In Tuscany: Beach Haute Spots

Lovers of American beach haute spots enjoy discovering the Italian beach towns of Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio, along the Versilia coast of Tuscany. Locals say the private beach clubs, called stabilimenti, with their careful spacing of chairs and umbrellas, were practicing social distancing long before the 21st century.

The perfectly manicured rows of stabilimenti are typical in Italy, where open public beaches are rare. While initially unappealing to some Americans, the ease of having your own reserved space with ombrellone, lounge chairs and amenities (drinks, towels, changing rooms and more) quickly makes converts of visitors. In Forte, some of the best seafood restaurants in town are located at upscale beach clubs, where diners overlook wide stretches of sand and water.

The Versilia Coast is easily reachable from the Pisa airport, from Florence, Lucca or the Cinque Terre. The two main beach towns are Forte dei Marmi, an old industrial port reinvented as chic long ago, and Viareggio, where many zillionaires have their yachts built or berthed. Hint: It’s also possible to rent a yacht here for your own Med cruise.

The Byron Hotel
The Byron Hotel in Forte dei Marmi currently offers 29 rooms but will introduce 17 more in 2023. (The Byron Hotel)

At the five-star Byron Hotel in Forte dei Marmi, long relationships with some of the best beachfront concessions allows guests to enjoy stabilimenti where Milanese and Florentine families have reserved their beachfront spaces for generations.

Built about a century ago across from the seafront, the Byron has the gracious feel of the original ducal villa it was. The décor reflects Art Deco and mid-century design — nothing Old World here except the high level of hospitality. The property is shaded, discreet and close enough to the center of town to enjoy the designer shops and markets on foot. The Byron currently offers 29 rooms and will introduce 17 more, along with a new ristorante and underground parking, in 2023. It is marketed by Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

There are both sea-view rooms and garden-facing rooms, which overlook the swimming pool and the Apuan Alps. All bathrooms and many of the public spaces incorporate the local marble from the mountains in the distance. Room 108 is one of three deluxe rooms overlooking the sea, with a good-sized terrace for an aperitivo or morning coffee. Suite 100 is a light and airy Prestige Suite with a terrace reached from both the large living room and the bedroom.

The Byron Hotel
The Byron Hotel’s poolside restaurant, La Magnolia, is known for Chef Marco Bernardo’s creative seafood offerings.  (The Byron Hotel)

For a family or group traveling together, the Suite 6 is a duplex with a downstairs living room with sofa bed and an upstairs bedroom and bath. There is the possibility of adding an adjoining room, which adds an additional bathroom and bedroom to the lower level. The suite overlooks the garden and pool. Deluxe Suite 111 is a one-bedroom duplex with a garden/mountain view and a huge shower. Deluxe Suite 100 overlooks the sea from a large terrace and sleeps four, with separate living and bedroom. Maja Nikolic ([email protected]) is the sales and marketing manager and can help with special room decisions. The Byron closes for the winter on November 1 and reopens for Easter.

All the rooms at the Byron have walk-in showers, except for the two-person Penthouse Suite, which has separate shower and bathtub in the one large bathroom. This sea-view suite has an expansive terrace with its own private soaking pool. There is a spacious living room, dining alcove and one king bedroom with a circular bed. Although the suite was designed for romantic getaways, additional beds can be added in the living room for extra guests.

We loved Chef Marco Bernardo’s creative seafood dishes in La Magnolia, the hotel’s Michelin-starred ristorante. The restaurant, which is open to outside guests, has a good wine list and some non-seafood items for carnivores.

Just across the street from the hotel is the Alcione beach club, where seafood for lunch is tasty under the shade of the pergola. Further down the almost endless beach, try dinner at another beach club, Gilda, which is a local favorite. There are so many choices on this coast that six meals a day would not be enough to sample the best of these establishments.

And don’t even talk about the shopping — Forte dei Marmi is a shopper’s paradise, from the amazing outdoor market to every designer boutique imaginable, with plenty of places to stop for a cappuccino and recharge.

The Prestige Suite
The Prestige Suite at Byron Hotel has a terrace, which can be reached from both the large living room and the bedroom. (The Byron Hotel)

It may not be easy to refocus after shopping, but consider jumping in a safari vehicle and going with Gabriele Giuntoni ( to the pinnacle of the marble mountains to see where everyone’s kitchen counters come from. Salvatore Madonna ([email protected]), owner of both the Byron and the Plaza e de Russie hotels, is a big supporter of these tours, which are fascinating excursions. Marble has been mined for more than 2,200 years, with no sign of running out of stone. Hint: It can be a little un-nerving to climb higher and higher in the vehicle, between massive walls of white marble and sudden glimpses of the alps, but the experience is worth it.

Forte dei Marmi is an easy six miles north of the Art Deco town of Viareggio. A possible itinerary would be to leave Forte and spend a morning or a day in Lucca before the short drive to Viareggio. We recommend a traditional lunch at Ristorante Buca di Sant’Antonio after a morning of sightseeing and shopping in Lucca (look for Zazzi, where scarves and bags are handloomed in front of customers). Next, take the quick trip to Viareggio for afternoon coffee or an aperitivo overlooking the blue, blue sea. The staff at either the Hotel Byron or Hotel Plaza e de Russie will arrange an English-speaking guide and driver.

The Hotel Plaza e de Russie is in the heart of the Liberty-style architectural district that defines Viareggio. Built in 1871, it was the first hotel in Viareggio and attracted guests making the Grand Tour of Europe; it is open all year. From outside it appears to be a city hotel, but once inside, its true nature reveals itself as a favored spot on the sea. Lots of marble (of course), accented with the bright colors that reflect the Mediterranean across the broad avenue and promenade. Viareggio is home to one of the most important Carnival seasons in Italy, making for lots of activity in the offseason. The town seems more family-oriented than Forte dei Marmi, with nearby shops and activities attractive to the younger set.

North Penthouse
The North Penthouse at Hotel Plaza e de Russie has two marble bathrooms, one with shower and the other with bathtub.  (Plaza e de Russie)

The Plaza e de Russie was completely renovated in 2017, going from 55 to 44 rooms; the high ceilings and many windows add light to the enlarged spaces.  It is rumored that Puccini wrote one of his operas here, but guests will have to ask new manager, Andrea Pieri ([email protected]), for details. The hotel is marketed by Relais & Châteaux.

Chef Luca Landi at Lunasia Ristorante was awarded a well-deserved Michelin star in 2011. Naturally, with the bounty of local ingredients and a talented chef, the food here is scrumptious, especially when sitting at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen. Non guests are welcome at Lunasia.

Staying in Room 307, a Junior Suite, is the quintessential Tuscan coastal experience. The big and airy suite has three windows and overlooks some of the most famous Art Deco buildings in town. Of course, the sea is just beyond, adding sparkle to the marine colors and contemporary design that emerged from the renovation. The bathroom is very large, with a walk-in shower and separate tub.

Penthouse South
The South Penthouse at Hotel Plaza e de Russie offers 1,700 square feet of living space with an equally large terrace. (Hotel Plaza e de Russie)

Also on the third floor, Suite 310 has a bedroom with a wide sea view. The separate salon with a sofa bed comes with a vista across to the mountains.

Just two penthouses, the North and the South, take up the entire fourth floor. Both have panoramic views ranging from the Mediterranean to the Apuan Alps. The South Penthouse is 1700 square feet and has an equally large wrap-around terrace. There is one king-sized bedroom, with a sleeper sofa in the living room. There are two marble bathrooms, one with a shower and the other with a bathtub. The cozier North Penthouse is 650 square feet inside and another 650 on the terrace. There is dining inside and out, a sleeper sofa for two in the living room, and two marble bathrooms, one with shower, one with bathtub. 

As we’ve all learned, taking a break from a frenetic itinerary makes for more pleasurable travel. What could be better than balancing visits to the great cities of Florence, Pisa and Rome with a day or two enjoying these delicious coastal havens?

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