Having lived only in northern climes before moving to Italy, we were beach novices when we touched down in Tuscany one August. After one day in plus-30 temperatures we quickly realised that we—and especially our kids—needed to find our way to a beach. But where to go?
Searching online we found some tips, but little overall advice: which towns to stay in? Island or mainland? Where were the sandy and rocky beaches? What is the story with all those strips of beach umbrellas?
This was the beginning of our realisation that there are plenty of great beaches in Tuscany, but because families from Florence and other Tuscan cities typically go to the same resort year after year, using a family summer house or renewing a season pass, they do not feel the need to share their intel with others.
After hearing that Elba is popular with Italians and less touristy we hopped over on the ferry, hoping that the greater concentration of sandcastle-building local kids might kick-start our daughters’ language immersion before school started. What we got was a lesson on how to find the good beaches: ask the locals. One waitress might tell you three must-see spots, while the barman will have another list. We also learned to explore the wide variety among the 40-plus beaches on Elba, which are actually a microcosm of what to expect all along the Tuscan coast, from umbrella-dotted white sands to hidden rocky diving spots.
As it turned out, our kids—a little older and good swimmers—were more interested in deeper, swimmable water than in a plain sandy beach. Our first beach visit with Elba friends was to a “secret” beach: code for “be prepared for a steep hike down a vague path carrying all necessary toys, beach shoes and sunshade, plus snacks and at least five litres of water, and then hike back up at the end of a sunburnt day”. We loved it. While one friend relaxed on the rocks and finished her Hemingway book, we enjoyed the deep, blue water, chasing multi-coloured fish with our cheap new snorkelling masks and then made way for a group of real men and boys of the sea, decked out in far more serious diving gear, harpoons in hand! While we had been watching out nervously for black sea urchins and jellyfish, these guys were headed out to where the waves were stronger, to catch swordfish and other delicacies to sell to local restaurants.
Since then we have tried out some of the popular beaches along the Tuscan coast—Feniglia, Marina di Bibbona, Punta Ala—but it is the more adventurous ones that call us like the proverbial sirens. To experience something a bit different, you should keep an eye out for cars and scooters parked randomly along the road and look for a steep trail down to some spectacular hidden beach with a colour of blue your smartphone will be hard-pressed to capture.
My tips on family beaches
The beaches along the Adriatic Coast are often touted as family friendly as they are sandier and the water shallower. Tuscany’s are more varied and typically the water becomes deeper a little sooner. The further south you go in Tuscany, the more Italians and fewer tourists you will find on the beach, and as the summer progresses the busier it becomes, peaking with Ferragosto on August 15.
Sun and shade
Many Tuscan beaches offer a layer of pine trees that offer nice shade. But you will probably want to bring your own umbrella and mats to deal with the heat of the sand, if you’re not renting at a bagno.
Full comfort or DIY
Bagni can be rented by the day, week or season and allow you full access.
Most big sandy beaches are filled up with neat lines of concessions (bagni or stabilimenti), which offer sunbeds and shades, offering access to changing facilities, play areas, cafes and bars. Most Italian families gravitate to the same bagni year after year, making beach life easy and familiar. For newcomers it can take a while to understand this system, unless you stay at a beachfront hotel that has its own private strip of umbrellas.
Technically the strip of sand at the water’s edge is public property, but you might feel more comfortable sticking to the public beach area (spiaggia libera), which should be easy to find, though it may not be as large and clean as the private beach areas. After a few days of being dragged to the same spot by your kids, you might find yourself gazing longingly at the warm showers, groomed sand and unflappable umbrellas across the divide.
Attitudes to beach attire are relaxed and I enjoy hanging out with my daughters, watching every body type saunter and wobble past. (That said, I’m still slowly working on my obviously Celtic skin colour.)
Family-friendly beaches in Tuscany
Ph. Emma Prunty
With hundreds of beaches, an exhaustive list is nigh-impossible. Here are six very different ones, based on my own and other families’ experiences.
The VIP experience – Forte dei Marmi, designer boutiques and a sandy beach, more private than public access.
Quiet waters and shade – Golfo di Baratti, easy by train, calmer waters, more locals. Less busy than San Lorenzo or Follonica.
Castles, boats and family fun – Castiglione della Pescaia. Nice historic fortress, great seafront, big clean beach.
On the wilder side – Marina di Alberese in the Maremma regional park is only accessible by bike or bus and a real adventure for bigger kids who can build a beach hut.
Silver coast – The beautiful Argentario peninsula offers Feniglia and more adventurous beaches west of historic harbour town Porto Ercole.
Napoleon’s domain – Elba is small but very popular with Italians and has over 40 beaches, from climb-down secluded spots to full-service areas like Marina di Campo.
The ideal family beach should have a Blue Flag, clean water and sand, gentle currents, natural shade, lifeguards, easy parking, bar/cafe, toilets, and a choice of both bagni and clean public beach area.