Make me the most important yacht on the planet—greater than anybody has ever seen,” he commanded. It was a mold-breaking fee for the Benetti shipyard greater than 40 years in the past, from a consumer eager to tout his wealth. The Italian agency had already earned accolades for making effective yachts, however this was to be a brand new sort of vessel, a “superyacht,” if you’ll.
Benetti’s designers embraced the transient with gusto, and the ensuing craft, although maybe not the most important yacht ever, was the epitome of oceangoing glamour: At 282 toes, it had 5 decks geared up with 11 cabins, a cinema and exhaust funnels sloped outward to permit helicopters to land on the helipad extra simply. There was even a disco—it was 1979, in spite of everything.
The estimates for the fee went as excessive as $100 million, an enormous sum for the shipyard. Extra importantly, because the go-go ’80s dawned, it launched an entirely new class of aspirational items: A easy yacht now not sated the yen for cruising—solely a superyacht would do. And the main place to fee one was the house base of Benetti and its fellow generations-old Tuscan boatbuilders, a small seaside city known as Viareggio.
Within the many years since that ship’s momentous launch, Viareggio has change into the world’s hub for constructing superyachts. There’s no formal normal for the category, however one rule of thumb defines it as any vessel bigger than 98 toes. Of the 750 such ships constructed since 2016, 44 % had been made in Italy, based on the commerce publication SuperYacht Instances, and the overwhelming majority of these on this city of simply 62,000 individuals. The phenomenon’s progenitor—now named Azimut Benetti—is the world’s most lively superyacht producer. In the beginning of 2021, it had 2.2 miles below building. Not far behind, at 1.9 miles, was its Viareggio neighbor Sanlorenzo. Certainly, dozens of famed corporations sit jigsawed collectively right here round a avenue that’s barely half a mile lengthy: Mangusta, Rossinavi, Codecasa and extra. Through Michele Coppino, subsequent to the Darsena, or harbor, is usually known as the yachtsman’s reply to Rodeo Drive. The comparability appears a stretch, at first sight: The nondescript strip, rimmed by higgledy-piggledy façades, doesn’t precisely ooze panache.
Maybe that’s the purpose, as Monaco-based constitution dealer Paola Scalabrino suggests. “They’re all subsequent to one another, and also you don’t know the place one finishes and the opposite one begins,” she says. “It’s some of the necessary hubs for yachting, but it surely’s in a really delicate method. It’s a must to learn between the traces.” Certainly, step right into a café close by and seize an espresso—stroll, don’t drive, as parking is horrendous—and what powers life on this city turns into clearer. Rowdy or hushed conversations would possibly contain brokers haggling over a deal, or rival boatyards settling scores. “So many workshops, so many sheds, so many boats,” says one other insider. “The entire city breathes yachting.”
Viareggio wasn’t at all times such a moneyed, jet-set nexus. Once I visited all through my childhood, I had no concept that the wealthiest yachting fanatics on the planet had been pouring money into the rickety boatyards I’d see en path to the city’s park, extra a pine forest, actually. My focus was on the beachfront promenade, crammed with outlets, eating places and gelaterie. Many of the main buildings are Belle Époque, a nod to the period when the city reworked from fishing village to vacationer vacation spot. Viareggio is a part of a 12-mile strip generally known as Versilia, the place the seashores are broad and golden, a clean canvas for sandcastles constructed by the Milanese children who spend the summer season months right here; a typical household books a set at a lodge for a number of weeks, like a serviced summer season house. The buildings trace at Cannes, however Viareggio is shot via with a brassy class that’s so distinctly Italian.
This nook of Tuscany additionally has an arty previous: The quarries in close by Carrara, for instance, equipped the big block of marble that Michelangelo became David. That’s why the world grew to become a fixture of my childhood, too: My artist father was drawn right here within the Nineteen Sixties by its historical past, and my household would make the journey from our house in Britain frequently over the following 30 years, staying someplace alongside the coast, in Viareggio or elsewhere in Versilia, embracing the rhythm of life. But, regardless of numerous visits, we by no means as soon as thought-about going out on a ship. If we had, I may need met Giovanna Vitelli.
Vitelli is now government vice chairman of Azimut Benetti, her household’s shipyard and by far the biggest and most necessary builder. Again when it was simply Benetti, building of the unique superyacht bankrupted the agency, and the Vitelli-owned Azimut swept in and snapped up the floundering rival. Vitelli’s earliest reminiscence is from aboard a ship within the Darsena. “I used to be sitting on the flybridge, watching the captain,” she recollects. “He was crusing from our inside shipyard, down the canal, to the open sea, and it’s fairly tight—simply a few centimeters [clearance] all sides. He made it look simple, joking with me and barely trying down. It was so thrilling.”
Like most of the yards right here, hers has roots again to the late nineteenth century, because the city’s shipbuilding prowess lengthy pre-dates the superyacht increase. The necessity to export marble from Carrara affordably led to the primary business dock right here, in 1819. For greater than a century, the main target was on giant, sturdy picket ships for business use—cargo and fishing, largely. However that trade helped set up a formidable pool of proficient, native shipwrights, who had been primed to take benefit when yachting grew to become a staple of jet-set dwelling within the dolce vita period. As demand grew, these yards cannily pivoted to begin constructing fiberglass and steel craft aimed extra at idling on the ocean than speedily dispatching native stones to London or New York. Viareggio’s boats rapidly earned a popularity for panache, filled with a sure swagger that the extra formal yards of Northern Europe may by no means fairly match, although maybe not as reliably engineered as their German and Dutch rivals.
“It was a revolution for Viareggio,” say Vitelli. “Simply after the battle, within the Fifties, there was a necessity to come back again to life and luxuriate in life.” No marvel, then, that she says she’s particularly pleased with the forthcoming 121-foot Motopanfilo superyacht. Zippy and compact, it’s on the smaller aspect for a superyacht, intentionally meant to nod to these first glory days of yacht-building right here in a number of methods—suppose rounded sterns and curved teakwood fixtures. Vitelli says the brand new mannequin was impressed by the Mini Cooper, one other traditional design that’s been tweaked and reinvented whereas remaining aesthetically constant for many years. “It’s the quintessence, a method of displaying the world our continuity with the previous, however gloriously reinterpreted in a contemporary method. That’s one thing we may solely do in Viareggio, as a result of we’d like the expert artisans right here, who know find out how to brush that teak and curve the wooden. They’ve been doing that right here for an extended, very long time.”
Vitelli emphasizes she’s eager for extra house owners to go to her in situ and see their vessels below building fairly than merely deeding duty for mission administration to their brokers. The enchantment of creating the journey is apparent: not solely the hospitality of shipyard house owners like Vitelli but additionally the innate appeal of the world. Plus, Florence is only a brief helicopter journey away.
Scalabrino encourages her purchasers to come back and has discovered extra are actually eager to see the work in progress. “It’s like kids constructing with Lego, seeing behind the scenes earlier than the puzzle comes collectively—the engine rooms, the roughness of the method,” she says. “Shoppers would possibly come again each so many weeks to comply with the development of building at each stage.” Make certain to earmark at the least one go to throughout Viareggio’s annual Carnival, which normally takes place in February. It’s a snarky mashup of Saturday Evening Stay and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, infamous all through Italy for its cruel satire. In bygone years, shipwrights constructed the floats of their spare time, redeploying their maritime experience, and even now that papier-mâché has supplanted wooden and steel as the fabric of selection, some shipyard staff become involved.
Visiting a yard in individual, in fact, additionally permits patrons to supply direct enter. Italian shipyards are typically recognized for his or her flexibility, particularly mid-build, prepared and capable of alter plans to fulfill a consumer’s change of thoughts. Shipyards in Northern Europe, whereas additionally amenable to tweaks, have a popularity for being prone to push again towards such course corrections.
It’s simpler to not be inflexible when corporations are largely personal and family-run, as is Codecasa. Ennio Buonomo is a senior government; his father-in-law is its longtime head. “If you happen to name right here, somebody from the household replies on the cellphone, and we all know that folks from the USA, particularly, like that,” Buonomo says. “They really feel extra comfy speaking with the proprietor, to allow them to clarify what they’re in search of and have a response inside a day.” Like Vitelli, he welcomes visits from individuals out there for a brand new yacht: “We promote extra boats at a restaurant or the golf membership than we do at a ship present.” Giorgio Armani’s Major, a 213-foot superyacht, was constructed right here—it stands out at any marina with its dark-green hull, a private specification from the designer—as was media mogul Jim Gabbert’s 164-foot Invader. U2’s the Edge shares possession of one other Codecasa vessel, the 160-foot Cyan.
It’s the city’s popularity for design aptitude that pulls subtle patrons of their ilk. Every yard has a particular aesthetic popularity, too: Erstwhile retail tycoon Sir Philip Inexperienced’s 295-foot Lionheart is a glossy, trendy design from Benetti, however he additionally owns the 108-foot Lionchase, used as a young for the mom ship. The smaller boat reaches a speedy 37 knots, typical of the yard that constructed it: Mangusta, shorthand amongst insiders for sporty, futuristic craft. Mangusta is a relative upstart, based throughout the early days of the superyacht increase within the Nineteen Eighties.
Rossinavi builds not more than 4 vessels annually, however its devotees are prepared to be affected person, normally ready two to 4 years for a completed craft. The agency is thought for artistic drawback fixing, as with the transient for the 206-foot Utopia IV, constructed for Miami-based Market America founder JR Ridinger. The waters between downtown Miami and the seashore are too shallow for many yachts to deal with with out operating aground. Utopia IV is an exception, as Rossinavi’s Federico Rossi explains proudly. “Solely 5 shipyards on the planet have the know-how to make a fast-displacement aluminum hull. It doesn’t have an everyday propeller however a water jet, extra like a Jet Ski,” he says. “It means the proprietor will get to make use of the vessel in downtown Miami, which is an incredible expertise.” Don’t be stunned if it’s piloted by a Viareggino, both. Thanks partially to the Crew Community, a recruitment company with workplaces in each Fort Lauderdale and Viareggio, there’s a neighborhood of expat sailors in South Florida, typically crewing yachts that their associates or family members helped construct.
As for that very first superyacht, it has come house—or near it—these a few years later. The vessel modified fingers (and names) a number of instances after leaving the Benetti shipyards. The era-defining 282-footer was docked on the Worldwide Yacht Membership of Antibes for years however now spends most of its days on the marina in San Remo, Italy, a spot that it probably finds redolent of house. Any passerby would don’t know that your complete style of superyachts was birthed by this one vessel.
Viareggio stays unruffled by superstar or cash. Each time I’ve walked alongside the promenade as an grownup, it has appeared unchanged since my childhood, although, fortunately, the gelaterie now not supply the garishly blue ice cream that was as soon as commonplace. The waters off the seashore listed here are dotted with fishing boats and pleasure craft. It’s unlikely that almost all informal guests would even notice that that is the non secular house of the superyacht, until they luck into the majestic sight of a phenomenal new vessel making its method via the Darsena en path to its maiden voyage.
IF YOU GO…
The Principe di Piemonte is the toniest lodge in Viareggio. The five-star spot throughout the road from the seashore has a Michelin two-star restaurant on its fifth ground, with excellent views out over the water and a menu by Giuseppe Mancino. In any other case, attempt the 44-room Plaza e de Russie, additionally with its personal Michelin-star restaurant, or the Villa Ariston, a lot homier however with direct connections to the yacht world, because it’s owned by the Codecasa clan. The plushest lodge in the entire of Versilia is the Augustus, sitting amongst pine bushes in its personal park in Forte dei Marmi, a 25-minute drive north alongside the coast. The 1,300-square-foot Lidino suite is closest to the personal underpass to the seashore.
For meals, the shipyards’ de facto canteens embody Il Porto, a high-end spot with a terrace overlooking the water on by way of Michele Coppino, or the informal trattoria Cicero; order the spaghetti with arselle (child clams) or the branzino all’isolana (with potato, tomato and olives), each native specialties. For greater than seven many years, da Giorgio, a brief stroll north, has additionally drawn the shipwrights with its fish-heavy menu, which pivots relying on the fishermen’s catch every morning. It’s well worth the brief drive into the hills to the city of Camaiore for dinner open air by the stream at Osteria Candalla, a transformed water mill; the menu is heavy on Tuscan classics, like wild boar and tordelli, Versilia’s riff on ravioli.
If you happen to’re a sailor, the waters instantly off the coast are clear and blue however unremarkable. Higher to move out to the Tuscan Archipelago, a necklace of islands within the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas and comparable in look to Sardinia, rimmed with sparklingly clear water and effective seashores. Elba is the biggest and most populous, however the others are extra interesting. Anchor within the bay off Giannutri, house to barely 20 individuals, or head to the opposite aspect of the island to go to the excellent ruins of a Roman villa.
Aside from Carnival, which precedes Lent, Viareggio can be recognized for its Puccini Competition, which takes place each July and August instantly south of the city middle within the frazione, or hamlet, of Torre del Lago. It’s the place the composer of La Bohème, Tosca and extra lived for a lot of his life. The primary collection of concert events was staged right here in 1930, simply six years after he died.