It’s late afternoon on Bagno Carducci beach, and all around, tanned Italian families are beginning to pack their raffia bags. Tuscany may be loved by Brits for its cypress-clad hills and glorious sunflower fields, but for Italians the main attraction is the Versilia Riviera, just a short drive from Pisa and Lucca.
And pole position is taken by Forte dei Marmi, a resort town at the tip of the coast, where Bagno Carducci is just one of the many beaches.
Attracting both wealthy Italian families and fashion royalty – billionaires Miuccia Prada and Giorgio Armani both have vacation homes nearby – Forte dei Marmi’s chic coastal heritage dates back to the early 19th century.
With calm waters, golden sandy beaches and a scenic backdrop framed by the Apuan Alps, it’s no surprise that the small town is nicknamed the Fabulous Forte. The resort’s chic reputation was cemented in the 1960s when stars of the world summered here.
These days, the city has a sophisticated yet unassuming vibe, in contrast to Europe’s other more flashy hotspots, such as Saint Tropez or Marbella.
In the Centro Storico, the old town, you can buy a stracciatella ice cream in one of the many handicraft shops and browse in the small branches of designer brands. Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Gucci all have stores there.
For shopping that won’t break the bank, the Wednesday market in Piazza Marconi is a must-do for locally made cashmere, ceramics and linen.
To fully immerse yourself in the Dolce Vita, Hotel Principe Forte dei Marmi is the right place to check in. The 28 rooms have a sleek, contemporary feel, and there’s the bonus of the private Dalmazia Beach Club. Here you can people watch from the stylish beach pavilions and enjoy authentic Tuscan dishes at the al fresco restaurant.
Rooms start from £300 per night.
Meanwhile, Hotel Byron, carved out of an Art Nouveau villa, dates back to the late 18th century and is named after the English poet who worshiped Tuscany.
Regulars keep coming back for the beachfront location and Michelin-starred restaurant.
Guests can take trips to nearby artists’ studios in the ancient city of Pietrasanta – known for its marble heritage – as well as boat trips to the villages of the Cinque Terre.
Rooms start from £383 per night.
However, for the full Italian beach experience, nothing beats the hustle and bustle of Viareggio. Be warned: If you are looking for peace and quiet, book in hand, this is not the place for you. Its miles of sandy beaches are dominated by the Milanese and Romans, who play volleyball, engage in water sports and, of course, exuberantly chat.
The early evening passeggiata – the Italian tradition of strolling with friends and family – is practically an institution here and is taken along the seafront promenade.
Stop for an Aperol Spritz at Gran Caffe Margherita, once the haunt of opera composer Giacomo Puccini, the region’s most famous son. For opera fans, a visit to Torre del Lago is worthwhile, where Puccini lived and wrote many of his operas. His mansion, carved from an ancient watchtower overlooking Lake Massaciuccoli, is now a museum, while the lakeside open-air theater hosts a summer festival celebrating his work.
Built in 1871, the Plaza e de Russie is the oldest hotel in Viareggio. Located on the seafront, it is the perfect base from which to experience the town’s lively beach clubs, as well as the carnival, which takes place over several weekends in February and March each year.
Rooms start from £238 per night.
If the northern coast has all the fizz of a Fellini film, southern Tuscany exudes the complexity of a Giovanni Fattori oil painting, where the muddy greens of the olive groves blend with the turquoise hues of the sea.
South of the port city of Livorno, the coast becomes wilder, the crowds lessen and it feels like a forgotten corner of Italy.
This is the Maremma region of Tuscany, a timeless destination where tiny coves, accessible only on foot or by boat, are fringed with pine groves and beaches dotted with driftwood.
Much of this rugged stretch of coastline is within the Bandite di Scarlino Nature Reserve and the beaches have an otherworldly feel, surrounded by oak forests and scrubland. While wild boars roam the hinterland and herons fly overhead, you can bathe in wonderfully clear water.
Here are the most pristine beaches in Italy – like Cala Violina, which gets its poetic name from the musical sound the sand makes when you walk over it.
Adding to the Maremma’s wild appeal are the butteri, or cowboys, who have farmed this land since Etruscan times and raised the distinctive-looking longhorn cattle.
Agriturismo a Gelsomino has a riding school that offers horse rides with Butteri along the coast and through the surrounding hills.
One of the jewels of the Tuscan Riviera is Castiglione della Pescaia. The small fishing village is topped by a 15th-century castle and still has its medieval walls intact. You can stroll the narrow, cobbled streets before exploring the family-friendly beaches nearby.
Known for kitesurfing and windsurfing, Spiaggia Fertilia beach is also a great place for little ones to hunt for mussels and sea urchins in its chain of rock pools.
A short drive inland brings you to the romantic L’Andana resort. The Medici villa-turned-hotel was where Grand Duke Leopold and his court set out for summers in the late 19th century. It’s set on a 1,200-acre vineyard estate and still boasts a regal Tuscan charm. In addition to a spacious spa, a highlight is the Michelin-starred La Trattoria Enrico Bartolini overlooking the vineyards. B&B prices start from around £375 per night based on two parts.
Going even further south you reach the peninsula of Monte Argentario, connected to the mainland by three strips of land, one of which intersects the Orbetello Lagoon.
These 4,000 hectares of marshland are inhabited by great crested grebes, rare migratory birds and around 4,000 pink flamingos. The two main towns on the promontory are Porto Santo Stefano, dominated by a magnificent fortress, and Porto Ercole, which has a charming old town and port.
Along the waterfront of Porto Ercole, fish restaurants and artisan shops are carved out of old fishermen’s huts. Nothing beats a bowl of local tagliolini with prawns, mussels and zucchini.
In Porto Santo Stefano, Trattoria a Casa Paolo e Rosita offers another look at local cuisine, which naturally focuses on an abundance of seafood, as well as seasonal ingredients like wild mushrooms, wild boar and chestnuts.
Connoisseurs rent villas in Monte Argentario for the summer to enjoy blissful, peaceful days. L’Agrumento Dell’Isola Villa is a two bedroom pink painted stone farmhouse surrounded by olive, orange and lemon trees. In addition to a pool, it’s blessed with access to its own secluded beach. It sleeps four people and costs from £2,108 for a week from 24 September.
You can spend your days here hiking to the highest peak of Punta Telegrafo, taking a glass-bottom boat ride to the nearby islands of Giglio and Montecristo, or biking along the Via Panoramica, a road that offers cinematic views over the archipelago.
Divers can explore the shipwrecks surrounding the tiny, crescent-shaped island of Giannutri, like the Roman ship Punta Scaletta, and see the stunning vertical walls of colorful coral and sponges, as well as a kaleidoscope of marine life in the form of barracuda, scorpionfish, dolphins and fin whales. For a legendary seaside getaway, there’s nothing like Hotel Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole – arguably Tuscany’s most glamorous hotel, originally opening in 1965.
It has a stunning location overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Guests can also reach a really hip beach club by taking an elevator that tumbles them down the cliff.
Start your evening at the hotel’s All’Aperto bar with a Pellicano martini, made with a touch of the local mandarin liqueur.
Michelin-starred chef Michelino Gioia oversees the main restaurant, Il Pellicano, where he elevates the copious amounts of local produce on offer to excellence.
A five night trip to the Tuscan Riviera, including flights, car hire, two nights at Hotel Il Pellicano and three at Hotel Byron, B&B costs from £5,400 per person.
Perhaps most notably, Hotel Il Pellicano excels at the art of sprezzatura, as the Italians call it — which means it exudes a certain nonchalance over its obvious appeal. In other words, similar to the Tuscan Riviera itself.