I am just back from Italy, where I spent ten days on the Tuscan Riviera. Summertime in Italy is not the time to be site- seeing in any historical cities, rather it is the time to explore all of Italyâ€™s magnificent beaches by day and boardwalks by night. I say it is just as interesting to explore modern Italian culture by doing what Italians do, and escaping to the sea. I was in the seaside town of Viareggio, which has been a popular resort on the Tuscan Riviera for decades. Not only does Viareggio have an exciting boardwalk lined with Art Deco style hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars, but there are also many other towns along the coast or further inland with things to see and do.
All of these towns and sites gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Italian aperitivo. From around 6:30-8:30 pm when the beach clubs start to close, and the people are returning home from a long day under the hot sun, many bars and clubs offer aperitivo, the quintessential pre-dinner drink and snack. There are many ranges of what an apertivo can look like, so I will describe a few of them to you. The first one we had was at a bar on the boardwalk in Viareggio called Fanatiko. Although most of the drinks were about 8 Euros, the ambience seemed relaxed and nice enough to tryout. I ordered a bellini, which is a glass of Prosecco (a type of sparkling white wine) mixed with fresh peach juice. My boyfriend ordered a martini. I was happy to see that my drink was made with real peaches, which in New York is a rare luxury. The waiter brought us a free bottle of San Pellegrino and our plate of aperitivi. There were little cut up pieces of foccacia with different toppings, mini sausages, mortadella with pecorino, a chunk of Parmesan cheese, and a skewer of mozzarella and tomato. They also brought out a bowl of chips and a bowl of peanuts. I thought that it was a great mixture of little things, something for everyone, and the free bottle of Prosecco made the 8 Euros worthwhile.
Another favorite aperitivo was in the small village of Pietra Santa, an old town that has reinvented itself with art galleries, boutique hotels, and really nice restaurants. My boyfriend and I sat at a table in the main piazza, and looked out onto the modern statues that have livened up the square. We both ordered a simple glass of Prosecco, which came with a bowl of chips and a bowl of pistachios. Although I was not as much of a fan of the food, because I prefer the little plates of mixed surprises, the view made it worthwhile. Sometimes, the food is not the main attraction, but rather the location and the company you are with. An aperitivo in Pietra Santa was worth every sip.
Later on in the week, we made a short excursion to south Tuscany, to the region of Maremma. We drove inland and visited many little towns up on the hilltops, which look out over the wineries and olive groves that dot the landscape. My favorite aperitivo on our excursion was in one such town called Castagneto di Carducci. We ordered a rosÃ© Prosecco, and a rosÃ© wine of the region. Although the drinks were somewhat disappointing, they were 3.50 â‚¬, and came with fresh vegetables, olives, local olive oil, and a small plate of meat and cheese slices. My boyfriend and I were surprised at how inexpensive the aperitivi were in south Tuscany as compared to the northern seaside resorts.
We had many more aperitivi during the ten days I was in Italy. Although I could rate (according to my own taste) which little plate of snacks I liked more, or which drink was better, I would say that in the end it does not matter. The whole idea of sitting in the early evening with a glass of something refreshing, and enjoying pleasant conversation with friends and loved ones makes the event something to be imitated no matter where you are. Next time you want to get together with your friends, prepare some small bites, and unwind with a nice glass of wine.