosso.

Our return trip a few summers ago, one of our favorite Italian weekends, centered around the now 13 year Summer Festival Concert Series and trip to the Tuscan Coast. After settling in at the charming Hotel Palazzo Alexander, a 12th century building decorated in noble Lucchese style, we strolled the town’s highlights then took a seat at Il Cuore for an aperitif. Enjoying a prosecco, we soaked in one of my favorite Italian views…the sun shining on Tuscan orange houses dotted with green wooden shutters. Then we made our way over to Piazza Napoleone, home of the Summer Festival hosting well known bands like Elton John, Dave Matthews and James Taylor (our concert!) from late June – July. It’s a spectacular spot for a concert. As we approached the piazza and settled in for a pre-show dinner on Ristorante del Teatro’s patio, the square was getting lively as the town prepared for its mid-point in the concert series. Afterwards we found our seats and to my surprise, I simply bought the more expensive of the two ticket tiers, we were literally in the front row for James Taylor. And the concert was amazing!! James Taylor live in concert in an Italian piazza enjoying local wine under star lit skies. It was truly a magical evening!

We spent the next day enjoying more of the MUST GO‘s (my #1 is definitely the Summer Festival concert series)…

  • The Ramparts: Explore the huge city walls and their 2.5 mile long path either by bike or on foot. You’ll circle the town and enjoy some great views.
  • Piazza Anfiteatro: Once a Roman amphitheater, it’s now an enchanting oval piazza with the ancient arches embedded into the picturesque buildings. A great spot for an espresso and some shopping. I found great linen treasures at a few shops. We also bought a playful Lucca painting by Bianchi Giampiero that always makes me smile when I pass it on our wall.
  • Piazza San Michele: The heart of Lucca is a great place to hang out with the backdrop of the ornate cathedral. To get here from Piazza Anfiteatro, enjoy the shopping along Via Fillungo and Via Roma like Paris, for housewares, and Enotecca Vanni, for a great wine selection packed into small cellars. The third Saturday and Sunday of each month Lucca also hosts 230 antique dealers throughout town.
  • Giacumo Puccini Home: Puccini (1858-1924) was born here and coming 13 September his birth house and museum reopen to visitors. You’ll find him celebrated throughout the year in concerts like those at the 19th century Teatro del Giglio.

Another venture I’d like to do next visit is Strada del Vino e dell’Olio in the Lucca Province outside of town for their D.O.C. wine and D.O.P. olive oil producers! The local Montecarlo wines I had were quite nice.

Next leg of our Tuscan Culture and Coast Weekend…Viareggio!

More great Lucca photos are in the gallery!