The Versilia

It is the geographic region of Tuscany which includes the strip of coast that extends to the mouth of the river Magra to the north and Serchio to the south and is surrounded to the east by the slopes of the Apuane Alps. It takes its name from the torrent Versilia, originating from the junction of the Serra and the Vezza. And if the foundation of the first marine responded to the requirements to make easy the commerce and exportation of marble, the development of the coastal region is tied to seaside tourism that in the second half of the 1800s was favoured by the construction of a railway line. Today the territory of Versilia is limited to the strip of flat land that is presented like a continuing urbanisation about thirty kilometres along the coast between Marina di Carrara and Viareggio, one of the best known and frequented tourist zones on the peninsula, provided with all types of hotels, seaside activities and well equipped to receive the tourist with easy access by road and train from central and northern Italy. The intense tourist development, Versilia being the initiator, has grown its own culture that distances itself from that of the rural lucchese and that tied to the production of marble of the Massa-Carrara territory. A culture that is based on the multiple control made possible by tourism, brought about by the sea, by easy communication, based on the fact that life is busy (with the exception tied to construction work of Viareggio and Massa) for only six months of the year. The Versilia cooking, beginning from the middle of the 1800s, after the reclamation of the flooded zone and the tourist development, more than preserves it antique traditions and customs that every Tuscan zone can boast about, and often satisfies the tourist and is characterised by the fish business. It is enough to think about the difference between the Versilian fish soup in respect to that of Livorno; whether because it is less spicy, or because it is enriched and made finer and delicate by shellfish and seafoods, or whether it is lighter being served with less pieces of toasted bread. The Livornians vindicate - with reason - saying that the paternity of this dish was made in Livorno even before Viareggio existed. For example the octopus that in Versilia is cooked without tomatoes and with white wine, lemon and parsley: is made lighter and more adaptable to a large range of tastes. Other delicate dishes of the viareggina-versiliese cooking are the cieche, the newly-born eels that from the sea try to reach the rivers; at one time in Viareggio they were abundantly fished from the river Burlamacca, at night, during the winter months with a net called the ripaiola or cerchiaia. Today fishing is prohibited so that the cieche that are found in restaurants or for sale commercially are breed in fish farms, principally from France and Spain. They are cooked in ten minutes with garlic and sage. Nothing else, a difference to other areas along the coast; the only difference being the adding of a piece of lemon or orange that makes it less strong. These foods, like others nearly all with a fish base, demonstrate that in this area of Tuscany the old traditions of this simple tasty cooking has always taken into account the economic development tied to tourism that demands cooking that can accomodate the tastes of people who come from every part of Italy, and elsewheree. A cooking that knows how t offer and prepare dishes of delicate flavours, renouncing two elements that in Tuscan cooking seems, already for some centuries, indispensible: tomatoes and pepper or chili peppers. We can still confirm that there is a true and pure cooking in Versilia existing in the agreements of seafood dishes which is much appreciated by the visitors to this zone who become ever more numerous.