ITALY (eTN) – Forte dei Marmi is a sea town in the province of Lucca, in northern Tuscany in Italy. This sophisticated Tuscan seaside resort was the Agnelli family’s favorite holiday location and is now home to singer Andrea Bocelli, who has made it his seaside retreat. It is the birthplace of Paola Ruffo di Calabria, Queen of the Belgians. Giorgio Armani also has a villa here. The name of the town comes from the Carrara marble excavated from the Apuan Alps, which Michelangelo used for his masterpieces and literally means “fort of marbles.” Tourism is now the main activity of Forte dei Marmi citizens.
In the center of the city is “Il Fortino di forte dei marmi” – the grand fortress that was built at the end of the eighteenth century to defend the coast from outer attacks. Out at sea, about 300 meters from the coast, is the wharf where the huge blocks of Carrara marble were loaded onto ships for destinations around the world. It now serves as a tourist destination and as the jetty for a local ferry to the famous Cinque Terre.
The most elegant district is Roma Imperiale, with villas designed by architects such as Giovanni Michelucci, Gio Ponti, and Giuseppe Pagano, many of which are now owned by Russian magnates. It is also the location of Villa Agnelli, now a hotel, with its underground passage leading straight to the seashore, as well as the famous Capannina di Franceschi club, inaugurated in 1929 and still going strong. The best beach clubs are Bagno Annetta and Bagno Piero, but the most fashionable night spot in Versilia today, where the Italian and international jet set hang out, is the Twiga Beach Club (owned by Flavio Briatore), on the coast between Forte dei Marmi and Marina di Pietrasanta. The beach has an ethnic look and is equipped with all comforts and furnished with elegant sunshades and loungers. After aperitifs on the beach at sunset, it is transformed into the exclusive club.
With its long beaches with classic bathing huts to provide shade and reed mats to protect the houses from the salt, the scent of hot doughnuts in the air, and the atmosphere of belle époque intellectual chic, Versilia has a timeless appeal. It is easy to reach, green, cultured, and above all fashionable. It offers green living with cycle rides among the scented pines and along the shore. Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, and Pietrasanta, offer sun, clean air, and connoisseur locations both inland and beside the sea. There are nature trails, antiques markets, and regattas, while a circuit of four golf courses can be reached in less than an hour by car.
One of the nice things about being by the sea is following all the usual rituals: at Forte, you begin with a breakfast pastry (even better if it’s at the Caffè Principe); you go to the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Piazza Marconi, with goods ranging from designer clothes to household linen. The Gallery is more upmarket, while designer furniture and “fifties” jewelry can be found at Galleria Uno. At aperitif time, everyone heads for Almarosa, and for foccaccias they go to Valé. For shoes and bags the right address is Volponi, where each piece is unique, and for artistic jewels to Elena Camilla Bertellotti.
Inland, the landscape is dominated by the Apuan Alps, source of the finest marble in the world. Pietrasanta, a medieval town with a beautiful Duomo and the Rocca di Sala from where visitors can admire the Versilia plain stretching from Viareggio to Forte dei Marmi, is home to workshops of great artists such as Igor Mitoraj and Fernando Botero. A short walk from the interesting Museo dei Bozzetti, you can eat alongside sculptors and painters at the historic Enoteca Marcucci, a must for grilled meat and Tuscan wines. Home-cooked food, from the classic Tuscan ribollita to dried cod with herbs, is available at Gatto Nero in Piazza Carducci.
A perfect place to stay in Forte dei Marmi is the Hotel Byron, which looks and feels more like a house than a hotel. In fact, it consists of two private villas, built between 1899 and 1902 by the Canevaro Dukes of Zoagli. Now a five-star luxury hotel, they have retained the welcoming atmosphere of a private home. There are only 29 rooms and suites, all overlooking the sea or the Apuan Alps, and furnished with a careful mix of antique furniture and objets d’art. The Magnolia restaurant is a gourmet temple under the domain of chef Andrea Mattei, who has worked with Paracucchi at the Carpaccio in Paris, the Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, and the San Domenico in Imola. In the summer, guests can enjoy the marvelous garden and pool. The summer is when the town’s population of around 7,700 nearly triples as tourists arrive mainly from Florence and Milan, Italy; Germany; and Russia.