Being landlocked in Austria can sometimes give me a hint of cabin-fever, however it’s reassuring to know that if I really need to get to the coast for some salty, sea air, it’s only a couple of hours away… and as an added bonus… it’s in Italy.
Lignano is the place every Austrian visits yearly while growing up – a virtual paradise with its broad, sandy beaches, busy shopping strip and restaurants galore. Oh, and did I mention it’s packed with tourists? German speaking ones, that is. I have never been to a city overseas where the signs and menus are offered in two languages – and neither of those is English. Due to its history (having been once connected to Austria) and the fact that it’s such a mecca for German-speaking tourists, everyone there speaks both languages.
We only had time for a long weekend this year, but it was a good one – we basically picked the last hot weekend of summer, and spent three days in 30+ heat with blue skies and warm evenings. The drive from Wolfsberg is between 2.5-3 hours, depending on traffic, and by 10am on Friday we were sitting in a café on the beach, enjoying a late breakfast.
But before you go hating on me for being able to go to Italy for the weekend, you should remember that it is absolutely infested with tourists and all the things that come with that. I am not a big fan of crowded beaches, busy restaurants, or beachside hawkers, but for a weekend, it’s kind of fun leaving our sleepy mountain town and getting caught up in the throngs of people arguing over sarong prices and relenting to a massage on the beach, interspersed with lobster-red sunburns and screaming children.
Days in Lignano for us are pretty simple and easy. After breakfast, we join the daily pilgrimage. This takes place between 9 and 11 with a continuous procession of people, in various shapes and sizes, carrying bags and blow-up equipment from their hotels or cars to the beach. On the Saturday morning we made it to the sand for a run about 8am… it was amazing to see the beach before it was overrun with people – though there were still plenty of early-morning risers joining us – and it was plenty hot.
Before it gets too warm, many opt for a stroll along the beach – the shoreline is absolutely crowded, like a mini-freeway of bikini-clad, brown-skinned bodies. On the first day I made the mistake of wearing a sarong over my bathers… I completely overdressed! I found myself absolutely fascinated by the abundance of different women – the young, the old, in various shapes and sizes – and all looking completely comfortable in tiny bikinis. Of course, my interest was peaked because I was looking for a new pair of bathers… and the daily walk is pretty much a fashion show of all the local shops. The highlight of our walk happened on the second day when we came across the dog beach: crazy pooches let loose on the sand, chasing each other about, vying for balls like pro-footballers or some just too frightened to venture into the waves.
Following our walk we would enjoy a swim and then some beach time, joining the endless rows of people relaxing under umbrellas – sleeping, reading, buying jewellery and towels, shushing loud children, having massages and so on. Of course you have to pay for an umbrella – which seems crazy, but it sure beats having to cart all that stuff along with you – and it’s usually included with the hotel room. There are plenty of parts of the beach where you can throw your towel down for free, but having an umbrella means having to apply less sunscreen and being more comfortable, which is a plus when you spend the entire day at the beach.
Starting from around 4pm, the beach slowly empties as the crowds head back to their hotels to freshen up before the evening’s activities. This is a nice time of day when the beach is a little less crowded and the edge starts to fall off the heat. Eventually we too joined them, stopping to buy a bottle of wine and spending some time on our balcony relaxing before dinner. We stayed this year again in Hotel Adria, which is a basic, family-friendly place, with pleasant staff and good breakfast. Though there are plenty of accommodation types to cater for all tastes, from fancy places with beach views, right down to the campground.
In the evening, everyone congregates at the main shopping strip, drinking Aperol Spritz and scanning menus and ice cream flavours to enjoy the full Italian taste experience. We opted for mussels on the first night at a large, busy restaurant recommended by a colleague – and boy were they amazing! Afterward, we strolled along the darkening streets, warm, full and pleasantly buzzed by our carafe of red wine, dropping into various clothing, shoe and bathers shops, as well as trying our luck with the young kids at the arcade.
The second night saw us take a more leisurely approach to dinner which started with cheese, prosciutto and wine on the beach before settling at a restaurant later in the evening for a seafood spaghetti snack. After 7pm most of the restaurants have lines, though you don’t usually have to wait too long, and people here tend to eat long into the night.
But on the Sunday, we sadly said our goodbyes to the hot sand, the warm, salty water, and packed the car with our belongings and shopping (those bathers I was looking for and a stock of Italian food & wine). And as much as our weekend at the beach was just what I needed, it was nice to get away from all those people and back to the quiet and solitude of our small town.