While I do not share her enthusiasm for vast expanses of tedious sand, Ruth loves a beach.  So it was with some excitement that Ruth approached the coast near Massa to find … that someone owns the beach.  We cycled for a number of kilometres along the coast, looking at an almost continuous wall of restaurants, bars, change rooms and parking areas.  Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of the sea.

Italians are apparently wild about beach holidays, but these look much different than they do in North America.  To begin with, almost the entire beach is privately owned through concessions.  We stopped to look at a map of a section of the coast and found that it looks like a subdivision, with “lots” extending from the oceanfront road to the water.  These are labelled with the name of the restaurant or other operator that holds the concession.  Typically a concession holder has a bar or restaurant backing onto the road, and then beyond that there is an expanse of beach extending to the sea that is completely occupied by pre-erected beach recliners and umbrellas.  You can enjoy these amenities, but you must pay for the privilege.  I have heard that it can cost $20 per day to lay in a recliner.
But surely there must be some public beaches?  Yes, there are.  The less desirable portions of the coast appear to have unrestricted public access.  And the public can use the more pleasant beaches, but only in a limited way.  There were public beach access corridors every half-kilometre or so.  These tend to be very narrow, perhaps as little as 10 metres, and on the beach the private operators tend to encroach on even this sliver of the beach.  In addition, the public can walk along the beach within 10 metres of the sea, under the watchful eyes of the concession holders.

I understand that public access to the beach is a political issue in Italy, and the subject of some activism.  And of course private ownership is rampant in North America.  I myself own some land behind a beach.  However, our experience by the sea today left us a little less excited about being on the beach.  That’s fine for me, but I am afraid Ruth suffered a real letdown.

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