A beautiful white mountain above Carrara in northern Tuscany.
A beautiful white mountain above Carrara in northern Tuscany. t-lorien

Be wowed by a town of gold and marvel

Imagine a seaside town where the streets are paved in marble. OK, just the footpaths, not the actual roads. Still ...

There is such a place, but it is reserved for the very wealthy, the very beautiful, and royalty.

We went anyway.

The place is called Forte dei Marmi, and it is in Italy on the Tuscan coast.

Our friends, not wealthy, not royalty, (quite nice looking though) live modestly about half an hour away from this hallowed place. They were so impressed with its marble footpaths they encouraged us to visit with them during our stay at their home. They wanted us to be awed as they were on their first experience.

Rumour has it that Giorgio Armani has a villa at Forte dei Marmi, as does Andrea Bocelli, and the Fiat family is said to own just about all the seafront. More than enough name dropping for us.

The town of Forte dei Marmi looks back from the sea to the Apuan Alps, tall mountains that look like they are covered in snow even in the height of summer. That "snow" is actually marble. Forte dei Marmi means Fort of the Marble.

This is where Michelangelo tramped (or rode his horse) to select his slabs of marble for David and Pieta, and two more lyrical and iconic sculptures do not exist in the world. All created from the quarries of Carrara up in those mountains.

On the short drive from our friends' home in Lucca to Forte dei Marmi we passed row after row of spaces by the roadside where giant slabs of marble waited to be exported around the globe to hungry buyers who cannot get enough Carrara marble to build hotels and mosques and palaces and homes.

It's difficult to get the head around how much marble has already been carved from the mountains for so many centuries.

Yet still those mountains gleam white in the sunshine, assurance that there is more than enough marble left to feed a hungry beast for centuries to come. Not that we want to get into that environmental controversy.

As we drove into the town, evidence of its glamour and wealth was everywhere, from elegant mansions behind tall walls lining the road, to manicured gardens and then those marble footpaths.

All the big brands have outlets in Forte dei Marmi, from Armani to Prada and every label in between.

The marble streets exude a sense of privilege. The fashion boutiques speak quietly of money and exclusivity in every outfit so artfully displayed in each window.

We contented ourselves with window shopping, gazing at the style of the clothes, and looking at the quirky street art (Johnny Depp looking rakish) and then sitting for coffee (at six euros a cup) to people watch.

Beach clubs line the seafront and you must pay if you want to frequent one. Our friends told us they had been turned away from a number of them in the past because of a membership-only policy, but there was one that was open to the hoi polloi.

To sit in one of the cabanas provided by the club costs 200 euros for one day - but you do get two sunbeds and a swinging chair for that cost. With all of the seafront occupied by these clubs and their cabanas and sunlounges, there appeared to be no public beach, not that one would want to be seen sitting on the sand on one's own beach towel. Just not done.

We lunched at a seafood restaurant and, while the spaghetti with large prawns and chilli was simple, it was excellent and very reasonably priced.

Marble and beauty, more than enough in one memorable day for this unhealthy, unroyal and not-quite-beautiful couple.

Read Ann's musings at annrickard.com

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