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Una scappata al mare: Escape to the sea

Nan McElroy (venexiananan)

I have the most resourceful friends. Two of them live in Florence, and are a “set,” even though they are not married (to each other or anyone else), and live in case separate. If you met them, you’d think they’d been sposati for eons; and although they’ve been a couple for some time now, it has seemed così from the second day of their relationship. When you think as much as I do of Gabriella and Roberto, you’re happy not only that they’re your friends, but that two such extraordinary people managed, somehow, to find each other.


Aside from being resourceful, these two are also curious and exuberant travelers. Sicilia, Zanzibar, Istanbul, Cuba, China, Greece, Denmark? was it? and all over Europe, anywhere, independent, group if necessary, whenever they can manage it. Even in this they are well matched: when she can escape the demands of her position as the long-time owner of a translation/interpretation business, Gabriella is willing to go anywhere, and Roberto is perfectly happy even to drive her there (while she naps, usually), at least for destinations not too far afield. They’re economical travelers as well, characteristically, as they feel it’s a way to get a truer feel for the culture — that being a primary reason for their traveling in the first place.

The benefits to me of all these positive attributes come into play even in Florence, where Gabri and Roberto live. Take last summer, when the Tuscan sun and several thousand tourists turned the historic center into a steaming caldron, and a resourceful escape became imperative — however brief. The solution for many Fiorentini is to bolt for the seashore, to one of the pristine, well-ordered, private beaches that seem the antithesis of the perceived chaos we otherwise witness in giro: there, umbrellas are endlessly aligned with adjacent tables, as are cabine for changing; and bars located at well-calculated intervals will help slate your thirst or satisfy your hunger. On weekends, the entire city, it can seem, heads out en masse, only to return all at once, clogging freeways and making re-entry a nightmare — potentially ruining whatever rest, relaxation, and rinfrescamento acquired alla spiaggia.

The aforementioned friends, however, regularly opt for a compromise, and one weekend, I was fortunate to be around per approffitare. That Saturday morning, we bolted as well, but early: verso le 7, when the city was still quiet, and not yet the sauna it would later become. For trip fortification at this early hour, we stopped at a bar for the requisite cappuccio, and getting that and more: the barista, evidently, is particularly good at personalizing a customer’s order. Carino, vero? (I wondered why he wanted to know my name.)

Caffe Di Nan

We’d packed bags with beach supplies: towels, fruit, water and drinks, lotion, reading materials, gli attrezzi for snorkeling, swim goggles for peering about sotto mare. They also packed mats for placing under their towels, to soften the stone surface, as Gabri and Roberto head not for the beach…but the coast. Forty minutes or so from Florence, we veer south off the FI-PI-LI toward Livorno, and cruise down along the coastal road till we arrive at Their Spot. And it is spectacular.

No bars. No cabine. No umbrellas. Just weather-hewn, sea-sculpted stone cliffs cascading down to the Mar Terreno and the expansive, uniquely azzura acqua of the Mediterranean Sea. Breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe the view. We collect our bags from the car and head down the steep cliffs (piano, piano). Being frequent visitors, Gabri and Roberto know the easiest way down the cliffs…meno male, as I could see where scouting a trail per scendere on your first visit would be a necessity.

Scogliere Scogliere Scogliere

It was a scappata ideale. Although the mare was still pretty mosso and therefore precluded a great deal of snorkeling, the inlet below us afforded us any number of options per fare un bagno: toes only, wading pool, or a full, invigorating swim. If you just wanted to enjoy the view and the energetic encounter of the sea against cliff, that was certainly an ongoing option. Some just headed out to a jaggy point of choice to take in sun and sea, or to monitor the tiny ferries, tankers, and cargo ships as they plowed the channel on the horizon  to and from Livorno. I don’t know how many degrees cooler it was there than back in Firenze…tanti, però…lots. It was delightful.

Scogliere Scogliere Scogliere

We explored, sunned, swam, read, and relaxed until late midday, as other escapees began to arrive in search of their spots. We finally packed up, climbed up, and headed out, well-refreshed, relaxed, and ready for a not-too-hardy midday lunch, perhaps a spaghettata with a salad. A short nap for dessert, and hopefully, things will begin to cool off and we can think about some normal activity to pursue that evening.
I’m certain that’s what Gabriella was contemplating from under her occhi chiusi as Robert drove us back: she had dozed off before we’d even reached the FI-PI-LI, and the road home.


To find your own spot along the coast south of Livorno, simply cruise along until you find a view that appeals to you. If there are other cars parked along a particular stretch, you’ll be sure to be able to find your way down.

Nan McElroy lives in Venice and is the author of Italy: Instructions for Use: the practical, pocket guide which launched the Instructions for Use Travel Series (now including France: Instructions for Use, and Greece in the works). http://europeinstructions.com. Read more on her Living Venice Blog.

© Nan McElroy, 2008

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