Words by Steve Mather
A peek into the history of the fashionable Tuscan resort of Forte dei Marmi shows it has long been known for attracting artists, poets and the Italian aristocracy. Through the late 19th century and early part of the 20th it became the destination of choice for high society, with the great and the good making a beeline for the chic seaside spot seeking inspiration, sunshine and relaxation.
Its charm and elegance remain today and an ideal place to enjoy all it has to offer is Hotel Byron. Just a stone’s throw from a beautiful beach, the hotel has an excellent outdoor pool, private gardens, sun-kissed terraces, Michelin-starred food and luxurious rooms with views of the sea and Apuan Alps.
A five-star boutique hotel, the Byron was once a villa built and owned by an Italian Duke, before being converted into a hotel in the early 1900s. Its current custodian is Salvatore Madonna, a well-groomed, charismatic gentleman who is from the area and passionate about its beauty.
The area is known for its high-quality marble and there is plenty of it on show in the hotel, teamed with gold and teal it is very pleasing on the eye and creates a light and welcoming interior. Art and sculpture are dotted throughout the hotel, in addition to elegant fixtures, fittings and furniture.
You can reach the sandy shores of the beach within a minute of leaving the hotel and it’s a pleasure to walk around the private gardens, which are incredibly green and full of life. A must on any visit is the pool. It is a good size, large enough for a worthwhile swim to help you cool off, with towels provided and staff on hand if you want to order refreshments. Overhanging trees and parasols provide areas of shade, adding to the relaxing, secluded feel and poolside tables also allow you to enjoy an aperitivi or meal.
The hotel has 29 rooms, including a selection of suites and a penthouse, while an extension is currently being built which will add another 15 rooms and suites. Rooms range from classic to deluxe, while suites offer a wide range including prestige and family, for larger groups. The penthouse is of course the most coveted of all, coming with its own large balcony and hot tub.
Each of the rooms have been decorated in their own character and style. I was lucky enough to be given a room with a view of the beach, which I could have enjoyed for hours from the seat on my own small balcony. The room itself was on a split level with a seating area on the right as you walk through the door and the window straight in front. Down the stairs was my luxurious bed, complete with soft white linens, a desk, television, and delicious welcome treats, with a skylight allowing plenty of light in. To the left was the bathroom with a large shower area and a generous selection of sweet-smelling toiletries.
The food is one of the main attractions here, with the Byron’s Michelin-starred restaurant, La Magnolia, headed-up by new chef Marco Bernardo. He has spent time cooking at high-end establishments in England and France and his constantly changing menus offer oodles of imagination, local produce and a beautiful blend of Tuscan and Campanian cuisine.
The restaurant overlooks the pool area and the gentle sound of the water adds to the relaxing vibe. Marco’s food is always excellently presented with his eliche of red mullet summoning up great depths of fishy flavour while the yellow tomato soup is a treat. The strawberry, mascarpone and lemon dessert was packed full of taste and included numerous elements in such as small dish.
Owner Salvatore Maddona’s other hotel, Hotel Plaza e de Russie, a short hop along the coast to Viareggio, also has a Michelin-starred restaurant called Ristorante Lunasia, which is equally worth a visit to sample chef Luca Landi’s fine fare. Viareggio has a beautiful promenade stretching as far as the eye can see, which is perfect for a seaside stroll to walk off a sumptuous meal.
The medieval walled city of Lucca is 25km away and is a charming place to spend the day. You can still walk along the intact city walls, stretching over six miles, which were built to protect from invasion by Florence.
Lucca is known as the town of 100 churches (there are actually about 142) and the reason for this immediately becomes obvious as you meander around. The composer Giacomo Puccini, known for La Boheme and Madame Butterfly among others, is immortalised as a statue near the Puccini Museum, which is based in the apartment where he lived. Lucca is exactly what you would want from a Tuscan town, with numerous beautiful squares, restaurants, shops, public art and cafes ensuring you will be in no mood to rush.
A visit to one of the world’s most famous towers is also within easy reach in Pisa. Try to arrive at the tower early in the morning to beat the crowds doing that familiar pose while being photographed. Florence, San Gimignano and Siena are also an option if you don’t mind travelling a bit further.
The Buonamico wine resort offers tours of its beautiful vineyards set amongst the rolling hills of Montecarlo. Wine tasting and tours are on offer, but this is not just a simple vineyard, with a wellness centre, rooms and restaurant all on the picturesque site. Around forty people work at Buonamico, more during harvest, making predominantly white wines, as well as a fine selection of reds, roses and a handful of olive oils.
In a nutshell
I would heartily recommend Hotel Byron as an excellent place to stay in this seaside slice of Tuscany. The pool, restaurant and rooms are of the highest quality, and it would be easy to cocoon yourself in this historic villa for weeks on end, with perhaps the odd short hop to the beach.
The gardens and terraces are perfect for relaxing with breakfast or a drink and friendly staff are on hand to accommodate your every need. It’s easy to find yourself imagining the Byron as your own home, thinking of the people who have walked these gardens before you. Those aristocrats thought this was the place to be in their time and it remains as attractive as ever with today’s well-heeled crowd seeking to indulge in some modern refinement. What more would you expect from a hotel named after one of the finest romantic poets of all?
Getting there: The easiest way to reach Forte dei Marmi is to fly to Pisa International Airport and take the efficient PisaMover shuttle to Pisa Centrale Station before picking up a local train. The station is 3km away from the hotel. Trains can also be taken to nearby Viareggio where a regular bus can transport you to Forte. If travelling by road, the hotel is 2km from the Versilia motorway exit.
Rooms can be booked from £385.
Address: Hotel Byron, Viale Repubblica 59, 55042 Forte dei Marmi, LU, Toscana, Italy.
Phone: +39 0584 787052
Hotel imagery courtesy of Hotel Byron.