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Italy’s answer to St. Tropez: where to stay in Forte Dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast


It was thirty years ago that Mitchell Hochberg stumbled upon Forte dei Marmi. The developer, who just created the Moxy-AC hotel complex in downtown LA., drove through Italy on vacation with his wife Susan. “We were actually lost. It was a Saturday afternoon and we were driving into town, and it felt like we were in a fantasy world, a movie set of what you would think the Côte d’Azur was like in the 1960s,” he recalls. It was an instant crush and since then the couple has made an almost annual pilgrimage to the Tuscan seaside town.

Although Forte dei Marmi started out as a port city – shipping stones for Michelangelo and company from the nearby Carrara marble quarries (its name means “marble fortress”) – the city became a tourist hotspot in Italy’s dolce vita heyday. Fierce local zoning laws and a preference for discretion among the wealthy who vacation there have kept it largely unchanged since the Agnelli family and other wealthy Milanese made it Italy’s answer to the Hamptons. And while it’s a favorite of Miuccia Prada, Giorgio Armani and Andrea Bocelli, who all have homes there, Forte’s elegance is unobtrusive – the bike, not the smoky Escalade, is the default way to get around.

A room at the Augustus Hotel, where doubles starts at about $1,000 a night.

Francesca Moscheni/Courtesy of Augustus Hotel & Resort

What attracted visitors first were the beaches, which are wide, golden and miles long, much more attractive than the pebbled beaches that line the Amalfi Coast, for example – no wonder Naomi Campbell and Zoe Saldaña have been spotted in Forte dei Marmi. Even better, the sands are a few minutes’ walk from the center of town and dotted with private beach clubs. A day of lounging is a chance to live out a Visconti movie fantasy. Most of these bagni are family owned, their signs are unchanged since the 1960s – Piero is one of the oldest and most prestigious while Bambaissa serves great spaghetti alle arselle, or tiny clams, the confetti-like shellfish that is a local specialty.

Bocelli rarely occurs Alpemare, which he owns, but not often enough for the crowds who flock there hoping to see him. If you want to linger on the waterfront for a sundowner or dinner – or both – try it Gilda, an upscale restaurant and beach club option on the northern edge of town; the sashimi-style shrimp, caught that morning off the coast, are a highlight. Maito is nicer, with live music and later in the evening than most of the restaurants there.

Indeed, the beach club atmosphere is not the only parallel between Forte and the South of France: the nightlife of the town is one of the liveliest in the Mediterranean: book a table at Twigthe waterfront club owned by Formula 1 maestro Flavio Briatore, or enjoy some time-bending disco moves in either Seven apples or La Capannina di Franceschi, both mainstays of after-hours for decades. Grace Jones has been on stage with the latter.

Name a luxury fashion brand – from Armani to Zegna – and it will likely have an outpost in the town center of Forte dei Marmi that has a Beverly Hills-esque effect, all pale stones and low rise buildings. More interesting, however, are some of the homegrown offerings: walk in Magazine Bracchia sprawling showroom for indoor and outdoor interiors selling Italian design items from Toilet Paper and Zafferano, among others. RRD is a Goth inflected Tuscan designed unisex brand, while Patricia PepeThe sparkly, beachy attire is ideal for a week — or a summer — in Forte. Do not miss it Giovanni de Fort, the cobbler who makes wedges and slippers while you wait, custom-made for your feet, or the weekly markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays; the stalls there often sell high-quality cashmere overruns from the Italian factories that produce for the big names – look for La Maruca, where the plaids and sweaters are of top quality.

For lodging, consider the Chateau Marmont-esque Hotel August (doubles from about $1,000 a night), a cluster of buildings nestled in its own sprawling garden; there are seven detached villas on the property, available for weekly rental in season – the best being Le Rane, which has its own private swimming pool. The newly renovated Augustus Lido annex, built as a mansion by the Agnelli family, offers 25 rooms overlooking the beach; it has the only tunnel under the road on the water, another Agnelli investment in convenience and privacy – no prying paparazzi can see guests sneaking into the beach club. “Forte dei Marmi is a safe place, where you can have incredible privacy and just relax – that’s what it stands for,” says Giacomo Maschietto, whose family runs the hotel; his mother is designer Chiara Boni. “It’s like Palm Beach, with a St Tropez feel.”

If you prefer to rent or buy a villa, steer clear of the northern corners of the city around Vittoria Apuana: the properties there are newer and lack the mid-century charm of Forte dei Marmi. It is better to look in the original heart of the city, the Roma Imperiale district – work with the bilingual real estate agents Royal Fort to find a path: the Villa Allegra with six bedroomslocated in a garden of almost half an acre in that area, is for sale for 7.2 million euros (about $7.9 million).

A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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