Sometimes when I travel, I just want to stay still. Staying put means I can dig deeper into a place and get to know it better. And there’s nowhere I prefer to stay put during the summer in Italy than at the beach.
It's fitting that the Italians -- who invented the concept of dolce far niente -- have a term for this type of travel: villeggiatura. Whereas a vacanza is a trip where you get out and about exploring all things historical and cultural, a villeggiatura is a trip where you stay in one place and catch up on R&R.
Since I grew up on the beaches of Los Angeles, I prefer to never be far from the ocean. When it comes to Italian beaches, I feel at home and ready to get my villeggiatura on than at the Tuscan beach town of Forte Dei Marmi.
Why Travel To Forte Dei Marmi
When I lived in Florence, Forte Dei Marmi was my regular weekend trip because it's just over an hour away yet its vibes make it feel a world away. With wide sand beaches (not pebbles as in so many parts of Europe!), lazy waves, and winding bike paths, it's an Italian beach town that's the perfect place to spend a weekend when you travel to Italy.
I like to say that Forte Dei Marmi is like the Hamptons of Tuscany. True, there's no Jitney, but in both looks and scene the two places are very similar. They both serve as beach escapes for city dwellers (many Florentines and Milanese go to Forte); both have people who reside there all summer (many families have owned houses in Forte for decades); both have wide sand beaches; and both have party scenes that go from the day right on through the night.
Know Before You Visit Forte Dei Marmi
The main thing to keep in mind is that the beaches along this part of the Tuscan coast are flat with lazy waves so you won't get the dramatic postcard-perfect villages that you seen along other parts of the Italian coast like, say, near Portofino or Positano.
Also, the middle of the summer can be quite a scene as fashion and finance types flock here for weekends away. That's to say it's more about dressing chic and going out at night than it is about hiking or fishing.
What To Do In Forte Dei Marmi
If you find yourself in this part of Italy during the summer, plan to spend at least an afternoon biking and strolling around town — it’s less crowded than Cinque Terre and more local than Portofino — and will give you a good taste of true summer living in Italy. If you have a bit more time, here are our suggestions of what to do in Forte Dei Marmi:
To Get Around: Rent A Bici
The preferred way to get around during the summertime in Forte Dei Marmi is on bici (bicycle) and it's super easy since there are flat, paved bicycle paths along the coast. Plan to rent a bike for one day if not your whole trip. Our picks are to rent from Forte Bike or Cicli Maggi both of which also have mountain bikes if you want to go on a day adventure along the Viareggio forest reserve or into the foothills back near Camaiore.
To Enjoy The Beach: Set Up At the Bagni
The coast of Forte Dei Marmi is lined with bagni or beach clubs, each with perfectly manicured sand, colorful umbrellas, and cheery changing rooms. Many families rent a cabana for the summer and spend their days at their preferred beach club. The easiest way to enjoy a beach club is to stay at the hotels that have their own private beach clubs (see below); however, you won't see many locals since they're only for hotel guests.
Instead, plan to rent at one of the more local bagni in the area.There are countless beach clubs in Forte Dei Marmi, but the best ones have great hospitality, restaurants, and sometimes even gyms, pools, spas, and nightlife scenes. For a classic beach club experience, head to Gilda; for a young family scene with lots of amenities, go to Bagno Annetta; and for a see-and-be-seen vibrant party scene reserve at Beach Club Versilia. Each club has its own rates depending on if you just want a chair or a cabana or more but they all start around €45 daily and be sure to reserve in advance!
To Do Chic Shopping: Head To The Town Center
Similar to Cannes and St Tropez, the shopping in downtown Forte Dei Marmi reflects the high-end clientele. There are shops by all the best Italian designers along with local boutiques selling a mix of beach essentials and resort wear.
To Explore The Italian Coast: Do A Day Trip
One of the reasons we love hanging in Forte Dei Marmi? Because it's location on the central Italian coast means you have a lot of options for day trips. Within a 90-minute drive you can go as far north as Genoa, head to Portofino, do a boat trip to Cinque Terre (or the lesser-known Porto Venere), or go south toward Viareggio, Lucca, or even Florence.
To Toast The Day: Go For Aperitivo
You know we love a great aperitivo cocktail and this form of Italian happy hour is alive and well in Forte Dei Marmi. If you are at a beach club in the late afternoon, you can likely stay put for aperitivo. But, if you're looking to kickoff a night out, some of our favorite places are the laidback local spot Alma Rosa or drinks with a view at 67 Sky Lounge Bar (see below).
To Toast The Night: Go Dancing
Many of the beach clubs, bars, and restaurants get festive as the night goes on but there are also all-out dance clubs. The most classic spot is La Capannina Di Franceschi, a venue that's been open since 1929! If you want a spot where you can go from aperitivo to dinner to dancing, head to Twiga Beach Club but know that it's very pricey.
Where To Eat In Forte Dei Marmi
For Classic Michelin-Starred Food: Lorenzo
This restaurant is an institution in this part of Italy, having been around for more than 30 years. Despite its age, the restaurant still sets the standard for fine dining in the area.
For Michelin-Starred Seafood: Il Bistrot
The most traditional of the restaurants on this list, Il Bistrot is a seafood restaurant with a charming old - but not aged - feel. The service is impeccable but not stuffy, the menu traditional but not boring, and it is among the freshest fish you'll get in Italy.
For A Meal With A Festive Scene: The Fratellini's
Consider this restaurant the younger, hipper brother of Il Bistrot. They're owned by the same restaurant group but have totally different vibes. The Fratellini's has a modern feel with lots of minimalistic umbrellas, a teak deck, and sliding doors at the entry and the menu is just as contemporary. As is a bit of a trend in Italian fish restaurants, they serve sushi but I'd recommend skipping that in favor of their crudo options, their rich but subtle risottos, and the sea bass.
For Chic Dinner: Go To Pietrasanta
Where To Stay In Forte Dei Marmi
If you're only staying a few nights, we suggest splurging on a high end hotel so that you can dive right into the Forte Dei Marmi lifestyle. If you're staying longer, your best bet is to look into one of the various villas or beach homes available on Airbnb. Here are a few of our favorite hotels:
The Historical Spot: Augustus Hotel
When it comes to luxury in Forte Dei Marmi, this hotel set the standard.The grounds include a villa that once belonged to the Agnelli (of FIAT cars) family and there is even a tunnel that provides direct access to a private beach. This is old-school charm at its best!
For Chic Boutique: Hotel Principe
If you have the option to go 5 stars, then stay at The Principe – it wins hands down when it comes to location, service, and décor. On the recommendation of our friends from Milan, we went to 67 Sky Lounge Bar, their rooftop bar for aperitivo (aka happy hour), and they were the best cocktails and view (a 360° view of the Versilia region gives you a chance to see everything from the beach to the marble quarries of Carrara) we had in Forte. Also, the on-site restaurant, Luxlucis, is another great choice for a fine dining meal.
The Great Deal: California Park Hotel
If you want a property with a bit more sprawl but still great amenities and a great price, check out the California Park Hotel. It's set back from the water a bit and on the edge of town but you can still easily bike to the beach or the center of town!
When To Visit Forte Dei Marmi
Like most of the towns on the Italian coast, Forte Dei Marmi's high season is during the summer. When you travel to Italy you'll notice that at most of Italy's beach towns the season begins right around Easter and extends until late September and that's also the case in Forte Dei Marmi.
While this part of the Tuscan coast has historically been a spot for the locals to visit, it has become more and more popular with Russians, Germans, and Middle Easterners in the last few years. The majority of visitors come to the region from June through August and it's almost impossible to find a hotel or Airbnb available during the summer weekends.
Personally, I think the best time to go to Forte Dei Marmi is in the late Spring and early Fall when the weather is still nice but it's less crowded. Just don't visit in the winter months as it's usually pretty cold and the majority of the restaurants are closed.
How To Get To Forte Dei Marmi
The easiest way to get to Forte Dei Marmi is by car as you can take the A11 highway from Florence or the E80 from Genoa and Milan. The only hitch is that there is not a ton of parking during the high season. In the center of town there are parking lots and all the beach clubs and hotels have their own parking but plan to bike or walk around when possible when you're actually in the town.
You can also train to Forte Dei Marmi but you'll have to take the regional train system and, depending on where you're coming from, likely have to make a few transfers.
How about you? Have you traveled to Forte Dei Marmi? Any travel tips or other advice you want to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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Photo Credit: Juan Moyano, Simon Focus, and Tommaso Tuzj