Back to School, Italian Style
Yes, it’s that time of year. Even in Tuscany. But before my daughters, Kate (5th grade) and Eve (3rd grade) pulled their backpacks and lunch boxes out of the depths of our massive suitcase, we did what all good Italians do in late August and vacationed at the beach.
Forte dei Marmi is a beautiful, chic beach town on the Tuscan coast 30 minutes northwest of Lucca. The town draws its name (meaning “marble fort”) from the nearby Apennine mountains, which are drenched in so much marble that they look snow covered in August.
The mountain views along with the vast sandy beach have made Forte the preferred holiday destination of wealthy northern Italians since Florentine nobles first came to visit in the late 19th century. Now it’s a destination for people from all over the world, but it has somehow held onto its old world charm. The miles-long beach is spotted with private beach clubs, complete with 1950s style bathing cabins and matching umbrellas. And even if the weather does not cooperate, a day spent strolling the marble sidewalks among the high-end stores and dodging well-dressed bicyclists is a day very well spent.
Tuscan Travel Group’s favorite beach house (Casa del Mare) was occupied by its lovely owner family while we were in town, which required my family to research and experience the hotel scene. We chose Hotel Hermitage, about a 15 minute walk from the center of town and a little longer to the beach. I t was a beautiful property with a friendly and helpful staff and a very swanky associated beach club (for a significant extra daily price- wow!) In spite of the beach price tag, which is common among the local hotels, we would definitely choose the Hermitage again.
We walked everywhere. The town is flat and very agreeable to walking or biking. Even the kids in their new Italian leather sandals happily strolled the streets. Though I’ve never attempted it, I imagine it would be difficult to visit Forte dei Marmi and avoid buying new clothes or shoes, or most likely both! The shops are everywhere and very inviting.
Equally inviting are the many seafood options at the local restaurants. The majority of inland Tuscan fare consists of meats like beef, pork, even rabbit, wild boar and other game. Remember, Italians do a better job than we at eating locally. But by the beach there is delicious seafood to be found, including my spaghetti with clams.
After two packed days, including a brief visit to Lucca, it was time to head back to reality and get ready for the first day of school. “Reality” is a term I use loosely here. It’s a dusty old house in an olive grove along a rocky unpaved road, with views that take your breath away. It’s finding the perfect moment each morning to open the screenless windows to fresh air after the mosquitos have gone to bed and before the wasps have awoken. It’s a quick 15 minute drive to Florence’s open air Sant’Ambrogio market for the ingredients for dinner tonight. It’s the quest to find a gas station where I can actually use my credit card. It’s mastering the roundabout. It’s figuring out the bus system (sort of). It’s meeting new families at the kids’ school and joining them for a movie in a grand old movie house in the center of Florence. It’s researching the best gluten free pizza in town, and finding that it’s in the piazza right next to the Duomo.
It’s kissing these two goodbye as they bravely walk into the gates of their new school. It’s so very different from our usual reality, but also not so different. It’s back to school time.