Forte dei Marmi & Carrara
Concierge.com's insider take:
With its vast white-sand beaches and dramatic Apuan Alps backdrop, the chic seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi is the pearl of Versilia—also known as the Tuscan Riviera—and a popular summer roost for the rich and famous from Florence and northern Italy, who colonize those 1950s and 1960s villas that stand just back from the sea. All stabilimenti (private sections of beach with admission fees) are equipped with perfect rows of umbrellas, chaise lounges, cafés, and restaurants—no wild dunes here. The promenade is a fine place for an evening passeggiata (walk): When the waves are up, you can even watch surfers in wet suits braving the Mediterranean surf. Just a few miles from Forte dei Marmi, Pietrasanta is a fascinating excursion for anyone interested in sculpture. Artists from all over the world have their work cast in bronze in Pietrasanta's foundries or carved in marble at the town's many studios. You'll hear artisans chiseling away at life-size copies of Michelangelo's David or Pietà for export to Japanese museums. Twelve miles to the north, take a drive through the mountains behind Carrara, where seeming snowcaps are actually marble deposits. Michelangelo's preferred lode of pure white marble was from here. Follow the signs for cave (quarries), and stop off in the village of Colonnata to sample the area's most famous foodstuff, lardo di Colonnata—made from pork fat that has been left to season in marble vats, or conche, for at least six months with sea salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, and other spices. The final product has the translucent, veined creaminess of statuario, the most precious variety of Carrara marble. You can get an overview of the history and geology of the quarries in Carrara's staid but thorough Museo del Marmo (Viale XX Settembre; 39-0585-845-746), then sign up for one of the morning Carrarabus guided tours organized by the Confturist guides association during summer (39-0585-865-563), which include visits to a quarry and a sculpture studio, a tour of Carrara's splendid centro storico, and a tasting of lardo di Colonnata.