Sprawling over several small bays with clear blue waters peppered with fishing boats, is a dormant paradise of the dolce vita years. A forgotten “St. Tropez”, where movie stars, artists and writers once flocked to the scenic beaches of Tuscany during summer. Whereas most of us think of Tuscany for its rolling hills, scenic countryside and olive groves, in the 1960s, its coastline was better known for glamorous beach clubs, cinema festivals and palatial villas. Decades on, the movie star villas are sitting empty and a bygone piece of la dolce vita is up for sale…
Castiglioncello started out as a poor fishing town, enviously situated on a breathtaking coast reminiscent of California’s Big Sur. Untouched and undeveloped, a wealthy baron came along in the late 1800s and bought up the land, with one goal in mind: to bring the dolce vita to the cliffs of Castiglioncello.
Playing Monopoly on the Italian coastline, Lazzaro Patrone allowed only the super rich to build villas that would promise to be nothing short of exceptional and lure the Italian elite away from the iconic resort of Portofino to his new summer playground.
One of the first villas to go up was the Villa Godilonda, a 13,000 square foot property perched on a bay where the Bulgari family spent their summer seasons up until the 1980s. Great actors like Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita) and Alberto Sordi were regulars at the Castiglioncello beach clubs and Dino Rissi filmed his masterpiece of Italian cinema there, “Il Sorpasso” (The Overtaking), filled with car chase scenes along the scenic Tuscan coastline, one of Martin Scorsese’s top 5 favourite movies.
You couldn’t walk down the beaches of Castiglioncello without running into movie stars who had briefly left the privacy of their sprawling villas nestled above the bay to mingle with the townspeople. They could choose to spend their evenings peacefully polishing off bottles of Chianti on the panoramic terraces of their villa or join the party at Castiglioncello’s iconic nightclub, la Ciucheba.
They called it the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the once sleepy fishing town that had Italy’s elite wrapped around its charming little finger.
But then, Italy lost la dolce vita. Following a two-decade postwar economic boom, with the 1980s came economic crises, political instability and a significant slump in the Italian tourist industry. The golden generation that made Italy such a cinematic force and stylish influence around the world in the mid-twentieth century had disappeared.
In the 1990s, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset empire coarsened Italian popular taste and aesthetics, and many of the country’s once exclusive and stylish summer resorts sold out to become tourist amusement parks for holidaymakers seeking budget getaways. Castiglioncello however, refused to give into the concrete holiday complexes, perhaps because the old fishing town just simply didn’t have the space, but became a victim of its own exclusivity as a result.
A movie star hasn’t been spotted on the promenade here for a long time. A proverbial silence now dominates the Castilioncellese summers, the empty villas are untouched by voices or sounds; the sea breeze is loud and clear. The town’s iconic disco, la Ciucheba has rotted away since its closure in 2003. The Villa Godilonda, after the Bulgaris abandoned it, tried reinventing itself as a luxury hotel, but that closed down in 2007, unable to fill its rooms with guests.
La Dolce Vita is taking a summer siesta here, but perhaps this sleeping beauty will rise again. It will never succumb to mass tourism, as if its delicate cliffs, pine forests and charming beaches are too shy to become a tourist’s amusement park. But this could actually be the town’s best asset.
You can breathe the nostalgia in Castiglioncello. It’s there in the town’s outdoor cinema, where Marcello Mastroianni could be sitting with his feet up, smoking a cigarette reminiscing over his best work. It wraps around you with the wind on the twisting roads along the coastline where Dino Rissi captured his movie stars in their cream convertibles. And it’s there in the forgotten villas, echoing with the laughter and glamour of la dolce vita.
Florence-based real estate agency, Lionard is personally restoring several of the villas and hoping to re-open their shuttered windows to see the return of the good old days to Castiglioncello. They recently sold the Villa Godilonda after seven years of abandonment to a Russian/ Italian investor who plans to revive the luxury hotel that took over from the Bulgaris.
You can find the original listing for the villa here.
Several other properties peppering the coastline are still awaiting interest; waiting for someone to fall in love with them again. So let’s take a moment to dream and taste the nostalgia of this forgotten riviera…
With its own private access to the beach, this period villa was built in the 1930s. You can take a tour inside here.
To see behind the shutters of this historic seaside villa, once the home to famed Italian artist, Alberto Sordi, look inside here.
Go virtual house-hunting inside the empty villas of the forgotten Italian Riviera here.