It’s an age old question … what is the most iconic, must-see place in Italy? Amalfi in the south, or Cinque Terre in the north? Both are stunning in their own way, Amalfi being a classic destination with its terraced colorful buildings and Neapolitan bay, and Cinque Terre with it’s tiny canyon villages leading down to azure pristine waters. So hard to say really, why choose? Because I said so.
Many will do that thing with their chin and make fat lips and go “phfafffff” noise then say “Amalfi” perhaps with a “duh” after if you are over 60 or under-25-and-ironic. Amalfi is hard to beat and has burned its beauty into people’s hearts as the most beautiful place in Italy, if not the world, and for good reason. Besides being truly amazing, it has been a destination for travellers since the beginning of “vacations” when “vacations” were probably called “vacationem” or whatever “vacation” is in latin. I mean Mark Twain once went to one of the earliest tourist traps ever created there to watch a dog die in a cave and be brought back to life in a lake. True story. Regardless of why you go, it’s beautiful, I mean … just look at it.
But then there is Cinque Terre. The underdog. What makes 5 towns (as I like to call it with an overly strong Boston accent and a shoulder shrug for some reason) so amazing is how few people know, or rather, knew it. I’m gonna do that thing that older people do and tell you a time when I first heard about it. I was on a train on a Eurorail pass and asked this kid where he was going. “Cinco Terras bro. Gonna hike the five magic mountain towns”. I was sold (kid was from San Diego and didn’t realize Italian and Spanish were two different languages, but still thankful he gave me the gift of los cinco terras della mágicas montañas) Back then (1996) there was no one. Zero tourists. You had to walk into some towns on foot. There was no AirBnB, hell, no hotels, double hell, no hostels. We had to go to the little cafe and ask the old man if he knew anyone that could rent us a room for a few nights, and because we were traveling with two girls we had to pretend we were married. Not even kidding. Anyway it was the pristine raw beauty that gave 5 towns it’s particular perfect beauty, and while it has since become somewhat of what the French like to call “a shitshow” it is still leaps and bounds less pazzo then Amalfi.
So, I know, you’re dying to know what the answer is, as there must be a definitive answer because this is the internet and people only are interested in what the best Penne Alla Vodka is (the best Penne Alla Vodka is this by the way) and shit like that.
Well I’ll tell you …. neither. (Boom. You’ve been Punk’d.)
The real answer is pretty much in the middle. It’s a mix of this and that and it’s all the beauty and none of the chaos. There are no tourists really other then Italians from other parts of Italy which if you haven’t experienced is much nicer then throngs of Canadians stinking up the place (that’s obviously a joke, Canadians travel only in two’s and side by side in order to hide their numbers like Jarwa). That place is located on the Versilia Coast, the true Italian Riviera, in the heart of Tuscany. Tuscany you say? Isn’t that Florence? Florence has a beach? No Mark Twain, but Tuscany does, and it’s lovely. While their are many fine towns like Forte Dei Marmi or Pietrasanta, one has my heart … Viareggio.
Now you might be saying “this idiot who likes to say Cinque Terre in English with a strong Boston accent is an idiot” and you would be right, but I’m not wrong about Viareggio (said in Italian with a Roman accent). No, it doesn’t have that ridiculous, dripping charm of the colorful building sloping into Italian bays. But you know what else it doesn’t have? Thousands of lopsided steps, no where to park, full restaurants, and swarms of tourists with B.O. … so … yeah. Perfection.
What it does have is miles of pristine beaches, the most exquisite beach clubs, and an amazing seaside city where you eat like a king. And …. it’s cheap. And …. it knows how to party. Viareggio is the actual capital of Carnevale in Italy (Venice can suck it). While there are too many accolades to list here, the one element that is by far the deal sealer for me is a hotel, neigh, a destination … The Grand Hotel Royal Viareggio.
I’ve been coming here for years and years and years and this is what is truly magical: nothing ever changes (unlike some other places specifically mentioned in this article for this very reason your welcome). It is frozen in time when Italy was a premiere destination for the rich and famous, when movie stars lined the streets and politicians had tasteful affairs with lovers behind closed doors. It is opulent, beautiful, classy as hell, and that pool … did you see the pool? Anyway, Cinque Terre or Amalfi, frankly, you can have them both, and please don’t come to Viareggio as it’s spoken for.
The point of this post is this … try something that everyone else isn’t doing, don’t follow influencers (unless they are travelclasts like myself) as they’ve already eaten your meal. There are unlimited, that’s right, unlimited new places to discover which I guarantee are better than the vacations already taken by the majority of basic travellers. Spread the love, love is best spread wide open.