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50% of Italian beaches are not free

Perfect beach setting in Rimini on the Adriatic coast
Perfect beach setting in Rimini on the Adriatic coast (Photo: Letizia Agosta/Unsplash)

Half of Italy's beaches are privately owned and the remaining part is not the best part. This is according to an investigation by the daily newspaper La Repubblica and environmental organization Legambiente.

The so-called 'free beaches' are often squeezed in between paid beaches, in areas that are difficult to access, at estuaries or next to industrial areas. In most seaside resorts you are therefore forced to use the always more expensive becoming services of the beach owners, who often don't even allow you to walk across their grounds to the tide line, even though they are required by law to do so. But there are alternatives.

Beach allotment

Everyone who goes to the sea in Italy knows them: the endless rows of tightly arranged sun loungers with parasols, which leave only a few meters free at the tide line. Because on the vast majority of the beach you only get access for a fee. That is the domain of the stabilmenti balneari, which you could translate as beach bars with sun lounger rental.

Since the Italian government started to lease stretches of beach to private individuals 80 years ago, the number stabilmenti increased rapidly. In 2022, Italy had 7.173, for which a total of 12.166 permits were issued. Calculated over the 770 Italian coastal municipalities, that is an average of one per kilometer of coast.

But 10 years before that there were still 1.443 fewer. This increase is mainly due to the southern regions, where even less coast was parceled out, but the number of free beaches has now also decreased.

According to the statistics of the State Domains, Italy has 3.346 kilometers of beaches, 42% of which are occupied by stabilmenti and campsites and 8% by other private individuals. But in Naples, for example, only 27 meters of the 200 kilometers of coast are freely accessible.

Palermo still has one free beach, but there is a swimming ban there. In the northern resort of Jesolo, 68% of the beach has been privatized and in Lignano Sabbiadoro 83%. In Rimini and other Adriatic seaside resorts, about 90% is occupied, in Alessio and Diano Marina in Liguria 80% and in Pietrasanta and Camaiore in Tuscany even almost 100%.

Perfect choas in Maiori's Amalfi Coast (Photo: Ian Badenhorst/Unsplash)

Good trade

This is a good trade for the operators. The permits granted annually are relatively (according to critics, ridiculously) cheap, so that in just over 3 months – the beach season officially starts on June 1 and closes in September – they earn an annual income.

(That does not mean that they only work 3 months a year. After all, time is also spent on maintenance, repairs, planning and so on. But they really don't have to make a special effort out of season.)

Of course they would like to keep it that way, so that the permits always end up with the same families. Although this is contrary to the free competition prescribed by the EU, 12.000 operators plus family and staff together form a considerable pressure group, so that successive governments have done nothing and the question of the bathing is still a bone of contention between Rome and Brussels.

For the beach tourist there are therefore 3 possible choices:

  • pay for a few square meters in the midst of other bathers;
  • free use of a strip of overcrowded free beach;
  • or actively looking for stretches of unspoiled coast, because they are still there.

The first alternative is of course the easiest. You settle down in a spacious lounger with a parasol, take an occasional dip and listen to the incessant chatter from the neighboring chairs. You can leave your things, changing cabin and shower are available and the beach restaurant serves pasta and beer. But you have to pay for it.

After the corona pandemic, beach operators are well on their way to compensating for the loss of income of those years. According to consumer organization Confconsumatori, prices are now about 25% higher than last year.

In practice, this means that you pay an average of 2 euros per day for a parasol with 40 sun loungers in the Tuscan Viareggio. In Riccione (Emilia-Romagna) it is 45, in Gallipoli (Apulia) 80 and on Capri 90.

That is also one of the reasons why the average Italian family no longer spends the full month of August on the beach, but only 2 or 3 weeks.

The 10 most beautiful free beaches

The second choice is not recommended. Italian municipalities are obliged to keep at least part of their beaches freely accessible, and most do. But it is usually not spacious, with the result that it is very busy and noisy and not particularly clean either, because cleaning is rarely done at all in the evenings.

This still leaves the possibility to find a free beach in a nature reserve or remote bay. They are often idyllically situated and quiet too, but you have to drive, walk and / or scramble for them.

But then you also have something, as you can conclude from a list recently published by TV channel Sky TG24 of 'the 10 most beautiful forbidden beaches in Italy'.

Here they are:

  1. The bay of Torre Ulizzo at Nardò in Apulia;
  2. The beach of Calamosche in the Natural Park of Vendicari near Siracusa (Sicily); 
  3. Cala Violin in the reserve of Scarlino, Tuscany; 
  4. Cala Goloritzè in the Golfo di Orosei in Sardinia;
  5. The beach of Saint Fruttuoso on the Ligurian Riviera;
  6. The bay of Porto Miggiano in Apulia;
  7. The Spiaggia della Gavitella at the Costiera Amalfitana (Campania),
  8. The bay of Marinella di Palmi in Calabria;
  9. Baths of Queen Giovanna near Sorrento, Campania;
  10. And the gorgeous Cala Luna near Dorgali in Sardinia.

To add 2 more: the abandoned white Spiaggia WWF at Capalbio (Southern Tuscany) and the Gates, beaches located south of Ostia that do have restaurants, but where no entrance fee is charged, except for a few euros for the parking attendant.

Written by Aart Heering

Historian who has lived in Italy for more than 30 years, 20 of which as a journalist and 12 as a press and political officer at the Dutch embassy in Rome. Has been working as a journalist again since May 2022. Active member of the Gruppo del Gusto, the gourmet group of the foreign press association in Rome.


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