The essential Italian beach experience

As we came into the Sydney summer season, I had prepared myself for beach sessions and had been long anticipating glorious days under a sweltering sun stretched out on a sarong, lazing on beautiful white-sanded Australian beaches.  So this then led me to ponder the last summer which I spent in Italy.  Specifically, it led me to ponder the Italian beach experience.

Note the purposeful use of the word “experience” – indeed ladies and gents, that is what it is, and I dare say that an Italian summer is incomplete without one.

Last time I was in Italy, my uncle took us to the beach associated with the Italian air force – yup, that’s a thing – and it was an experience which deserves recounting.

First of all, let us address the horror that is the fact that you need to pay to enter most beaches.  Yes.  PAY.  As in, hand over money to merely step upon the sand.  As an avid Australian beach-goer, this rocked me to my core.  There are some spiaggie gratis (free beaches), though these usually consist of a narrow strip of dirt wedged between two sandy islands of paradise, and as such, they are hardly inviting.

The beach which we visited was a “nice” one.  This meant that after we had paid for the umbrella and chairs and received our number, we passed through the restaurant complex built onto the sand, past the concrete basketball courts (also on the sand – coastal management groups in Australia would have a fit), and found our designated chairs.  They are all arranged in a rectangular grid and each set of chairs and umbrella is numbered – so it is a simple process of finding your number and staying put in whichever spot you happen to be allocated.

Once you are on actually on the sand, the ball game is vastly different from the usual relaxing day at Manly or Bondi.  This is principally because the beach becomes a terrible theme park for everything which is cringey and European.

Cue loud music pounding over the speakers, people shouting over the PA and the occasional vendor hollering at you (see more:  For some unknown reason, Italians are under the terrible misconception that a day at the beach should be an awkward mix of clubbing, food and gyming.  And it is all loud.

The animatori (literally, the “animators”) who work at the beach and are dressed in bright colours shout over the microphone to keep people updated of the seemingly endless schedule of free classes, sports matches and dancing.

And this – THIS:

This is Aquagym, a craze apparently not restricted to middle-aged women (as it most probably should be).  Everyone was involved – old people who can be forgiven, children having fun (likewise forgiven), glamorous teens who should have known better, men in Speedos who should have dressed better.  My aunty asked me to join her, and I politely stood on the periphery of the bouncing, gesticulating group and watched for all of about ten seconds before escaping up the beach and hiding out on my beach chair.

Lunch was a fascinating affair.  There were two restaurants built onto the sand (aforementioned).  One was cafeteria-styled, where you pay a certain amount and can take antipasti, pasta, seconds, sides and dessert.  Yes, a three-course meal.  The other option was pizza.  Both were sit-down meal options.  Simple burgers and chips on the sand?  Oh no no – not here.

Thus, after lunch, filled with food and overcome by the mildly traumatic mix of incessant noise and persistent traveller’s fatigue, I crashed out on my beach chair and awoke a couple hours later in the late afternoon with a lovely pink shade of sunburn.  A phenomenon which apparently doesn’t occur to Italians, because they just tan nicely without worrying much about sun protection.  And hence was complete my overwhelming Italian beach experience.

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