On the Italian coast, you'll be asked €200 per day for a beach umbrella and sunbed at the cheapest bathing establishments. Nowhere else makes clear the huge post-pandemic gap between the haves and have-nots.
PARAGGI, SANTA MARGARITA — Paraggi is a coastal town, neighboring Portofino, where the only two-star hotel in the area sells a "standard room" with a view of the back and a shared bathroom for €190. This alone would be enough to astonish us Italians, even though the manager of Hotel Argentina was almost taken aback by our surprise.
"Certainly, the shared bathroom is unique. We had some restrictions during the renovation. But these are the prices. Look around. Have you seen where we are? Do you know how much the five-star hotels in Paraggi cost?"
One of them is called "Eight Boutique." It's a hotel with private access to an exclusive beach, where only customers can lie down. "A standard room without a sea view would still be available, it costs €1045 per night," says the friendly girl at the reception, whose monthly salary amounts to the price of a night in July in the ugliest room of the hotel where she herself works.
"As for the suites at €3166 per night, we're sorry. Unfortunately, they are all booked today." Please excuse us if we dared to ask. Because inquiring about prices in Paraggi is considered impolite. The shop windows have no price tags. Only their designer bags, oysters, red prawn and large lobster claw designs.
Paraggi serves as Portofino's beach. While Portofino boasts a small harbor and a charming little square, there's no place to lie down and bask in the sun. Paraggi sits in the shadow of the mountain, tucked away behind three bends. The bay is small, lush green, and turquoise. If it weren't for all those mega-yachts moored there, obstructing the horizon, it would be a tiny paradise. There's a strict ban on docking boats, and signs on the walls read: "Please dress appropriately." But we know that "appropriately" is not about merely avoiding showing up at the table in swimwear.
This paradise isn't for everyone, that much is clear.
The menu of the Dior-branded terrace at Fiori beach in Paraggi, Italy.
Painting the scene
There are four bathing establishments in Paraggi. Looking at the sea from right to left, they are Le Carillon, Bosetti, Eight, and Fiore. Le Carillon is the most affordable option, with a beach umbrella for two people costing €200 per day. According to the website Mappature Spiagge Italia 2023 (Mapping Italian beaches in 2023) it says: "Area 1,417.90 m², concession type Tourist Recreation/Public Bathing Establishment. Year 2004, expiration 2033. Rent fee €1,906." In other words, 10 clients of Le Carillon — that's right, ten — pay the entire amount due to the Italian state, and that's when the profits for the managers begin.
The terrace at the Fiore beach, the one branded by Dior, costs €450.
Children in Burberry swimsuits look around, disheartened. Grandmothers invite embarrassed yet grateful grandchildren to lunch. They represent the great real estate fortunes on Italy's most prestigious waterfront, passed down through generations. Genoese-style lunches at the exclusive beach front in Paraggi: "Half portion of pansoti in walnut sauce." Meanwhile, Filipino babysitters gaze at the sea with terrified expressions, calling out, "Nic! Niiiiiic! Come back to the shore immediately." Sebago shoes, Caesar Salad, €12 euros for a coffeeaffogato.
Today at the Bosetti bathing establishment, the skiing champion Sofia Goggia is present. The waiters pay their respects to her. She orders a glass of rosé and a plate of octopus with Taggiasca olives. She chats with "la signora Paola," as everyone here calls her. She has been entrusted with managing the beach catering services, under the prestigious Cova brand, known for having the most television-famous pastry chef in Italy. Signora Paola entertains everyone. "Tell me, joy, this is my permanent office."
The Portofino coast
The beach branded by Dior
Saying that Paraggi is the most expensive beach in Italy is certainly an exaggeration, but it's not far from the truth. A day on the terrace at the Fiore beach, the one branded by Dior, costs €450. Even worse, the Twiga in Marina di Pietra Santa, associated with Briatore-Santanché, charges €600 for entry in August. And then there's the Datcha Beach in Forte dei Marmi, exclusively reserved for the clients of adjacent residences, created by the Russian magnate Oleg Tinkov. It's always packed.
For the week from the 20th to the 27th of August, the only available option left is a residence for 10 people, costing €199,000. From there, of course, you can access the beach, with soft drinks included but no alcoholic beverages.
It's the place where the fracture between the world before COVID and the new world is clearly visible.
Paraggi remains an exclusive place, but it's a bit less low-key than before. "Youngsters come into the tobacco shop wearing sneakers worth €1,200," says Marzia Marchese, the tobacco shop owner. Outside, there are cicadas, queues, and traffic officers blocking the road due to an excessive number of visitors. The only parking spot costs €6 euros per hour.
A beachfront full of empty chairs and parasols at Paraggi beach, Portofino, Italy. June 26 2023
The gap between the haves and have-nots
By law, there's a tiny public beach here, a small square of sand where it's difficult to even move around. In the midst of it, two young women from Bergamo, named Federica and Valentina, seek some respite. The former works in the human resources office of a multinational company and the latter is a psychologist.
If we were the owners, we'd be ashamed.
"It doesn't make sense," they both say. "None of this makes any sense. The equipped beach has impossible prices, and the public beach is unbelievably crowded. For a rented apartment in Santa Margherita, they asked us €300 per day. And you should see the condition of the house. It's falling apart. If we were the owners, we'd be ashamed. The truth is that having a decent, even good, salary is no longer enough for the life we had before. There's too much disparity."
Exactly. More than anything else, Paraggi today is a reflection of this disparity. It's the place where the fracture between the world before COVID and the new world is clearly visible. It's the divide between the even wealthier rich of 2023 and all the others who can no longer afford even a standard room in a two-star hotel. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened, and Paraggi symbolizes this stark contrast.