Researching my springtime trip to Italy, I was amazed to find I’d never heard of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
How had I missed a whole sea…and in Tuscany, no less?
Happily, my geographic oversight has since been amended in person, after my stay at the luxurious Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte in the beach city of Viareggio. Here, the blue-green Tyrrhenian is the main attraction — and time seems to stand still.
Viareggio feels as though one day in the mid-1920s, it was covered with a giant bell jar, preserving it forever in another age. The main beach drag, the Passeggiata Margherita, is lined with Art Nouveau and Stile Liberty facades, and well-heeled Italians clad in crisp white sail along on roller skates and bicycles. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the sway of accordions and the crashing of salt-free waves.
At the northern end of the Passeggiata Margherita, the Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte rises like a stone-carved wedding cake. Built in the early 1920s, it underwent a full-scale restoration in 2004 and now looks like the palm-fronded set of an Italian mini-series on Masterpiece Theater.
Winding marble staircases (and elevators) lead to five airy floors, each one with rooms decorated in a different theme. My room, on the Empire floor, featured bold stripes of blue and white, vintage wardrobes, a balcony and a floor-to-ceiling view of the Tyrrhenian.
Unlike most of Italy’s rocky coastline, Viareggio’s 4 miles of beach are carpeted with soft, pale sand. The shoreline is laid end to end with stabilimenti balneari, beach clubs that serve as day resorts for (mostly) Italian vacationers; each club has their own color-coordinated layout of lounge beds and umbrellas, as cleanly arranged as fine-china place settings on the world’s longest table. Entry doesn’t come cheap (full access at the Excelsior Beach Club, where the Principe has an arrangement, can run as high as $57 US a day during peak season), but the elegant Euro-beach scene here is why you’d come to Viareggio in the first place.
If you’d rather view the proceedings from on high, head to the heated rooftop pool at the Principe. The view includes the tiled tower of a neighboring hotel, a miles-wide ribbon of seashore, and the white-faced cliffs of the Apuan Alps. The flat-bed Jacuzzis are an interesting concept, but I found the jets a little too intense for relaxation. Better to bring a book, a camera and your sunglasses and alternate between the warm pool water and a padded chair.
Oh, and have a glass of prosecco, as well. It just seems to go with the place.
Also on the rooftop, the hotel hosts the Michelin-starred Il Piccolo Principe restaurant, in an intimate, glassy dining room that manages to look both fancy and casual at the same time. I can’t personally vouch for the cuisine here, as my friend/traveling companion, Alyssa, and I opted to head 10 minutes inland to dine at Romano, where the pastel decor offers a touch of ’80s elegance, sexy local wines, gorgeous platters of whole fish basted in Tuscan olive oil, and an epic cheese menu that reads like War and Peace with a side of bread.
Breakfast at the Principe is a torrid affair of fresh-squeezed orange juice and Italian baked goods on an airy verandah (far quieter than the high-ceilinged dining room), but you need not linger in an over-stuffed state.
One block from the hotel you’ll find the walking paths of Pineta di Ponente, a wild swath of forest studded with a small amusement park and, in the center of a woodland clearing, a round pavilion where elderly locals meet to waltz in the afternoons.
It’s location between Pisa and Florence makes the Principe di Piemonte an ideal home base for exploring Tuscany. Viareggio is 30 minutes north of Pisa Airport, served by British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair and Jet2; it’s also on the main Rome-Genoa train line. Alyssa and I drove here from the nearby Ligurian Coast, parked our rental car at the hotel’s small gated lot, then used it to explore the area.
However you get to Viareggio and the Principe, please do me a favor: order a prosecco in the lobby, head upstairs, and say hello to the Tyrrhenian for me.
Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte (+44 (0) 20 7380 3658)
is a member of Great Hotels of the World’s Luxury Collection.
Rooms start at $196 US.
I was an invited guest of the Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte,
but all observations and opinions here are my own.