Perhaps one of the best things about Florence in August is its proximity to the beach. The Versilia coastline, running from Massa Carrara to the north and Lago Massaciuccoli to the south, is a unique combination of sandy beaches and shaded alpine woods. Nightlife is abundant as seaside discos and clubs spell summer as much as the beach itself. If a low-key stroll down a palm-lined promenade is what you're after, not to worry-each town boasts a lungomare perfect for people watching and catching a breeze. Tasty focaccine (focaccia sandwiches) filled with local goodies are the perfect dinner-you'll save a buck and fit right in with the locals, who prefer a light dinner while at the beach.
The sprawling beach at Viareggio claims the coveted title of closest beach to Florence-certainly a mixed blessing considering that it is also among the most crowded and expensive in Tuscany. Trains depart for Viareggio almost every half hour from the Santa Maria Novella train station, making reaching the shore a breeze. Once you reach the Tuscan port town-famous as much for its Winter Carnival (a wilder, more entertaining caricature of the Venetian Carnevale) as for its white, sandy beaches-you can rent an umbrella at one of the stabilimenti balneari and enjoy access to a shower, changing area, and a bathroom. Alternatively you can choose to rough it at one of the public beaches, which is typically a tiny and limited strip of shore with no facilities.
The tiny suburb of Torre dei Lago hosts the famous Puccini Festival of opera during the summer months, a refreshing taste of high culture after a long day at the beach. Torre del Lago is also the gay nightlife capital during the summer months, complete with gay beaches, clubs and bars.
FORTE DEI MARMI
Forte dei Marmi is Tuscany's playground for the rich and famous. Just a few miles north on the Versilia coast, Forte dei Marmi boasts the luxuries of a modern resort town and-during the summer months-a vibrant nightlife. Expensive drinks and restaurants notwithstanding, Forte dei Marmi is less grimy than Viareggio (though the water is no cleaner) and offers a taste of luxury uncommon on the Tuscan seacoast. A nightlife must is La Capannina-a true Forte dei Marmi establishment, this disco has been the place to see and be seen for decades.
With an even longer train ride of about three hours, you can reach the Tuscan Grosseto province in the beautiful Maremma region. The beaches of the Maremma are among the best in Italy-white and uncrowded, with colder, cleaner water than those along the Versilia coast. The Marina di Grosseto, about 12 km from the town of Grosseto, is the most popular destination. These beaches are a good distance from Florence, but in many ways they are decidedly superior to the more popular destinations nearby.
Just 20 minutes past Grosseto on the same train lie Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci (take the Donoratico stop). Excellent restaurants, wine tasting and 20 km of unspoiled coastline and wildlife running all the way to the Gulf of Baratti to the south. Be sure to book a B&B before you go since they tend to be slightly off the beaten path.
ALTERNATIVE: BATTELLO TO THE CINQUE TERRE
A train journey from Florence to one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre, a stunning national park located along the Ligurian coast, typically takes about three hours and requires a couple of train changes. Travelers more inclined toward boats, however, can depart at 9:00 from Viareggio and enjoy a day excursion up the coast with one-hour stops at Monterosso and Portovenere. Most of the day will be spent at sea, but the stunning views of the Maritime Alps and the Tuscan-Ligurian coastline are unique. Certainly anyone spending more than a few days in the Viareggio area will be glad for the change of scenery.