THE ITALIAN RANT: Does This Look Like Fun??

…No, I don’t mean the glistening sunbather dreaming upon that bed of hot coals in the foreground of this photo. I’ve never understood the heaving draw of Europe’s swarming Mediterranean beaches. Italy’s Santa Margherita Ligure is no exception—this picturesque, yet heinously overpriced waterside town would provide some hot weather charm if you could find some sand, or a place to sit down and eat without waiting in long lines for a meal a few feet from a busy road, not to mention survive being catapulted by speeding drivers.

For me, a huge fan of quiet anywhere, Santa Margherita Ligure in summer is about as relaxing as going to the dentist. The ‘beaches’ are chunky gravel at best, and they charge a hefty sum to recline on rocks or be inserted into domino lounge-chair morgues—just in case you miss subways during rush hour. Other waterside options, the private offerings from costly hotels, are pavement poured among jetty-style boulders waiting to give active children a concussion…or worse…be suffocated by the plastic bags (and who knows what else) floating in the water.

If waiting in long lines to dine on average but very pricey roadside fare, only to sit crowded among throngs of adults who see nothing wrong with chain-smoking three feet away from children drinking milk sounds awful, then stay away. Blatant chain-smokers who are ambivalent to the children dining next to them redefine rude. This is where Europe fails as a civilization. Such instances remind me that America has come a long way in trying to do the right thing.

If you survive the gravel or cement-and-boulder beaches, restaurant starvation lines, and mealtime smoke-a-thons, your kids still won’t be safe until they’re tucked into bed because the vital pedestrian ‘sidewalks’ linking the town to the shoreline accommodations are toaster-width, pinched between a curvy speedway and towering rock walls. Therefore, inches separate pedestrians from speeding cars, which makes navigating afoot hellish. A slight driver oversight or a misstep off the curb means ambulance.

Save your money and your kids…go find a pond in the woods.

(Breathe) Also, some might enjoy seeing starry-eyed children being pestered into submission by heartless street vendors in attack mode. I did not. If Atlantic City, NJ, during a weekend heat wave revs your engine, this is your sort of place.

Oh yeah, did you notice the belching supertanker-sized cruise ships anchored just offshore?

Saving grace: The spectacular hour-long shoreline hike from Santa Margherita to heralded Portofino. However, Portofino has no swimming options, only a murky bay tainted by a glut of moored boats. It’s true, sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Having swam in 125 countries, I admit being sand-spoiled. Although Long Island, NY, conjures up turnpike images for many, its 400-plus miles of coastline have never looked better. Many of Long Island’s half-mile-wide ocean beaches share silky sand and space to ponder.

Bye bye, touristy Italia.

bruce northam

Bruce Northam is the award-winning journalist and author of The Directions to Happiness: A 135-Country Quest for Life Lessons, Globetrotter Dogma, In Search of Adventure, and The Frugal Globetrotter. He also created “American Detour,” a show revealing the travel writer’s journey. His keynote speech, Directions to Your Destination, reveals the many shades of the travel industry and how to entice travelers. Northam’s other live presentation, Street Anthropology, is an ode to freestyle wandering. Visit