Gay 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.
Several bars, clubs, and restaurants greet LGBTQ visitors here, along with a range of places to stay, at hotels, guesthouses or camping sites. 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. The small resort 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 gayest part of town is at Marina di Torre del Lago beach, at the north end of viale Europa, separated from both towns by strips of undeveloped dunes and scrub/woodlands and the nature preseve and free beach, Spiaggia della Lecciona. Baddy, Mamamia, Boca, and Mama Beach, along with the gay-friendly restaurant Europa, have this end of town to themselves, so overflow crowds fill the street on warm summer weekends, and on special occasions such as PrideVillage in early 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.
Bagno Balena (viale Margherita 42, Viarregio), a private beach dating from 1874 and rebuilt in 2000; with fitness club, spa, five pools (including one Olympic-sized), sushi restaurant, bars, a sand beach, and a busy mix of families and couples - mostly straight but not unfriendly. Bagno Colombo Guido and Bagno Nettuno are nearby resort clubs on the same strip of Viarregio beach.
In the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli natural park, La Lecciona Beach, lies between Viareggio and Marina di Torre del Lago. Take the pathway from viale Europa, just beyond Boca TdL, and turn left towards the sea. This free beach is popular with gay men, but there are no beach cafes or umbrellas, so bring your own gear. Vendors pass regularly selling water, soda, and ice-cream. The surrounding dunes and woodlands are cruisy day and night, but local police often patrol the area.
Mama Beach (viale Europa 1-5), the gay beach, is reached by taking the trail across from Boca TdL, near MamaMia. It has lounge chairs and umbrellas, a snack bar, and impromptu entertainment by Mamamia star performers.
At the lower end of viale Europa in Marina di Torre del Lago, by the viale JF Kennedy traffic circle (la rotonda), there's a row of mainstream and family beach clubs - one dating from the the 1930s. Each has a roadside cafe or restaurant and bar, plus seaside beach loungers, umbrellas and showers. Some also have swimming pools.
North of la rotonda beach resorts include: Bagno Mauro, Bagno Stella Nord, Bagno Lido, Bagno Maestrale and Bagno Maruzzella. To the south you'll find: Bagno Marcella; Bagno Elena, with a large swimming pool; Bagno Bruri; and Bagno Fortunato with an Olympic-size pool.
VersiliaGay is the gay and gay-friendly business guide for days at the beach, restaurants, lodgings, and nightlife options; also for area events and places to visit.
Other 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.
See a full guide to the entire region of Tuscany, see Turismo Toscana.
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 Marina di Torre del Lago beach on viale Europa, now centered at the Mamamia complex, with nightclub and beach. The 2017 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, Marina di Torre del Lago), gay cafe breakfast, all-day snacks, karoake, drag cabaret shows, special event tie-ins in with Mamamia next door.
Boca TdL (viale Europa 1, Marina di Torre del Lago), last building at the north end of Marina del Torre del Lago, "Twelve Hot Saturday Nights" in summer, with performances by the stars of Mamamia; drinks, light meals, gay beach and dune trails.
Mamamia (viale Europa 5, Marina di Torre del Lago), gay nightclub on two floors, happy vibe, house and pop music, cute staff, large video screens, dancing, socializing, events and shows; drag, sensual performances, Latino dance extravaganzas, world-famous guest DJs. Winter parties in Florence.
Nana Banana (viale Europa 23, Marina di Torre del Lago), gay-friendly beachside restaurant, pizzeria, and cocktail terrace bar, at the southern end of Marina di TdL, near the intersection of viale JF Kennedy.
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.
Mamamia Club recommends two nearby Torre del Lago campsites, each with tenting areas and bungalows for rent: Camping Europa (viale dei Tigli 51), with cafe/bar; and Camping dei Tigli (viale dei Tigli 54), with a pool.
Viareggio's promenade is busy day and night and lined with designer shops, market stalls, and many cafes and restaurants - see our map for some restaurants there.
Torre del Lago also has several places to eat, closer to the gay scene on viale Europa.
Basilico Fresco Ristoro & Pizzeria (viale JF Kennedy 26), home-style pizza, seafood, antipasti, carpaccio.
La Mareggiata (viale Europa 33, Marina di Torre del Lago), good Tuscan seafood, wine and cocktails at good prices.
Le Cicogne (viale JF Kennedy 18), traditional Tuscan seafood, pasta, gnocchi; live music.
Lo Scorfano Brontolone (viale Europa 30, Marina di Torre del Lago), meat, seafood, pasta, salads, lunch/dinner; beer/wine.
Nana Banana (viale Europa 23, Marina di Torre del Lago), gay-friendly beachside cocktails, terrace bar, restaurant and pizzeria.
Ristorante Europa (viale Europa 3, Marina di Torre del Lago), Italian restaurant between Mammamia and Boca; antipasti, meat, pasta, seafood, terrace, occasional shows.
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.
Ristorante La Conchiglia (viale Europa 30), beachside family restaurant and pizzeria, pasta, beer and wine.