I knew I had found heaven when I was finally able to take my shoes off and wade into the waters of Marina di Pisa. After a half day of sightseeing in Pisa and fighting crowds that seem to get worse every year it was a relief when the taxi turned the corner and the waters of the Mediterranean came into view.
I want to see the Mediterranean! I may never have another chance to see the coast of Italy! That was the constant refrain from a travelling companion on her first trip to Italy. It was not so much annoying as I just was not sure how we were going to fit it in. We would be in Italy a little over two weeks and would be in Florence for 8 days excluding travel days. That sounds like a lot of time but we had already booked a driver for two days, a cooking class for one day and a trip to Bologna for a day and we had all decided this would be a relaxing trip. There would be no running from place to place.
There are a number of small beach towns accessible to Florence but we did not want anything with too many big resorts and since we were there at the end of September we needed some place that would at least have some restaurants open. We did a little research, very little research, in our apartment in Florence and decided Marina di Pisa looked like a place we could fit in on our trip to Pisa.
Florence to Pisa
We headed out the door early one morning, or at least early for us and caught the fast train to Pisa. The trip takes about an hour and is a comfortable ride. We caught a taxi from Pisa Centrale, the main train station in Pisa, and made the short trip to the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Basilica are located. And from there we entered the hordes of tourists that were milling about everywhere. Like I said we were there at the end of September, I cannot imagine how bad the crowds are in the middle of the summer.
Pisa to Marina di Pisa
We saw what we wanted to see in Pisa, agreed we were happy we came and headed to the outside of the old walls to decide what to do next. We could go back to Florence, go elsewhere in Pisa and eat lunch or go to Marina di Pisa. It was such a beautiful day we all agreed this would be the perfect day for a beach excursion. We waited a few minutes for a taxi and were on our way.
The best place in Italy to engage with a local is in a taxi. Most of the drivers need very little encouragement to start a conversation and are visibly disappointed if you are not in the mood for a chat. Not that your silence will keep them from talking. I was happy to engage. On this particular day and in this particular taxi the driver had a lot to say about the current government in Italy, which seems to change yearly. He was complaining that rents were so high that his wife worked only to pay the rent while he was responsible for all of the other expenses. When I explained to him that I had to work not only to pay my housing expenses but to pay for health insurance that was not much less than my housing costs he was left speechless. I have found that the two things people living in foreign countries want to discuss with Americans are healthcare and guns which are the two things most Americans are trying to avoid thinking about when they are on vacation. After a brief conversation about guns we moved on to more pleasant things like out of the way places to visit and whether you should tip taxi drivers. He was very much in favor. The trip from Pisa to Marina di Pisa is about 12 kilometers or 7 miles and costs around 35 Euros.
Marina di Pisa
We started our time in Marina di Pisa by walking along the beach. The beach is made up of pebbles, not sand, so walking can be a challenge. But there are nice big rocks where you can sit and make yourself comfortable. After walking, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet we went in search of a restaurant.
I think every bit of the coastline of Italy is crowded in the summer but I have spent numerous days at beaches with few other people in the late fall. The downside of this is that a lot of restaurants and hotels close in the off season so you will have limited places to eat.
We walked the entire length of the town which was populated with small hotels, restaurants and shops. All of the shops were closed as were most of the restaurants. There were a few pizza places and places where you could get a gelato that were open. We decided on one of only three restaurants that were open, L’Albero Maestro. There were no unoccupied outside tables that could accommodate four people so the proprietor moved everyone who was already seated and in some cases eating around to accommodate us. We were all slightly embarrassed but not enough to reject his efforts.
This is primarily a seafood restaurant and so almost everything on the menu had some form of seafood as an ingredient. In Italy, if you can’t find something on the menu to your liking or if you have an allergy you can almost always talk them into providing you with some form of plain pasta. In our case, we were all happy to find a restaurant with so much fresh seafood. While I ordered pasta with shrimp one of my friends ordered grilled fish. The proprietor brought out a platter of fish and with a flourish asked her to pick out the fish she wanted. Everything arrived freshly prepared and delicious. We could not have asked for anything more. One thing to keep in mind when ordering fresh seafood in Italy is that fish often arrive with the heads on as do shrimp and the shrimp are generally much larger than what we see in the U.S.
Returning from Marina di Pisa to Pisa
After lunch we asked our waiter to call us a taxi so we could return to Pisa which he happily did. We waited and waited and waited and after about 30 minutes asked the waiter if he could call again for a taxi which he less happily did. And still, we waited and waited and waited. After we were all very frustrated, both my group and the waiter, the waiter threw his hands in the air and said we would have to take the bus. My response was ugh oh I hate buses but realized we had no choice. He gave us detailed directions to the bus stop. It turned out to be a very short walk and was clearly obvious where the bus stopped since there was a crowd of people waiting. Given that there were very few people on the beach I was surprised to see so many people waiting for a bus. We had no idea how much this would cost but felt sure it would require coins so we pooled our change and hoped for the best. It turned out to be easy and to be very cheap. While the taxi cost 35 Euros the bus was 2 Euro per person.
It was a small bus and though it was crowded the windows were so big it was actually a very nice ride. Again it was a little slice of Italian life. A young woman nestled comfortably on the lap of her boyfriend to make room for me to sit. A young man gave up his seat for one of my friends. The bus made a couple of stops and took about 30 minutes to get us to the stop near the train station. We had no idea where we were going but assumed we were there when everyone got off the bus. I figured we were at least close enough to catch a taxi to the station. As we were standing there looking bewildered a woman noticing our confusion said Andiamo (let’s go) and motioned for us to follow her. Every time we stopped to look at something she motioned for us to keep walking and thus we end up where we wanted to be, the train station.
We decided to make a quick stop in Lucca, a town I love and highly recommend, on our way back to Florence. But for us, it turned out to be one stop too many. We were exhausted and too tired to enjoy this beautiful little town. We had already done a lot of walking and very little sitting so we were happy to board the train back to Florence.
Marina di Pisa is a lovely little beach town one I would recommend to anyone looking to spend a day on the Italian coast.