Italian Language Blog

Andiamo al Mare! Posted by on Aug 13, 2010 in Italian Language

Eccoci in pieno agosto! (Here we are in full August!) and Italy is officially closed for the summer. L’esodo (the exodus) has left the cities abandoned to tourists, and families have packed their costumi da bagno (swimming suits), crema solare (sun cream), secchielli e palette  (buckets and spades), teli da mare (beach towels), and ombrelloni (beach umbrellas) into their cars ready to brave le autostrade (the highways) which are heaving with millions of other Italians all with the same idea. Andiamo al mare! (Let’s go to the sea!)

From my own experience, which is mainly limited to the Tuscan and Ligurian coasts, the Italian beaches fall in two categories: le spiagge libere (the free beaches) and gli stabilimenti balneari (the bathing resorts), commonly known as i bagni. I bagni are usually delimited along the promenade side by a row of cabine (changing rooms) and docce (showers), which effectively blocks out any view of the sea to the passersby. Near le cabine there is usually a decked area with a bar, un tavolo da ping-pong (a ping pong table), and un calcio balilla (a miniature football-table). Last but not least there is la spiaggia (the beach) with neat straight rows of ombrelloni e sedie a sdraio (beach umbrellas and deck chairs), all color coded depending on which establishment they belong to.

If you are a day tripper and want to go to ‘uno stabilimento balneare’, you’ll have to pay for the use of the ‘ombrellone’, which normally includes two ‘sedie a sdraio’,. ‘La cabina’ comes at an extra charge, and a whole day on the beach can work out quite expensive. Italian families, on the other hand,  who already live in seaside towns, normally rent the whole set (‘cabina’ plus ‘ombrellone’) for the entire summer season, which of course works out much more economical in the long run. Generation after generation are faithful to ‘their bagno’, and refuse to move to another one. When I was at university a friend of mine who lived in Viareggio, in Tuscany, was officially engaged to a guy from the same town, whose family went to another resort. She refused to go to his ‘bagno’, even just for the day: either he went to hers, or he would have to wait until the evening to see her!

By law il bagnasciuga (the waterline) is considered ‘free beach’, so if you like lying on a damp towel with your feet in the water and people walking over you feel free to do so, nobody can send you away and you don’t have to pay! If that prospect doesn’t appeal you can choose to go to la spiaggia libera, normally situated miles from any car parking, or facilities such as bars and toilets, and covered in heaps of rubbish and millions of mozziconi di sigaretta (cigarette stubs). Obviously there is a massive difference between the tidy ‘bagni’ and the chaotic ‘spiagge libere’: whereas the sand within the limits of the ‘bagni’ is sieved and combed every day at dawn, the ‘spiaggia libera’ is washed only by the tide, which of course simply adds fresh deposits of flotsam and jetsam to ubiquitous rubbish left by the day’s bathers. But despite the differences there is one element that is common to all Italian beaches (except those for the vey rich): i vu’ cumprà (vuoi comprare?, ‘do you want to buy?). This is the politically incorrect name used for "i venditori ambulanti" (hawkers), who are normally black African guys wearing four or five hats on their head, and carrying masses of sunglasses, beach towels, bracelets, watches, etc., and they tend to target single women who are less likely to be rude to them. If you are not interested in buying any of these cianfrusaglie (knick knacks), politely say: "No, grazie" (No, thank you), and intently stare at an imaginary ship on the horizon for a couple of minutes until they have disappeared.

Of course, if you know where to look, or have insider information from the locals, there are some nice little free beaches or rocky coves to be found. But in order to find them you will have to get up to speed with your Italian!

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  1. Carolina:

    Che nostalgia Serena! Sono troppi anni che non torno in Italia, ma quanti bei ricordi passati al mare. In particolare all’Isola d’Elba. Infatti ci sono molte spiaggie libere li’ e sono al contrario bellissime. Poi, mi posso anche ricordare di essere privilegiata di conoscere le piu’ belle alcove nascoste. Ci sei mai stata?
    Buon Ferragosto a tutti!

    • serena:

      @Carolina Salve Carolina!
      No, purtroppo non sono mai stata all’Isola d’Elba, ma so che ci sono spiagge bellissime.
      Il tuo italiano è molto buono, ma se non ti dispiace vorrei correggere una tua frase: “Poi, mi posso anche ricordare di essere privilegiata di conoscere le piu’ belle alcove nascoste.” In italiano non usiamo l’espressione “mi posso ricordare”, ma semplicemente “mi ricordo”; “essere privilegiato” è un’espressione molto rara in italiano, la usiamo solo se hai conosciuto qualcuno molto importante; infine “alcove” è un termine architettonico, sulla costa abbiamo “baia, cala, insenatura”. Perciò la frase migliore sarebbe: “mi ricordo di avere la fortuna di conoscere le più belle cale nascoste”.

      Saluti da Serena

  2. Jeannet:

    Ciao Serena,

    You described the local situation very well which
    doesn’t seem very attractive going to. Anyway
    with a special eye for agreable places and -of course as you said – an increasing -that’s is to say sufficient knowledge of italiano, much can be discovered to enjoy life during the summer
    time, for which time I wish you with family/friends a relaxing period
    of pleasantness.


  3. Neeka:

    I’m in year 10 and I’m studying italian and I just came across to your really imformative discussions. I have realized that you do italian tutoring and I was wondering, do you live any were near perth?

  4. Rafael Chaves:

    Eu adoro esse blog. Um abraço direto do Brasil.

    I love this blog. Hugs from Brazil!

  5. Jeff:

    Do you have a favorite Tuscan beach? I’ll be there next month and I’d really like to go swimming in the sea. I read that Marina di Alberese is wonderful… but I hear that about a lot of Italian places. lol

    Io studio italiano così posso domandare dove trovare le spiagge migliori.

    • serena:

      @Jeff Salve Jeff, my favorite swimming places are in Liguria, I don’t really like Versilia, which is roughly the coast from Pisa to Carrara. I prefer the Tuscan coast south of Livorno, e.g. the Castiglioncello area. I’m afraid I don’t know Marina di Alberese.
      Comunque, come dici tu, se te la cavi con l’italiano, riuscirai a trovare delle belle spiagge.

      Saluti da Serena

  6. Carolina:

    1000 grazie Serena. Guarda, sono troppissimi anni che non vado in Italia. Avrei bisogno di un grande aggiornamento. Speriamo l’anno prossimo.

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