And if you happen to stop by anywhere in Italy around lunchtime, you may be disappointed to find shops, and even museums, chiuso (closed) for several hours in the early afternoon. It is this ‘siesta’ concept that warmer European countries embrace, as lunch is typically the largest meal of the day. And what is a better remedy to beat the heat and cure food-coma than a sweet afternoon nap?
You may even find some restaurants closed or closing early during these hours, but less so in tourist areas. A good idea is to plan ahead and grab some Panini (sandwiches) and enjoy a few hours downtime in the park and walk the wide path along the top of the Lucca’s encircling wall. Shops generally open at 16:00-17:00 (4-5 pm) and stay open late for evenings. Italians also eat dinner late, so don’t be discouraged if you arrive at a restaurant at 19:00 (7 pm) to find it empty, the food is undoubtedly good. You literally can’t go wrong with gastronomy anywhere in Italy, it is a matter of national pride!
Leaving Pisa or Lucca, the Autostrada A12 runs north along the Tuscany coast to Carrara. This section, known as Versilia, extends along the coastline at the foot of the Alpi Apuani (Apuan Alps) and is known for fashionable Riviera resorts.
From this vantage point on the Autostrada, numerous hilltop villages and castles dot the foothills. Many folks make the mistake of wondering why there is snow on the higher mountains in the middle of summer. It’s actually exposed marmi (marble), white Carrara marble, and the abundant open-air quarries dating back to Roman times.
"The Experience of this Sweet Life."
- Dante Alighieri
As an alternative route, there is a coastal road that runs north from Viareggio past several coastal towns and hundreds of beach resorts. During the warmer seasons, this can be a slow route with a lot of traffic, pedestrians, and loads of bikini-induced distractions. The advantage is that you have various options to stop for a break and take in the vista sul mare (view of the sea).
Forte dei Marmi, is one of the most prestigious seaside towns in Italy. With über-chic shopping, it is the Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive of Italy’s west coast. You can easily find a reasonable slice of pizza or cappuccino and relax at a street-side table to people watch and observe the incredible fashion-sense strolling before your eyes. It’s conspicuous the amount of privileged beautiful ladies who ride bicycles around town. No doubt they’re just a few blocks from their summer villa, with notable neighbors, Giorgio Armani and Andrea Bocelli. If you hang around for the evening, and resist buying that Gucci leather motorcycle jacket or that 20,000 euro timepiece, you might have enough scratch to party at the popular night spots and beach clubs. One of the most famous is La Capannina, which has been serving the scene since 1929.
Continuing north, Marina di Massa and Marina di Carrara are the beach towns of their counterpart city located up the hill. These towns are the epicenter of the global Carrara marble trade.
In the next issue (part 2), we’ll get our James Bond-on and visit the quarries and marble caves where the opening scene from Quantum of Solace was filmed, drop in on some castles, and explore some WWII history on our way to the Cinque Terre.
Ciao a presto! (Goodbye for now)