A day in Forte dei Marmi
Restaurants not to be missed and shopping addresses for an unforgettable holiday in Versilia's coolest town
Close your eyes and you’ll smell the same smells. The aromas of spaghetti and clams, of crunchy fried fish, of schiacciata that has a whiff of the sea, of shampoo that doesn’t hurt the eyes of the tanned, fair-haired children. That strong, sharp smell of seawater, the very scent of what’s real. These are not particularly unique smells; they’re the same wherever you go by the sea. But what makes them special are the memories that they come with, the images that flash before us like 1970s polaroids. At Forte dei Marmi, they keep coming back. And even if your recollections differ slightly from mine, you certainly have some memory of this place that lies between the sea and the soaring peaks, like a gemstone. It’s true that things have changed over the years. International brands have replaced the little old boutiques. One always used to have aperitivo at La Capannina di Franceschi, Sambo, Almarosa or Il Giardino, reliably heading after dinner to the Morin or the Bagno America. The nightlife has changed in recent years, emboldened by the bathing resorts that have adopted a second, evening life as clubs, with dinners and aperitivos pied dans l’eau.
In the day, though, the pulse beats as before. Sporty people begin the day with a walk or a run around Versilia, or a game of tennis at Tennis Italia or Roma Imperiale; maybe a yoga class by the sea. Those who prefer not to exert themselves head to the beach, and not before breakfast. You’re right in the heart of town at the tables of Caffè Soldi, just behind the Fortino: superb brioches (vegan, if you must), savoury mignons and yoghurt with fresh forest fruits, which also join cream and puff pastry in the amazing tarts. Then later we go to Il Giardino, as breakfast shades into brunch: the wholesome stuffed schiacciatas and prosciutto-filled croissants are superb. A healthy option? Sanamente, ça va sans dire…
A next-gen bar offers avocado toast, bowls of vegetable proteins, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices. Lunch is equally sumptuous, if you’re happy to go to the beach a little later – maybe you’ve had a late night. For the more nostalgic, Caffè Principe remains a local icon. Sooner or later, it’s time for a bit of shopping: all the Italian maisons and a number of international brands have their superstores here, packed with hard-to-find products, and special Forte dei Marmi capsule collections. Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Tod’s, Ermanno Scervino, Brunello Cucinelli... but also youth brands, like Off-White, Golden Goose, Faliero Sarti, and the multibrand boutiques of Fiacchini.
All this could consume your every day of the week from May to the end of September, excepting Sunday and Wednesday, which is Forte’s market day. Don’t look for cheap options and bargain products: here, everything is at a high level, and unapologetically fashionable. From 8am to 2pm, Forte dei Marmi fills up with arrivals from all over Versilia, come to buy purses, signature clothes, furs, household linen, cashmere sweaters and shawls to keep warm on those September seaside evenings and throughout the city autumns. The 28th August brings the ritual to end all rituals: the market spreads through the whole town and runs from morning to night: your first chance to make some pre-season winter buys. From 12 onwards, everyone flocks to the sea, by bicycle only.
A quick dip then lunch in a restaurant, probably not under awning or parasols: more common are big family tables, or maybe a few friends in the shade, munching on fried fish, risottos and sparkling wine. If the heat has diminished your appetite, you could go for a gelato or a slice of watermelon, followed by reading and chatting on the beach, the happy shouts of children, long strolls. We stay on the beach till late, with a Spritz as orange as the sun, taking selfies of beautiful happy faces and amber bodies, bathed in light. At 6:30 we might head to the Caffe della Versiliana, where the Italian intelligentsia gather; ideal in particular for the less sprightly. Time for dinner, either at a friend’s home or in one of the chic places on the waterfront - I fratellini, il Bistrot, Maitò… - or maybe in one of the bathing resorts that at the weekend serve candlelit dinners to the wildtrack of the sea. Or head up to Pietrasanta, discover its art, and discover the schiacciata from Da Orlando. Make a choice, relish the variety that Forte dei Marmi offers, and, whatever your age, book a table for at least one evening at La Capannina di Franceschi, to leave you with a classy, elegant taste of what this place was like more than a century ago.