The territory of Versilia, set in Tuscany's north west coast, covers an area of about 160 square kilometres extending from Lake Massaciuccoli in the south, to the fashionable beach resort of Forte dei Marmi in the north. Many traces of prehistoric man were left here, followed by the Etruscans, who left little to indicate their presence. Then came the Romans, who first built roads, most notably the Aurealia which links Rome to the north, via the coast.
The Longobards occupied the Roman hamlets and villages after them, and are responsible for the layout of the territory as we know it today. The largest town is Viareggio, and the area also includes Massarosa, Camaiore, Pietrasanta, Stazzema, Seravezza and Forte dei Marmi. The region is bordered by the Apuan Alps, the highest peaks in the area, and part of a beautiful nature park that attracts hiking and climbing enthusiasts alike. Versilia encompasses a broad spectrum of natural elements, and in this, the area is unique in the world: from coastal pines, to lakes, marshes and ocean, to soft sandy beaches, to the mountains of marble, this region can not be equalled anywhere for its wide array of geographical and geological aspects which give rise to a variety of species of flora and fauna, many of them ancient and surviving no where else but here. The pine woods were originally planted by man and date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
They consist of cluster pine, a species imported to Italy by the Romans, as much for the wide range of products the tree offers as anything else-apart from timber, the pine yeilds resin which is used in producing dyes, and the production of the seed, the pine nut, has grown into a important industry since the 1930's, making Versilia today one of the largest zones of pine nut production in Italy. However, the greatest value of the pinewood today remains above all naturalistic, and a fine example of a pinewood can be explored at the Park of Versiliana, with its entrance on the sea front at Marina di Pietrasanta. Both the coastal and the interior habitats abound in fauna, the swamp system of Massaciuccoli harboring many migratory birds along their route. Many non-migratory birds nest in the woods of the hills and mountains, and a rich variety of marine mammals live in the coastal waters.
The beaches of the Versilia have been popular with bathers since the early 1900's, and today beach clubs of all levels, from basic to sophisticated, line the coastline, offering shade, comfortable lounging, parking, restaurants, private changing huts, showers and the right to swim in the ocean to their customers. Each city also has its "free beach", where bathers can go just to swim and lie on the beach (no facilities). Life in the Versilia today is marked by traditional seasonal festivals, the grandest of all being Viareggio's Carnival, held each year in February. Other festivals celebrate different foods in season (sagras) and still others have religious connotations. In the autumn, village food fairs celebrate porcini mushrooms, the harvest of olives and the falling of chestnuts from the trees that cover the hilly regions inland; in the summer other gastronomic specialties are prominent on the dietary calendar, but it is clear that this region with its mild climate and fertile soil yeilds all kinds of food in abundance which the people still enjoy today. Culinary specialties of the area include a wide variety of seafood, particularly crustaceans and shellfish, which are prepared as simply as possible, often with just a little garlic, parlsey and white wine. Chestnuts enrich the local diet and are eaten boiled or roasted, or ground into flour from which the delicious castagnaccio or chestnut tart or cake is made. Farro (spelt or wheatberries) is a winter staple, found most often in soup, the delicious zuppa di farro; another regional soup is zuppa frantoiana, made from the olive pressings in the autumn and winter. Bread of all shapes and sizes is abundant, found in every corner store or panetteria, and salads and green vegetables, steamed or lightly sauteed in olive oil, are added to every meal. Wonderful shopping is to be found in Forte dei Marmi, where famous brands such as Gucci and Enrico Coveri often have signature stores. Lucca and Viareggio also provide exciting shopping opportunities and Pietrasanta, although smaller, has an interesting selection of small boutiques offering clothing and home accents to the discerning shopper. For those who harbour an affection for old churches, Versilia is rich in fine examples of this elegant architecture. The pieve or parish church can be found in abundance throughout the region, dating back from the 11th and 12th centuries. Their facades and side walls are often plain, the portals very simple and the inside roofed in wood instead of being vaulted. The basic principle upon which all these churches were built was proportion: the facades are usually all square, the height of the side aisles is often a third of the nave, and even the minor elements like the radius of the pillars within have a relationship to the overall. Outdoor activites which can be enjoyed throughout the Versilia include horseback riding, sailing, kayaking, birdwatching, golf, tennis, cycling, hiking and climbing, diving and beach sports to name but a few. The area is rich in festivals, village fairs, art exhibitions, antique markets, live music and theatre. Typical of the region are garden objects and decorations made from marble and terracota, fountains, statues, pots and vases, available in a wide array of designs and styles everywhere. Versilia is served by the international Airport of Pisa with connections to all the major European airports and beyond, from June 2007 also has a direct flight to the United States of America.
THE APUAN ALPS
The Apuan Alps (Alpi Apuane) are a spectacular chain of mountains stretching from Carrara in the north to Massarosa in the south, made all the more dramatic by their close proximity to the ocean. The highest peak is Mt Pisanino at 1947 metres, lying to the north of the range. Throughout the Apuan Alps are rocky crags and cliffs that drop over a thousand metres. Rain is collected in crevices and hollows and is drawn into channels that join creeks and rivers, fed also by springs rich in minerals, that contribute to the zone’s lush growth. Since the 1700’s, the Alps have been known by geologists and naturalists for their wonderful features, including natural rock cavities and caves, and the wide variety of plant and animal species. In 1985, Tuscany’s Regional Administration declared the Apuan Alps a natural park (Parco Naturale delle Alpi Apuane), protecting the park’s 540 sq. Km and comprising two provinces: Lucca and Massa/Carrara. Not only are the Alps an ideal place for mountain hiking and climbing at all levels (as well as cave-exploring), there are also many opportunities for hang-gliding, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Marble Rich in marble, the Alps have been yielding great seams of this decorative rock, known for its various shades of white from brilliant to grey, since the beginning of time. The great tradition of marble working began in ancient times, and by the end of the 14th century, the area was renowned for its beautiful works of art, religious furniture—statues, altars, fonts and pulpits-- and the artists who created such work. The marble of the Apuan Alps and the work of the artists dating back to that time can be found all over the Versilia, most particularly in many of the pieve and churches that remain. Today, marble mining is a thriving industry with centers at Carrara, Massa and Pietrasanta. An important industry in many of the towns and cities lining the mountain range is the cutting and polishing of sheets of marble for flooring, counter-tops, tiles, tables and other decorative elements such as mosaic artistry. World-renowned institutes of art specializing in marble sculpting are located in Carrara and Pietrasanta, and in the latter town, many workshops exist where local artisans continue carving and sculpting as they have for centuries.
Tourist Board of Versilia
Tourism in Tuscany falls under the responsibility of the APT, the Agenzia Per il Turismo, whose offices can be found, filled with information, in almost every town in the region.
APT Versilia is located in Viareggio , just off the central part of the passeggiata (the sea front road) behind Piazza Mazzini in an old palace, Palazzo delle Muse.
Offices of tourism throughout Tuscany can be found by following the signs marked APT or i for information. There is abundant information and excellent resources available for visitors, even in some of the much smaller towns. APT Versilia Tourist Information Office in Viareggio : phone (+39) 0584962233