Over the course of my Three Month Tuscan Adventure earlier in the year I came to know the charming, slightly crumbling, warm and friendly city of Viareggio very well indeed. I can’t quite recall just how many times I stepped off the train and wound my way through the maze of slightly confusing narrow streets that lead to the harbor but I enjoyed the experience on each occasion.
With a population of around 64,000 souls Viareggio provides all the bustle and hustle of a genuine, successful, thriving Italian city… just the sort of place I love to poke about and really get to know. The people seem remarkably friendly and I was given a warm welcome wherever I went. Given the fact that my visit took place over the months of April, May and June I found the city’s beautiful promenade and fabled pier almost idyllically sparse and uncrowded. The feeling in the air seemed to be one of relief that the long winter was finally gone for good, mingled with a budding excitement at the prospect of the long, warm summer poised to begin.
People were strolling, relaxing, bumping into old friends, laughing, joking and catching up on the gossip of the day. It just felt wonderful to be a part of it all. While I’m sure the city has its share of problems, as do all cities, I’m equally sure that deep down inside each one of its citizens will grudgingly admit that, given the freshness of their seafood, their thriving maritime industry, the lovely weather, proximity to the Mediterranean, the nearness of the gorgeous Apuane Mountains, the wine country, you name it; they really have it pretty good.
Viareggio may be an acquired taste by today’s international tourist standards, given the almost complete lack of foreign visitors I encountered on practically every visit, but if wandering around the lingering vestige of a city that, if slightly flaking and worn in parts, at one time held its own during the era of the Grand Tour… is your idea of a splendid time then it’s my guess you’re going to love the unsung gem that is Viareggio.
As an interesting footnote to history the poet P. B. Shelly was cremated somewhere on Viareggio’s vast wide sandy beach by his good friend Lord Byron after the former had perished aboard a schooner while returning from a visit to Byron at Livorno. The ‘Ariel’ was caught in a freak summer storm and Shelly was presumed drowned, however it took several days for his body to wash ashore prompting Byron to arrange an immediate cremation. Having drowned however his heart refused to burn and so ended up, quite literally, in the hands of Frankenstein author Mary Shelly.
And so, I present my Postcard from Viareggio. If you know the place may it stir some lovely memories, if not may it spur you to give it a visit and help boost the local economy, and if you have never, and will never set eyes on the place may give you a glimpse of a town seemingly quite at peace with itself (at least from what I could gather).
The Burlamacca Canal
Of the several canals draining nearby lake Massaciuccoli across Viareggio’s wide sandy beaches, and on into the Ligurian Sea, the Burlamacca is by far the most prominent, serving to surgically dissect the waterfront community with blade-like precision. To one side the marina, the yachts, the shipyards, the money. To the other, well, everything and everyone else.
No trip to Viareggio is complete without a stroll along the promenade and onto the magnificent pier, a wonderfully robust fortification that provides the harbor’s northern seawall.
There can be little doubting the affection the locals have for their lovely promenade. A more relaxed, contented and comfortable slice of humanity it would be difficult to conjure.
From the humblest inshore fishing skiff to the biggest, most brash private yachts… to almost everything in between, it’s all on display, with many a shipshape vessel ploughing up and down the canal in order to get to, and return from, the sea.
Ultimately the vast, wide, seemingly endless boardwalk promenade is really what Viareggio is all about. Here you can shop, window shop, eat, drink and generally be merry. Good old fashioned seaside giddiness seems to take a-hold of young and old alike as they file their way up and down the lively the seafront boulevard.
All in all I think you’d find it difficult not to have yourselves a grand old time in this wonderful little time capsule of a genuine seaside holiday town… “just like the ones we used to know “
thanks for visiting martincooney.com
~ ⌊ •