I was twenty-two years old when I took my first dip in the sea, and I'm glad to say it took place in Italy. I had traveled, more or less non-stop, all the way from New York City to Viareggio. It was the middle of August, within an hour the sun raised blisters on my fair skin and, wide as the beach was, it was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with incredibly noisy, coconut-scented, scantily-clad Italians. It looked like paradise to me. All these years later, I vividly recall the surprising warmth of the water and the closeness of the crowd. My lungs can still feel the searing air that hung in the streets at midday, when suddenly the only sound was the incessant fizz of the cicadas. I can still smell the drying bathing suits strung across the bathroom I shared with the family whose bedroom I was renting. I remember the thrill of walking out into the waves at midnight, when that impossibly crowded beach was virtually deserted.
I'm glad this was my introduction to the beach, because immediately after my week in Viareggio I took another train ride, all the way to Amantea this time, in the even hotter region of Calabria. Here I was to discover what paradise really looked like. This was another sandy beach, but there were never more than a dozen people using it. The water was opaline, with schools of silvery fish flashing just beneath the surface. A large boulder jutted straight up about a hundred yards from the shore; we would swim out to it armed with pocket knives and lemons, rest a moment, then gleefully pry up spiny sea urchins and eat the tender flesh. I collected so many of their shells that I later covered one entire wall of my Roman apartment with them. It was while hunting for sea urchins that I myself was caught: I poked my nose into a crevasse and suddenly felt something clutching my throat. Terror on the high seas! It turned out to be a baby octopus, and my Calabrian friends were furious with me for throwing the adorable delicacy back into the water.
No matter where you spend it, there is nothing as memorable as a day at the beach in Italy. It's more than swimming or snorkeling or diving or sunbathing. It's a combination of experiences that will leave an indelible mark in your memory. If you go to Italy from May to October, try to plan at least one chance to share this experience, perhaps at one of the paradises we've chosen for you this month.
|The Blue Flag Program is a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3450 beaches and marinas in 41 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean. The program is owned and run by the independent non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). Every year a blue flag is assigned to a few European beaches (both seaside and lakeside) that are deemed to have exceptionally clean water, good conservation and filtration programs, efficient clean-up mechanisms, standards that achieve the best respect for the environment and many other strictly-monitored factors. Italy scored 126 locations, 235 beaches and 63 marinas this year, with Liguria topping the list at 17 locations, followed by Tuscany and Le Marche with 16 each. We were very happy to see that almost every single one of these beaches is wheelchair-accessible. For a map of the best places to enjoy your bagno italiano, click here and then select the region(s) that interest you.|