Viareggio is a seaside town of about 60,000 people on the Tuscan coast near Lucca. It is known for shipbuilding, fishing, floriculture and its carnival, which began in 1873.
However the town is perhaps best known as a seaside resort and it has many interesting buildings, mainly along its long promenade, that date from its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century (see coming posts).
You’ll find everywhere I mention on my map.
I came to town for work in November 2020, just when the Covid restrictions for Tuscany were raised from yellow to red, which meant that all businesses, including restaurants, had to remain closed. Hotels were allowed to remain open but guests could only eat in the hotel restaurant, so I was unable to get out and about as much as I would have liked. Thankfully the hotel was okay…
Hotel Mirage (Intermediate B), 12/14 Via Giuseppe Zanardelli, www.hotelmirageviareggio.it
The Mirage is a typical small Italian resort hotel. It probably hasn’t changed much since it was built in the 60s and the dining room especially would make a good set for a Wes Anderson film. It’s a friendly family business with mom in the kitchen, husband Roberto front of house in the restaurant and son Marco manning the reception. The food is pretty decent and nicely presented (B).
I had my first bit of seafood for a while; the seared tuna coated in sesame seeds was enjoyable (B). I also loved the rocket, artichoke and parmesan salad in the second picture. Dressed in lemon juice, it was fresh and crisp (B+).
One dish stood out in particular though. When I first arrived at this hotel I asked Marco where I could eat the local delicacy of Scarpaccia; a flat pie made with flour, eggs, butter, courgettes, courgette flowers (if available), milk, vanilla powder, olive oil, and either salt or sugar (I had the sweet version). The name means ‘old shoe’, because scarpaccia is usually thin just like the soles of old shoes. It’s usually quite hard to find but they were kind enough to make me one so I could try it. Recipe here.
It was so good (A) I went back for seconds, and thirds…
Another dish I wanted to try but couldn’t was Cacciucco alla Viareggina; a traditional seafood soup originating from Viareggio which is made with garlic, chili peppers, olive oil, cuttlefish, octopus, low value fish, tomato paste, white wine, mussels, and mantis shrimp. The soup is served with the mussels on top and a slice of bread rubbed with garlic on the side. Put it in the search box of my map and you’ll get a few suggestions of where to eat it. Recipe here.
Roberto has a well-stocked cellar with quite a few interesting digestivos on offer. I love a fragrant grappa but I’m not sure the world needs an orange-flavoured one (C). The Ruaffino amaro was decent though (B).
Being half Norwegian myself, the last thing I thought I’d be doing one night was emptying a bottle of Norwegian akavit with a guy called Angus from Speyside. Both Angus and the bottle were in the hotel because of Viareggio’s connections with the shipping industry. He’d become stranded for several weeks, as he couldn’t fly home to Hong Kong due to Covid, and had sunk all the whisky before I arrived. Fortunately Roberto came to our aid with the akavit and we were able to put the world to rights within a few hours.
I also got a chance to catch up with my old friend Tim after many years. Tim gave up his previous job in Sheffield (our home town) working as a chef and is now living the dream working as the press officer for a cycling team. I’d last seen him seven years before in 2013 when he was living in Lucca (see coming posts) but now he was living in Pietrasanta, just around the corner from Viareggio. We caught up on our news and sank a few spritzes but we had to leave eating together for another time. It was really good to see him though after so many years.
I did manage to eat at one other place. The floating fryer, Octopus Friggitoria Gastronomia, on the pier Molo Eugenio Guidotti, was allowed to stay open because it serves food in the open air.
I felt the Gran Fritto with a cold bottle of Moretti was the best way to go…
Two posts on Viareggio’s architecture, coming next!