Don’t even consider going to Rome, Milan, or Florence during the last two weeks of August if you’re planning to dine at one of your favorite restaurants, or shop at a special boutique. There’s a very good chance all of them will be closed. All factories and most businesses in the country close down from mid-August until September 1. The large cities are deserted as families head to the beach for the last of the summer dolce vita before school begins. Below are four secret but beguiling beach spots that have yet to be discovered by international tourists.
Hotel Aurora's beach is a little slice of paradiso
The Amalfi Coast is 100 miles geographically but another world away from this captivating gem of a town popular with both Roman and Napolitano families. A few years ago when I was in Sperlonga, its medieval old town was being used as a movie set for a television soap opera supposedly taking place on the island of Capri. I had never thought of the two resorts as having anything in common, however, if you remove the hoards of tourists from Capri, you would amazingly find a town very similar to cliffside Sperlonga.
Should you make the trek to Sperlonga, there’s no better place to stay than the family owned 4 star Hotel Aurora. Located right on the wide, sandy beach, it’s a terrific place to plant yourself for some serious R&R Italian style. This is buffalo mozzarella country. Don't miss an insalata Caprese at Gli Archi in the medieval town.
Tuscan Castiglioncello would even make Michealangelo weep tears of joy
Heading up the coast to Tuscany, the next village is a closely kept secret of families from Florence and Pisa. Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower met at this elegant beach town shortly after World War II. In the 1960’s popular film star Marcello Mastroianni summered here.
Although the celebrities are long gone, it’s easy to see what drew them to this sweet spot. Beautifully maintained homes, draped in bougainvillea, cascade down the mountain to the main square. Every nook and cranny of the small streets is covered with a profusion of vibrant flowers. Smart boutiques on a small shopping street offer the latest designs from Milano. But, everything is done in a very quiet, restrained manner. This is a world apart from jet-setting Positano down the coast, and jet-setting Portofino up the coast.
Dining? Look no further than La Lucciola which offers drop-dead panoramic views of the sea and sunsets, as well as the town’s best food. Sleeping? If you’re not renting a villa (Wine-Knows has rented a 7 bedroom sea-view villa here next summer), the Grand Parisi is your best bet. A stately old palace, this four-star hotel offers rooms withy commanding views of the Mediterranean.
Across the Bay is the Cinque Terre...but you may not want to leave Lerici
Just over the Tuscan border a little further north is a gem of an Italian beach resort, Lerici. I came across this special spot on the sea by accident nearly 40 years ago, and was so impressed that I’ve returned too-many-times-to-count for a holiday---in fact, I’ve even brought a Wine-Knows group here and they loved it.
It’s easy to pretend you’re an Italian here as Italian families are the only ones in town, menus are in Italian, and la dolce vita oozes from every fiber of the city. Across the bay in the Cinque Terre the reverse is true. You rarely hear Italian spoken in any of these “super-touristy five villages.” To me, Lerici has the best of both worlds: the town offers stupendous views of the sea, with the lights of the Cinque Terre twinkling in the distance, along with a definite Italian flair.
There’s no better place to capture the view than at the Hotel Doria Park. Sat high on a hill out on a promontory, the simple yet pleasant Doria Park offers 3-star rooms with beautiful terraces to soak up the never-ending sea views over the town’s majestic castle. And, Chef Davido in the hotel’s restaurant is sure to serve up a great seafood dish plucked that day from the town’s fishing fleet.
La Dolce vita in Camogli
Last, and certainly not least, is one of the most charming villages on Italy’s stretch of the Mediterranean. Located just south of Genoa on the Italian Riviera (and only a couple of hours from Milano), Camogli was used as the cover shot for Italy the Beautiful Cookbook. Need I say more?
Camogli is a slow-paced fishing village built around a tiny horse-shoe shaped bay. The beach is flanked by brightly colored multi-story palaces (now divided into vacation flats and apartments). Painted a mesmerizing rainbow of muted pink, ochre yellow, or deep terra-cotta, these pleasant eye catching colors are framed with deep green shutters and trompe l’oeil facades. Magic.
The best place in town for lodging is the elegant Cenobio Dei Dogi. Once the swanky home of the former Governor of the Italian Republic, this spot is all about understated elegance. The hotel’s swimming pool is one of the most beautiful on the coast. Don’t even consider getting a room without a seaview. It’s all about the view. Food-wise, the beach is lined with restaurants. Check out the fish displays to see what looks good. This is the land of pesto, so pasta al pesto is also an option.
Enjoy your time away from the maddening crowds in some of my favorite spots in all of Europe.