While most visitors to Tuscany tend to head straight for Florence, Pisa and the Chianti wine region, there is more to discover in what is arguably Italy’s most beloved region. Like the beautiful seaside town of Viareggio.
Tuscany and Versilia
Versilia is part of the province of Lucca, nestled between the mountains and the coastline of northwest Tuscany. While most Tuscany enthusiasts are familiar with Florence, Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Lucca, few will have heard of Pietrasanta, Forte dei Marmi or Viareggio. These are all in an area known as Versilia.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Versilia, with its abundant sunshine, magnificent landscapes and superb beaches, attracted celebrities from all over Europe. These days, Versilian towns such as Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi remain popular among Italian sun-seekers, while international jet-setters tend to favor the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.
Viareggio: an underrated Tuscan gem
While Viareggio’s beaches are certainly a destination in their own right, there’s more to the town than golden sands and blazing sunshine. Viareggio has a rich heritage in shipbuilding and yachting, and is home to several leading shipyards specializing in super yachts. The city also hosts a number of notable regattas and races throughout the year.
Viareggio is probably best known for its effervescent carnival celebrations, which have been going on since 1873. Each year the parade fills the streets of the small town with colorful papier-mâché floats, music and fabulous costumes, in a festival that locals maintain comes close to rivaling that of Venice.
Visit Carrara and Pietrasanta
The region surrounding Viareggio also has a lot to offer. If you visit the region in the summer, you might wonder why the peaks of the nearby Apuan Alps seem to be snow-capped. It turns out that this shade of bright white is not the color of snow but rather that of white marble. Carrara is home to 188 marble quarries, some dating back more than two centuries, and it is here that Michelangelo once sourced the famous white gold for his sculptures. Daredevils will want to book a hair-raising double-digit Marble Safari on the mountain face with Cave de Marmo, while those with a calmer disposition can click here to learn more about Carrara’s fascinating history.
Travelers looking for a less petrifying introduction to the world of marble should visit Pietrasanta. Sculptors from all over the world make pilgrimages to this small Tuscan town, home to some 22,000 residents and at least 45 art galleries. Don’t miss the 14th century duomowith its white marble facade, and, in the same piazza, the house where Michelangelo lived and worked in the early 16th century. More recently, Pietrasanta has hosted everyone from British artist Henry Moore to Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero.
Where to stay
A trip to Viareggio wouldn’t be complete without a stay at the town’s original luxury accommodation, the Hotel Plaza e de Russie. First opened in 1873 and completely renovated in 2019, this elegant boutique hotel combines a rich history with bold, contemporary interior design and all the comforts of a modern luxury hotel. Located on the seafront, the Hotel Plaza e de Russie has 44 rooms and a Michelin-starred restaurant, while its two new penthouse suites have private terraces and breathtaking views of the sea, the Cinque Terre and the Apuan Alps.
Where to eat
Hotel Plaza e de Russie is not only a superb hotel, it is also home to chef Luca Landi’s very good Michelin-starred restaurant Lunasia. A former World Cup gelato winner, Landi’s creations include the beautiful mosaic of smoked amberjack with herbs and burnt lemon, sea urchin and lemon pudding, not to mention some weird and wonderful versions of salty ice cream. The only thing that comes close to excellent food here is the friendly and attentive service.
Top-notch fine dining is also on offer in nearby Forte dei Marmi, where chef Valentino Cassanelli was awarded a Michelin star at Lux Lucis. Its raw Ligurian purple prawns, served with ravioli filled with a traditional local fish soup known as caccucco, are pleasing to both the eyes and the taste buds. Meanwhile, the “10 Years of Lux Lucis” tasting menu highlights the best dishes Cassanelli has served since the restaurant opened in 2012.
For something much more low-key, head to Viareggio Port and Trattoria Da Cicero. Here, lovers of all things Italian will want to stock up on steaming bowls of Vongole Spaghetti (spaghetti with clams) or giant platters overflowing with fresh seafood, before heading back to Plaza e de Russie to sleep.