Ok, I lied. Last weekend was actually the final weekend in Summer. I ventured back to Liguria to take in the last of the sun. The weather forecast seems to be going decidedly downhill from hereon so I thought I’d take the opportunity to cling onto one last post of summer before I finally give in and accept that autumn is here, as the clothes in the shop windows have been telling me for weeks, but I’ve been choosing to ignore.
So in honour of the very last weekend of summer, here are some observations about an Italian trip to the beach. Italians have beach game like no one else and they take it incredibly seriously.
- The whole family comes. That includes newborn babies up to great grandmothers. They all need to take a bit of sun as much as you. The sooner you can get your babies accustomed to the sea and sand the better. Sun for babies being the best between 7 and 9am and you should take them right down to the shoreline to give them the best dose of iodine seeped air.
- Be prepared to sit in traffic. A lot. On summer days, there’s a mass exodus from the cities where it’s too hot and humid and everyone heads for the sea on a mass pilgrimage. Start early, be prepared for the traffic jams, and factor them into your journey home too as everyone will be doing the same route back, only on the way back more tired, grumpy and eager to get home so incidenti are more likely to happen, creating tailbacks for kilometers.
- Pack up your car to the max. Like take everything. You need the parasol, the beach towels, a couple of changes of swimsuits, suncream, hair oil, and most importantly, provisions. Grab yourself a cool bag borsa frigo (or several) and pack it with enough food and water to last you several days. Naturally you’ll need your lunch in there. Think full on primo, secondo, contorno, fresh bread and plenty of fruit. Plus don’t forget your plates, cutlery, glasses, etc. Oh yes, the Italians do lunch seriously on the beach.
- Pick your spot. In Italy there are free beaches and private beaches. Each area is required to have at least one free beach area. These usually fill up the quickest. Arrive super early to guarantee a spot. Mark your claim to the area by setting up your umbrella and towels then you’re free to leave. It’s a fairly unwritten rule that since we’re all here together on this trip to the beach, that no one will interfere with your belongings. Obviously, be a bit careful about it. Don’t bring wads of cash. But equally don’t worry too much. The other option is the private beach, like this one. You’ll have to pay a day rate for the use of the sunbeds and an umbrella, which varies resort to resort. Private beaches will have changing areas, toilets and showers for added comfort. The one I was at this weekend even had a little library cupboard for a bit of beach reading.
- The bikini. Embrace it. Even if you’re not the skinniest/youngest/toned girl in the world, everyone wears a bikini in Italy. Current burkini/bikini/France issues aside, if you want to wear a bikini, just do it, and don’t give a flying f**k what anyone else thinks of you (or a burkini for that matter). We’re all at the beach for the same reason, to enjoy it. I love the Italian idea that if it’s not perfect, then just tan it (see point 7). Women of all shapes and sizes, comfortable in their own skin on a beach is quite refreshing. Also, see point 3’s packing list, remember to change your swimsuit after each swim.
- Do not enter the sea before 10am despite it probably looking fairly tempting by now after you’ve carried the entire contents of your car down to the beach and the temperature has already started to rise. It’s far too cold and you might possibly die, despite it already, even at this time being warmer than and sea around Britain 99% of the time. If you arrive earlier than this, stake your claim on a spot and then take a little passeggiata until the sea has suitably warmed up.
- Abbronzatissima! There are two camps in Italy. The ones that seem to be in some throwback to the mid, say 1950s, where skin cancer and carcinogens weren’t ever thought of, and those who smother themselves in inches of protective cream every 30 minutes. Whichever camp they sit in, there is no denying that the Italians are the royalty of the tanning world. I literally have never seen tans like theirs. I thought I’d tanned nicely after my trip to Sardinia, and indeed, in the office back in the UK I was the most bronzed and I got endless compliments about my tan, but then coming to Italy I realised just *how white* I actually was. “Didn’t you go on vacations after all Sarah?”.
- Any finally, my absolute personal favourite, the source of many an argument between me and Italians – Be prepared not to swim for at least 2 hours after lunch (possibly 3, depending on how hardcore they are on this issue). Remembering that after all the food you packed will be finished off nicely by a coffee from the beach bar and maybe a gelato, you’re probably not finishing lunch until at least 3pm, add on your 2 hours and you’re up to 5pm, which for a lot of Italians is too cold, so get your swims in before lunch guys. I, on the other hand, am by this point boiling. You expect me to not go in the sea to cool down during the hottest part of the day?! This 2 hour rule is not only to do with the vast amount of food you’ll devour, but due to getting ‘cold in your stomach’. You won’t just get a cramp if you try to swim, you will die. FACT. If you challenge it, they will always know a story of someone who *did* actually die because they swam too soon after lunch. “It happened in 2009, a man from my village died because he swam too soon after eating”. As a result, the sea is empty from midday until at least 3pm. Italian websites and doctors all seem to concur. The body needs extra energy to digest the food, the water is cold in comparison to your body temperature. If you go in the sea, the water cools everything down and the blood that would normally be sent to your stomach for digestion gets sent around the body, your intestine blocks up, and you die. (Apparently).
Buonanotte summer. It’s been epic.