Torre del Lago & Viareggio
Hugging the Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy's northwest Versilian coast, or Riviera della Versilia, offers wide stretches of sandy beaches, green forests, mountains majestic, and cultured towns and cities -- with gay life as scintillating as a Puccini aria.
From the marble of Versilia's Apuan Alps, Michelangelo crafted his famous "David." In the fourth and fifth centuries (but not just) the nearby Tuscan city of Florence was known as Europe's sodomy capital. Fast-forward to now and Pisa and Empoli were the first two Italian towns to recognize same-sex civil unions. Tuscany, of course, has landscape and architecture to die for, but it's also the face of progressive Italy, with gay life to match.
There are ample bars and clubs, restaurants, and a range of different places to stay from hotels to guesthouses or camping. Wander the picturesque streets of Torre del Lago, Viareggio, or Camaiore and you'll be continually tempted by delicious food, local wine, refreshing gelato, and, of course, Italian men!
Viareggio's name derived from the latin Via Regis or "Kings' Road," the medieval road linking a beach fortification to the town of Lucca, a rival to Pisa for control of what was then mostly marshlands. Viareggio developed slowly from the 16th century as the Lucchesi drained wetlands, developed the port, and built shops, churches and factories. By 1739 the land was dry, fields were cultivated and the noblemen of Lucca began to build their palaces here. Today, with a long-promenade, small but grand hotels, smart restaurants, and designer shops, this resort does indeed appear regal. One of Europe's most esteemed festivals, the Viareggio Carnival is a huge annual event, with a parade of elaborate giant papier-mache floats, for several weekends over the months of February and March.
Torre del Lago Puccini has been built up more recently. This stylish resort just to the south of Viareggio is more casual than the older town, and has more gay flair. The main road is named for composer Giacomo Puccini, who wrote La Bohème and Madame Butterfly here. His house is now a major tourist attraction, and the annual Puccini Festival takes place in his honor, with concerts throughout July and August.
The occasional work-stoppage aside, Italy has a great train system, so you can get here from wherever you land, but the closest major airport is Pisa International Airport. Direct rail lines connect to Pisa Centrale station, from where there are trains going to Torre del Lago, Viareggio, and Camaiore -- taking under 30 minutes and costing between 2.50 to 3.40 euros for the local train (the "Intercity" is more expensive, and only a bit faster). Make sure you validate your train ticket manually after your purchase, which means getting it stamped at the station machine before you board. Trains run until around 8pm. See schedules and fares at Trenitalia.
Taxis are expensive from Pisa airport to Torre del Lago but CTT / VAI provides bus services in and around the area.
Many area beaches are private, you pay to use them and their deck chairs and umbrellas. But you can walk along the shoreline and take a dip wherever you like, even if not a bathing establishment customer. One busy stretch of beach is free-access.
Balena 2000 (viale Margherita), gay-friendly private beach, fitness club, spa, five pools, restaurant/bar, sandy beach, busy mix of families and couples, gay and straight, special gay nights.
La Lecciona Beach, end of viale Europa, along pathway, then towards the sea. A busy free beach, popular with gay men, but no beach bars or umbrellas, so bring your own. Vendors pass regularly selling water, soda, and ice-cream. The surrounding forest is cruisy day and night, but local police often patrol here.
Mama Beach (viale Europa 5), private beach at MamaMia, sun-loungers, umbrellas, showers, snack bar. Impromptu entertainment by Lorenzo, star of MamaMia, with perfect English and a sharp wit.
See a full guide to gay-friendly local beaches at Turismo Toscana.
Handy websites include Friendly Versilia with it's tag-line "night & gay, 24/7," listings, maps, photos and video clips, and the general local website About Versilia. For general Italian tourist information see Italia Discovery.
For map locations and websites of the businesses listed below, and more, see our gay Torre del Lago/ Viareggio listings pages.
Most of the gay scene is located along the beach on Viale Europa, now centered at the MamaMia complex, with nightclub and beach. The 2016 season got started in mid-May, to continue through the summer months. During cooler months the party moves inland to Lucca, Pisa and Florence.
Baddy (viale Europa 9), gay cafe breakfast, all-day snacks, karoake, drag cabaret shows, special event tie-ins in with MamaMia next door.
MamaMia (viale Europa 5), two floors, happy vibe, house and pop music, cute staff, large video screens, dancing and socializing, events and shows, drag, sensual performances, Latino dance extravaganzas, world-famous guest DJs. Winter parties in Florence.
Nana Banana (viale Europa 23), gay-friendly beachside restaurant and pizzeria, cocktail terrace bar.
Hotel Principe di Piemonte (Piazza Puccini, 1; 39-0584-4011), small prestigious luxury hotel, beachfront, pool.
Hotel Residence Esplanade (Piazza Puccini 18; 39-0584-54321) near Viareggio beach and promenade, elegant, stylish rooms and apartments facing sea or woods. Clean, bright rooms, TV, mini-bar, AC. Also self-catered apartments with kitchenettes and balconies. English-speaking staff can arrange side-trips and tours.
Hotel San Francisco (viale Carducci 68; 39-5845-2666), 31 elegant rooms, en suite baths, air-conditioning, roof garden, central location at beachfront promenade.
Hotel Spinelli (via Trento 27; 39-05843-89838), quiet Pineta di Levante park location near the marina, five minutes walk from promenade and beach, internet, air conditioning, small pets welcome.
Hotel Tirrenia (via San Martino 23; 39-0584-49641), B&B rooms, air conditioning, fridge, satellite TV, WiFi, gardens.
Luana Hotel (viale Ugo Foscolo 36; 39-0584-44238), modern guesthouse close to beach, TV, shower, phone, internet. Singles from 50 euros, breakfast included.
Palace Hotel (Flavio Gioia 2; 39 0584-46134), four-star elegance on beachfront prominade at the center, elegant rooms, all amenities, terrace, fine dining.
Accommodations Torre del Lago
Caffeletti B&B (via Pardini 34c; 39 347 196-4685) nearest to beach B&B, open all year. Modern, bright rooms, DVD and CD players, landscaped garden, owners speak good English.
Casa Simonetti (viale G. Puccini 238; 39 584 340-597), Art Nouveau villa nea rthe lake, four large rooms, en-suite baths, fresh-baked bread and pastries.
Christian & David's GuestHouse (Via Colombo 35; 39 347 547-8190), quiet accommodations at natural reservation not far from gay nightspots.
La Boheme B&B (viale Puccini 209h; 39 348 415-4748), gay-friendly guesthouse near lake and Puccini house. Classic, comfortable rooms, breakfast served outside weather permitting. Discount rates in September and October.
Le Villi B&B (viale Puccini 178; 39 0584-340355), home-cooked breakfast and dinner, air-conditioning, mini-bars, one self-contained room at the back. Landscaped garden with wooden tables.
Libano B&B (via Tabarro 23; 39 335-595-5290), guesthouse trail-blazer for local gay scene. Double rooms, private baths, or barracks-style dorms with lockers. Breakfast, small gym, bikes. International crowd, Pisa Airport transfers. High-season daily drinks, Saturday dinner, lively entertainment, local wine.
Viareggio's promenade is busy day and night and lined with designer shops, market stalls, and many cafes and restaurants.
Nana Banana (viale Europa 23, Torre del Lago), gay-friendly beachside cocktails, terrace bar, restaurant and pizzeria.
Ristorante La Bufalina (via Aurelia 1, Torre del Lago), homemade pasta, pizza, local fish, full range of wine and drinks. Garden dining amidst foliage and lavender. Open all year, lunch, dinner -busy, so reserve in high-season.