The week following the festa to celebrate the “completion” of Villa Tutto’s renovation began the month of June and the weather turned warm, as though controlled by the calendar. Jessica and I decided to take advantage of the hot sun and make our first visit to a Pugliese beach.
The small town of Torre Canne sits on the Adriatic Sea about midway between Bari to the north and Brindisi to the south. As you enter the town, the road from Cisternino turns from country road to a quaint, shop-lined street, wide enough only for two cars to pass by one another. Among the typical bread, cheese, tobacco and pasta shops are small bars and a few restaurants. The street goes for a few hundred meters and terminates at the sea. As we sat there in the car looking at the dark blue water breaking against the rocky beach, I couldn’t help but wonder where my eyes would land if I could see across the Adriatic. Would I be seeing Greece or, perhaps, Croatia? (Actually, it would be Montenegro which was not even in my geographic lexicon at the time, but the ignorance was bliss.)
We turned to follow the coast road for a way, until we found what appeared to be a legal place to park, and walked down along the sea toward where we had seen the rocks change over to sand. This took us past several seaside restaurants, all of which were very busy during the lunch three hours. The rocky part of the coast yielded up the strong smell of dead sea life, plant and animal, so we walked a little faster there than we might have, to our left, the sea and to our right, a row of brightly colored buildings all with signs offering holiday rentals. After the rocks became sand, we passed a marina full of old, sad-looking boats and the sight and smell of fuel oil floating on the water’s surface. Finally, we reached a fine sand beach that seemed to stretch south for miles.
Here are the only things we knew about Italian beach protocol when we got there: First, there are public beaches that are (duh!) open to the public, have few services and amenities and, generally, have not had undesirable material such as washed-up seaweed, cigarette butts and other leavings removed. During the summer, when the shops and schools are closed for the afternoon, the public beaches fill with young people and other locals who simply put a towel down on the sand and enjoy the sun.
The private beaches, those controlled by hotels or beach clubs, provide lounge chairs, umbrellas, bar service, showers and changing facilities, covered parking and other such niceties. They also generally have a restaurant, something that is always on our list of “civilized” beaching accoutrement.
The other thing we knew about the Puglia beach experience came from something Colleen had said to us. She told us that she was a bit taken aback by the way Italian women dressed for the beach. “It’s like a Milan runway show,” she said. “The bathing suits are couture, jeweled and sequined, with matching cover-ups and high-heeled shoes. It’s a bit intimidating, actually.”
We wandered on down the beach, past the public area, and toward a section covered in brightly colored chaise lounges and large umbrellas.
“This looks like a good place,” Jessica said, and I agreed. I asked a young woman to appeared to be an attendant if we could rent two chairs and an umbrella for the day.
“I’m sorry,” she said very sincerely, “but these are only for hotel guests,” as she nodded to a large, unattractive hulk of a building about a hundred meters away, toward the shore road.
We walked on further, finally coming to a beach club where daily rentals of chairs were available. Though we had worn our swimwear under our street clothing, we availed ourselves of the changing areas, slathered sunscreen on every bit of exposed skin, took up strategic positions in the front row of beach chairs, and awaited the fashion show. We were not disappointed.
Shortly after we settled in, three young women, perhaps in their twenties, strolled past us. Their bikinis barely covered the bits they were intended to barely cover and I wondered if the suits were ever meant to get wet as they were sparkly and delicate-looking. As I continued my in-depth research for this post, I noted that the girls were really wearing shoes with heels. They weren’t stillettos, of course, but sort of an espadril at least a couple of inches high.
There were guys there at the beach, as well. I don’t know what they were wearing.
We have, since that first visit to the beaches of Torre Canne, become more experienced at the art of sun basking, Italian-style. We now stop by one of the area’s beach clubs such as Lido Bizzarro, Kypos or Lido Stella, rent a couple of sun lounges and an umbrella and take advantage of the great food served at their restaurants. We now know when to go (after 3:00 the parking is cheaper) and when not to go (Sundays during July and August are so crowded there is no beach left). I have also noted that the bathing suit bottoms worn by Italian women come in only one size: extra small. No matter the size of the woman’s bottom, the swimsuit bottoms take up very little fabric. But as often as we have taken in the marvels of the Adriatic coast and its beaches, we still marvel at the athleticism and grace of the women who refuse to let a little sand separate them from their Sergio Rossis, their Guccis and their Pradas. Salute!
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