Italians do it better. And the beach is no exception to this oft-cited adage. Here’s a look at how to get your beach on, Italian style.
It’s no secret that Italians love the beach. And honestly, we can’t blame them. Approximately 4,720 miles of coastline surround that exquisite boot-shaped peninsula on which no inland spot sits more than 75 miles from the sea. In big cities and small towns alike, a mass exodus occurs every summer weekend and for the entire month of August. Most Italians are at the sea.
I grew up frequenting rough and ready Atlantic Ocean beaches which vibe at a completely different level than the Italian seaside. So, needless to say, my first Italian beach practically intimated the bikini right off of me. However, five years of Italy living have made me a pro, so I put together these five nifty tips for kicking back on an Italian beach as a local would. So pack up your beach bag, and get thee to a sea!
1. Deciding between private or public beaches
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of quintessential Italian beachscapes studded with colorful blocks of tightly packed umbrellas. These usually belong to the bagni or stabilmenti, beach clubs on the private beaches. Each beach club is designated by umbrella color. However, “private” doesn’t mean it’s completely inaccessible. You simply have to check in at the entrance to reserve a spot, which usually comprises two lettini (sun beds) and an ombrellone (umbrella).
If you’re solo, some places will let you rent an umbrella with just one sunbed. Or if you’re not feeing the shade, you can even opt for a lettino only. Some beach clubs may even charge according to which row you’re in with prima fila, or the first row, costing the highest, and the price gradually dropping for each row further away from the water. The spots are always really close together so, who knows? By the time you call it a day, you just might have made plans to have an aperitivo with your beach neighbors/new friends.
However, whatever you do, don’t help yourself to a set-up then go pay for it. Many of these spots could already be reserved! Some for weeks or months. So, a vacant spot isn’t necessarily an available one. The reservees may arrive later or they might even choose to skip the beach altogether for the day. They might have already even come and gone. It doesn’t matter….the spot is theirs and it won’t be rented out to someone else in their absence.
A top beach-club perk is access to its facilities, such as the bathrooms and showers, which is always splendid. They’re also often outfitted with an eatery (ideal for lunch!) and shop/bar where you can take nourishment and/or caffeine breaks.
It’s every man for himself on the public beaches. I only go to one if I know I’m only going to be at the beach for a few hours. A whole day warrants a beach club as, however for just a few hours, you can set up shop on a public beach. If need an umbrella and lettino, fret not. You can usually rent one from independent vendors and set up wherever you want on the beach. Beach club or not, you also might be able to rent water activity objects like paddle boards and water-slide-equipped paddle boats.
Some of the more isolated wild beaches don’t have proper beach clubs or facilities, so you should prepare yourself by packing enough food. And also, no toilets means you’ll have to relieve yourself in the water. But don’t flinch! Peeing in the ocean is okay. (Peeing in a pool, however, is not.)
2) Bring multiple bathing suits
Any time I ever went to the beach, I wore one bathing suit and it was my swimwear for the day. However, Italians change their bathing suits each and every time they get out of the water. There’s a little something called the colpo d’aria, or a hit of air, that they believe causes many illnesses. Thus, it’s imperative to change your bathing suit after getting out of the water as the cool suit on the warm skin is equivalent to entering an air-conditioned room directly after running…you can get very, very, sick. Kind of in this same vein, you might even want to bring a scarf to wear in the evening, as most Italians do. The weather tends to cool down– at times, drastically–once the sun has set, so neck protection is a crucial colpo d’aria preventative measure.
3) Take digestion seriously
Never, ever, ever swim right after eating lunch. In fact, some Italians wait up to three hours before getting back in the water after a meal. If you haven’t digested, you can cramp up and drown while you’re swimming. Instead, relax on your lounger or stand in some ankle-deep water and converse with companions. You might notice a few people taking a light and leisure “walk” in thigh-high water? That’s okay, too. So, long as you move slowly and keep your feet on the ground…you want to avoid going in so deep that you wind up swimming and put yourself at risk for a cramp.
4) Let it all hang out!
The most important thing is not to be conscious of your body! As an American, I always felt like I needed a rock hard body to wear a bikini otherwise I was getting judged. In Italy, there’s no judgment and it’s absolutely beautiful that everyone wears whatever you want. No one is looking at you funny if you’re in a bikini. In fact, you’re most likely to pique curiosity the more covered up you are. Fellas: if you have ever wanted to wear a speedo, then this is the time and place to rock one like a boss!
And speaking of not covering up, you might be wondering what’s the deal with going topless? Women are indeed allowed to go topless on Italian beaches, but honestly, you don’t see it a lot save for the occasional
5) Don’t shy away from the sun
How could we not love the sun? It’s the source of all life! It nurtures and helps all living creatures grow, flourish and bloom. But we do have to be careful because the can burn, damage and lead to skin cancer. But a little sun doesn’t hurt, so long as you lather on the sunscreen.
Italians love the sun! They are so perfectly even tan while mere mortals like myself, despite precise timing on the tummy, back, and sides, seem to always sport a bit of imperfect unevenness. So, what’s their secret?
Try not think about it. Evenly tanned Musement staffer Viola Samele spends her summer weekends in Liguria. She grows bored lying in the sun so she moves around a lot. Therefore, try to partake in activities where the sun evenly hits your body, whether it’s playing a sport, taking a boat ride or just spending all day long in the water.
It’s also worth noting that Italians take advantage of whatever sunshine they can to maximize their bronzing potential as well as to prevent the tan from fading. My colleague Federica Giulia Sacchi suggests soaking up some sun anywhere where you can, whether it’s on the balcony or in the park, so you don’t fade much those days you’re not at the beach.
As UVA and UVB rays can be lethal, we cannot stress the importance of sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Even though, as Federica says, it’s sadly a bit underrated in Italy.
Italian beach vocabulary:
- La spiaggia: beach
- La spiaggia libera: public beach
- Fare un bagno: to take as swim
- I bagni or gli stabilimenti: Beach clubs
- Il lettino: sun bed
- L’ombrellone: umbrella
- La prima fila: first row
- Il salvtaggio: lifeguard (as an instituiton, not an invidual)
- Il bagnino: a lifeguard (person)
- Il salvagente: lifesaver (the tube)