A Day at the Beach Italian Style! · Passion For Italy Travel

Ciao, this is Allison Spiegel at Passion for Italy Travel in New York. Having grown up visiting beaches along the East Coast of the United States, beach culture was not a term we heard often. Summer days at the beach were and continue to be quite simple. You load up the little red wagon with beach toys, towels and enough sandwiches, chips and drinks for the whole family; you scout out your favorite position on the sand and you make a day of it!

Hop a flight to Italy and the term beach culture is more than just a day at the beach; it is a way of life, which has been engrained in Italians for thousands of years. Life at the beach is lively, glamourous and often quite decadent as Italians do what they do best – living and loving life with friends and family, good food and drink. In August, typically the hottest month of the year, most Italians head to the beach for several weeks if not the entire month, and the big cities are full of foreign tourists for the most part. In fact, depending on where you travel in Italy in August, you may find some of the smaller shops and restaurants closed. Although there is no need to worry if you are travelling to the big cities as all the mains sites and museums will be open as usual.

The 15th day of August is a national holiday to celebrate Ferragosto or Assumption Day. In 18 BC, Emperor Augustus declared August 1st a day of festival to thank his workers and give them time off to recharge by the sea. Often the festivals were marked by celebratory games such as horse races, like the famous Palio in Siena. Later, the date was moved to the 15th of August to coincide with the Catholic Feast and the Assumption of Mary.

Italy is blessed by geography, among other things, with not one but two coastlines that run the length of the country. With more than 4,000 miles of shoreline, Italy is bordered by four seas:  the Adriatic on the East, the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Seas on the West and the Ionian to the South. So, no matter where you travel throughout Italy, you are never too far from a beach.

I am always amazed at the varying geography in Italy from region to region and the beaches are no different. In some parts of Italy, beaches have mountains as a backdrop such as in the Lazio region near Rome or parts of the Tuscan Coast such as Forte Dei Marmi, where the Appuan Alps are visible from the long stretches of sand. Some regions enjoy miles and miles of sandy beach such as in Abruzzo and Tuscany and of course the beaches of Sicily and Sardegna.  And in some regions, a beach is simply a bathing platform tucked into a rock formation that meets the sea such as along the Amalfi Coast and Capri, where space is a hot commodity and beaches can be hard to reach.  Passion for Italy Travel can help clients choose the best beach locations for their needs and point out considerations such as accessibility if they have mobility issues or are traveling with children as we discussed in Passion For Italy Travel Podcast #12: How to Plan a Memorable and Manageable Trip to Italy With Kids. No matter what region you are in, you can be sure that the seas will be clean and clear, and that the colors of the warm turquoise water will stay with you long after you return home. 

The word for beach in Italian is Spiaggia, and after my first visit to an Italian beach, I knew that no summer trip to Italy would be complete without a string of sun kissed days near the sea. Italian beach clubs are known as Bagni from the Italian word meaning to bathe and they are known for their perfectly positioned rows of brightly colored umbrellas. And while there are tons of free public beaches throughout Italy, the bagni offer a range of services such as bathrooms, changing rooms and showers, parking, bars and full-service restaurants.

Each beach has its own vibe and the atmosphere shifts throughout the day with the changing light. I always enjoy rising early in Positano to watch the beach attendants set up the umbrellas, row by row as the sunrise starts to peak above the hills of Praiano, the next village to the south.  And there is always a group of Nonne or grandmothers, as Italians lovingly refer to them, who come down to the beach early to exercise in the water.  By mid-day, beach life is in full swing with music and lively chatter all around, children building castles or collecting sea glass near the water’s edge. And as the pink mist of golden sunset lingers though the air, many Italian beaches become sophisticated dining scenes and some even turn into night clubs with live music that plays well into the morning hours.

Reservations are recommended during the summer months and for a fee you can reserve beach loungers and umbrellas.  As one might expect fees can be pricey, but most tourists agree it is money well spent. A word of advice for foreign tourists dreaming of a front row position at the Italian beach club of their choice: have your hotel call ahead for you. Also, some of the beach clubs have limited space in their restaurants or they have several lunch seatings, so reserve a time to eat as well.

And if you are wondering why you need a reservation for lunch at the beach, this is a perfect example of why Italian beach culture is such a special experience. Of course, there are tons of beach shacks and stands where a casual take-away lunch can be enjoyed but many of the beach clubs have their own restaurants. These restaurants range from rustic establishments with chairs on the rocks and menus scrawled on chalk boards to downright luxurious spaces with gorgeous décor, table linens, and Michelin worthy cuisine.  No matter the style, lunch is treated by Italians as an event, and in turn it is meant to be savored and can last several hours.

Often menus change daily, and the fresh catch of the morning is always front and center. One thing is for sure, no matter what you order, food is fresh and simple. Two of my favorite seaside dishes are grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves and fried zucchini flowers.  And a pitcher of local house wine with peaches is a must!

At Passion for Italy Travel we often talk about the Italian people and how daily interactions enhance our travel experiences in so many meaningful ways.  And Italian beach culture is once again no different.  Often you will encounter the same people year after year who own or work for family businesses and are grateful to share their corner of the world with you. Plus, you are bound to meet people from all over the globe on an Italian beach, which can always add to the experience.

Passion for Italy Travel Designers are big fans of Italian beach life so we thought it would be fun for some of us to tell you about our favorite beaches in Italy and why we love them so.

I will start off with one of my favorite beach stories when my husband and I visited a beach club in Positano years ago. At lunch, our reservation card said Spigo instead of Spiegel.  We joked about how much we loved the Italian version of our name, one that represented who we were on holiday, without responsibilities or kids, carefree and spending leisurely days with little planned beyond where we would eat.  And we love how every year they welcome us back and say Ciao Spigo! Our friends and family also refer to us as Spigo and it is one of the ways we carry Italy in our hearts. 

I also love the beaches in Puglia in the natural and protected Torre Guaceto reserve known for its marine life.  Some of the beaches and coves are wild and lack services which make it a great choice for those looking for a quiet visit, at one with the natural beauty this area is known for. Although, do note that visitors should be prepared to walk from the parking lots to the seashore. Nearby to the preserve, we visited a beach club that felt like an open-air spa, albeit a very laid back and relaxing one!  Thatched grass umbrellas on a grassy platform above the sand caught cool summer breezes and we had an incredible vantage point to watch the kite surfers dance in the skies above the Adriatic.  Lunch was in an open-air pavilion with floating white curtains, relaxing music and a view of the chefs at work.  We started with a bottle of wine made from a local grape called the Negroamaro along with Taralli, which are round crackers from the region made with different flavors such as Pesto, pepper or fennel.  We feasted on some of my favorite foods on the Salento coast such as friselle, a hard bread soaked in water and stuffed with tomatoes and anchovies, grilled octopus, orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe, and of course, olives.  It was a perfect day. 

Next up, take a listen to Passion For Italy Travel Director Gemma Green Close as she shares with you the secret of a her favorite beach in the Campania region.

Being Australian I really don’t search out beaches in Italy as Australia has some of the best beaches in the world and when working in Italy, I live in a beachside village, so I am very spoilt and have a magnificent view, out over the gulf of Pozzuoli from my kitchen and terrace to the Isle of Capri.

However, the one thing I love about swimming in the bay of Naples and the gulf of Pozzuoli is that there are no sharks, as most of them have been eaten in the course of 3,000 years of civilisation. I was scared for life by the film Jaws and the frequency of great white fatalities in Australia, so for me to be able to swim without fear of sharks is absolute bliss.

A couple of years ago I was taken out on a beautiful aged, wooden boat – the kind that skims the canals of Venice and my friend, the captain of the boat, took me to this magical place hidden away, that I had not been before, in the village of Bacoli in Campania on the gulf of Pozzuoli, called Spiaggia Garibaldi. I really did not want anyone to know about this beach as I selfishly don’t want it inundated by tourists but however, after much thought.., I have decided to share it with you – our followers of Passion for Italy Travel.

It is only s very tiny beach and through the weekdays from June to October, with the exception of August, the Italian holiday month and the weekends, there is hardly anyone there. Crystal clear water where you can see little fish, the tide is encircled by a white stoned wall, so it is protected from the greater gulf. While lying on the divano, under the umbrella, you can dreamily stare at the twin peaks of the magnificent Vesuvio directly across the bay.

There is a tiny bar from which you can order snacks with a G&T or an aperol spritz, which the waiter brings over to the little table next to your divano, while you nip into the warm water to cool off.  To the right of the divano is a restaurant, built out over the water which will cook your lunch for you – an inexpensive seafood pasta with a matching white wine or the chef’s pasta of the day. Afterwards a siesta on the divano is called for. The waiter knows not to disturb you when you have your eyes closed and your book falls off onto the sand. This is what I call ecstasy….!

This is Lindsay from the Tampa, Florida office.  Beaches are a huge passion of mine, and I love many of them in Italy, but when asked which is my favorite, it is an easy answer. Cala Mariolu` in Sardinia’s Golfo di Orosei. It is my favorite place on earth.  The official name of the beach in Sardinian is Ispuligi de Nie.  Nie is Sardinian for snow, so that name refers to the beautiful mix of sand and quartz pebbles that shine as white as snow on the beach. 

But, not surprisingly in a land of many legends, there is a story that gives it the more commonly known name today.  Years ago, it was common for fishermen from the island of Ponza to come to this area to fish.  The stretch of coastline was also a natural habitat of a now endangered animal called the monk seal, foca monaca in Italian.

So, the story goes, a fisherman had set his catch inside one of the many little sea caves along the Golfo di Orosei. When he returned, he found the fish was gone and proclaimed, “there’s a thief here!” His thief was a monk seal.  In his dialect the word for thief is Mariolo.  Locals replaced the o with a u and giving us the more Sardinian sounding name, Cala Mariolu. 

Unfortunately, the seals have long since been driven away by over-fishing and other problems, but conservation efforts hope to create a welcoming habit that will encourage them to return.

To reach Cala Mariolu there are two options. The first is to hike, but what I recommend is to take a boat tour. Several companies offer excellent boat tours of the Golfo di Orosei. You can leave from Cala Gonnone if you are staying in the northern area, or from Arbatax to the south. 

I’m very partial to Captain Sergio who leaves out of Arbatax, because he and his chef on board really go the extra mile to make you feel like family and treat you to delicious local dishes aboard the boat. 

There is no better way to soak up culture than the immerse yourself in it. On board the boat, they serve Sardinian specialties like a pasta called malloredus. You sip water from Sardinia that won a competition for the best tasting bottled water on the planet. There is plenty of local vermentino wine, and after the meal a special treat. Sergio and Salvatore grin as they pour each guest a taste of the very special Sardinian liqueur, called Mirto!  With these two friendly locals and the fabulous meal, it is easy to see how so many people in this area live to be centenarians.

The boat tours drop off guests right on the beach.  Cala Mariolu has plenty of beach for lounging, water your eyes cannot quite believe is real, and the cave from the story welcomes you to swim inside.  My favorite thrill on earth is to climb up on top of a big rock platform jutting out of the sea.  The turquoise water glimmering below will take your breath away. Once you take the leap, the cave is a short swim away. You can swim right inside it and might be lucky enough to have its tiny little beach all to yourself.  Water gently laps the shore inside, and its darkness, the water takes on even more brightness. 

In recent years, Cala Mariolu has added yet another thrill.  Set up on the beach is a small team of diving instructors offering interesting dives for the scuba certified, or what they call “a baptism” to introduce newcomers to the world of scuba. My husband and I did this last time we were there, and it was an unforgettable experience.  Our guide was such fun.  He gave us some instruction and then helped us as we crawled along the pebbles and made our way down into the depths.  Rays of light pierced through the water. He handed us tiny pieces of food to feed the friendly little fish by hand.

The guides chatted with us afterwards as they gave us our photos of the experience.  We just loved these people, so happy, friendly, and fun. I went for another swim and when I came back, I saw my husband, Matt, sitting on the beach with the guides and drinking an Ichnusa they had given him. Ichnusa is an ancient word for the island of Sardinia, and today it is a much loved and celebrated Sardinian beer. 

When we came back to the beach the next day, we bought a few Ichnusa from the little beach bar to share with them. They greeted us like we had known them for years. We chatted in Italian beyond the “where are you from and what do you do?” conversations. We talked about their beaches in Sardinia and ours in Florida, how we want to live there, how they want to come here, and how great is Ichnusa! “You have to see this video of the shark our friends caught in Lazio!” 

We could not help thinking, “How cool is this? Isn’t this what we travel for?”  For a few minutes we were not treated as tourists. We were treated as friends, real friends, bonded over a love of the ocean and a local beer. 

To me, no expensive beach club or 5-star restaurant could ever compare to that moment when we felt like we belonged.  My advice to fellow travelers and beach lovers is to take the time to enjoy these beaches like the locals. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to the people who live and work there. Ask them about their lives and find out what you have in common.  I can’t tell you the times a simple but polite question, especially if asked in Italian, has led to sharing a drink or a snack together and creating priceless memories.

How do you best enjoy the beach culture of the Golfo di Orosei? Let us book you on a fabulous boat tour, and then dive right in.  Dive into water, and its colors you have never even imagined. Dive into the local dishes. Dive into the local mirto. And dive into conversation with the people who live there, and who cannot wait to welcome you! When you visit Sardinia, you may arrive a somewhat befuddled stranger, not knowing exactly what to expect.  Put your heart into the hands of the people, and you will toast “A chent’annos!”, “To a hundred years” with new-found friends. 

Hello, this is Sabrina from Passion for Italy Travel. I am Italian, and I live and work in the Veneto Region, near Venice. For us, Ferragosto is a party to celebrate summer and as all Italians go on holiday during Ferragosto, it represents a farewell to summer as well. I have visited most of the coastal areas of Italy, and I feel connected to several beaches, some for the beauty and some for the lovely memories. In particular, I love the clear waters of Sardinia beaches, the rocky beaches of Salento, in Apulia, and the wild beaches of Calabria and Sicily.

But today I want to tell you about a hidden jewel: The beach of Sirolo, in the Marche region. It is not sandy, the soil is made of very small, white rocks and on two sides there are several giant white rocks and caves. I love the contrast between the brilliant white of the rocks, the green of the Mediterranean vegetation of the mountains and the beautiful crystal, clear colour of the sea. On the beach, there are some small fishing boats, with blue and white stripes, that makes the colour contrast even more beautiful. It is an idyllic part of Italy, a special hidden corner that I love.

As you can probably tell, Passion For Italy Travel has certainly missed our time along the coast of Italy this summer but we have enjoyed sharing some of our favorite Italian seaside memories with all of you.  And as soon as it is safe to travel, you will find me saying Andiamo a mare, let’s go to the sea, where my boat will be met with warm smiles and Ciao Spigo which is like music to my ears. And to all our Italian friends and suppliers, we wish you Buon Ferragosto!