SANDCASTLES AND GELATO
When the kids tire of Italy’s museums and monuments, take them to a beach, urges Chris Madigan
GIVEN that Italy is a peninsula with more than 7500km of coastline, it is one of the most underrated destinations for a beach holiday in Europe. Perhaps people are too busy admiring its nature, culture, food and people. But don’t miss out on the spiagge . This correspondent, for one, has fond childhood memories of the long beach at Finale Ligure, in Liguria, with its dramatic backdrop of the coastal Alps.
Many of Italy’s strands are privately owned. For a reasonable payment, you can have access to a stretch of beach that is regularly cleaned, is not crowded due to number restrictions, has a shaded cafe area, changing cabins, deckchairs and parasols. We would arrive along the red-tiled esplanade, change in a traditional wooden cabina and run down to play with the Italian kids. The favourite game involved (and still does) a race, flicking plastic balls with pictures of soccer players inside (Maldini, then as now) around a track dug into the sand.
We’d dive through the waves of the Mediterranean to swim to the floating diving platform some way out and, after returning, demand an ice cream (one with a face on it) from our parents, who’d been reading Robert Ludlum and sipping Campari and soda.
Where there are private beaches in Italy, there are also public beaches. While they don’t have the facilities of the private ones, many are just as pleasant to lie on and swim from. Italy’s 216 blue flag-certified beaches — the measure of cleanliness, environmental management, safety and services — is the fourth-highest total in the world.
And they stretch from the north to the south of the country, not forgetting the islands. Sardinia: One of these, and free with it, is the Reina Bianca beach at Santa Teresa Gallura, on the northern coast of Sardinia, at the edge of the famous playground of the ultra-rich and chic, Costa Smeralda, where a hard day’s lounging on the beach is rewarded with great bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Sardinia’s beaches also benefit from views of sailing boats on the Mediterranean, while the scent of maquis herbs drifts across the sand. Hot spot: Agriturismo Ca’La Somara, inland from Costa Smeralda. www.calasomara.it. Calabria: Another part of Italy famed for its wild interior — pine forests, brush and even prickly pear cactus — is Calabria. It’s also known for its two coasts. This peninsula has beaches on the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. On the sole of the Calabrian foot is Catanzaro, where the plain of Sila gives way to the sea with a fringe of sand that has been a place to relax from as long ago as the Magna Graecia empire. Meanwhile, on the north side, beaches are located below dramatic cliffs, from Tropea to Scilla, with Capo Vaticano the most dramatic of all. Indeed, at Tropea, beaches are below the village, which is built into the cliff. It is an impressive sight. Hot spot: La Bussola restaurant, Tropea, famous for its Calabrian specialities. www.albergobussola.com. Basilicata: If you like your beaches with a bit of drama, an under-visited region of Italy is Basilicata. This buffer between Calabria and Puglia also has two coasts. Its Ionian coast stretches from Metaponto, which is well known for its archeological sites. However, more attractive is its Tyrrhenian fringe. A mere 25km long, it still squeezes in a number of black sand beaches beneath the hill on which the town of Maratea sits, itself dominated by a huge statue of Jesus on another hill. Hot spot: Il Giardino di Epicuro, a rustic local restaurant serving regional fare. Amalfi Coast: Black sand is an acquired taste (thongs are a must, as it absorbs the heat more than the yellow variety). However, there are clearly plenty of fans, because black sand covers the beaches of arguably Italy’s most desirable stretch of waterfront, the Amalfi Coast. Perhaps devotees know how clean the water is off Positano and the island of Capri. Or perhaps they simply adore the beautiful homes and cosy coves that are tucked under green hills. Hot spot: La Sirenuse Hotel, Positano, a former palazzo, where John Steinbeck stayed. www.sirenuse.it. Sperlonga: If you prefer more open beaches, with yellow sand, north of Naples (and south of Rome) is Sperlonga. It is a town best known for its collection of Roman statuary, and fun to explore, and it’s a popular spot to escape the heat of the main southern cities. Hot spot: Il Fortino www.ilfortino.com. Emilia Romagna: There are many Italian cities you don’t have to leave to get to a beach, providing holidaymakers with a city break plus sunbathing. Ravenna and Rimini, on the Adriatic coast in Emilia Romagna, are two such spots. The latter is like Nice, with its promenade fronting a wide beach. Ravenna, which is well known for its beautiful cathedral, is 22km from Marina di Ravenna; here the beaches are peaceful and set in conservation zones. For the full green effect, there is a cycle path that leads from the city centre to the beaches. Hot spot: Carducci 76, Cattolica near Rimini, is a hotel designed by Alberta Ferretti, whose brother is the owner. www.carducci76.it.
nightclub. Venice: No round-up of Italy’s best beaches would be complete without mention of one that many of us have seen on screen. Venice’s Lido di Jesolo is where Dirk Bogarde’s character Gustav von Aschenbach, who is dying of cholera, moons over the young Tadzio in Death in Venice . Fear not: this is another of Italy’s blue-flag, and you might say, blue-chip beaches. Hot spots: Ca’Pisani Hotel and Peggy Guggenheim Collection art gallery. www.capis anihotel.it; www.Guggenheim-venice.it. The Daily Telegraph, London
Seaside spectacle: The town of Positano, on Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast, is a popular getaway destination, main picture; gelato is a beach holiday staple, right