30 luglio 2022
by Laura Antonini

Tuscany's secret villa on the Versilia sands


Forte dei Marmi has been an icon of Italian elite holiday destinations since the early 1900s. Its stunning beaches with the backdrop of the Apuan Alps have been a holiday destination for writers, wealthy families, artists and musicians. Today, in the age of social media, this popularity is renewed, reaching even further afield in influencer selfies featuring luxury beach tents and clubs symbolic of the new post-pandemic nightlife.

Yet in this turning wheel of trends, there is still one place that, while following the evolutions imposed by the new demand of an increasingly international clientele, has kept its authentically Italian spirit intact. More than a destination, the Augustus Hotel & Resort is the place among places, with a retro charm jealously guarded by the Maschietto family, the current owners.

It is in fact an ante litteram albergo diffuso (hotel in multiple buildings), surrounded by greenery and a stone's throw from the beach, which consists of several properties all with a different story, as different as they are harmonious in the authenticity of the furnishings, and boasts a history that traces the footsteps of important names in post-war Italy, such as the Agnellis and the Pesentis, and the desire for intimate exclusivity that is making a comeback today.

The hotel boasts a history that traces the footsteps of important names in post-war Italy, such as the Agnellis and the Pesentis, and the desire for intimate exclusivity that is making a comeback today

The architect Vittorio Titti Maschietto tells us about the magic of this place. “I still remember the check for hundreds of millions old lire that my father, who already worked in hospitality, tore off to buy Villa Agnelli in 1969.” This is one of the gems of the Augustus Hotel & Resort. “Built by Admiral Morin in the early twentieth century and known as Villa Costanza, it was a neo-Renaissance residence and was bought in 1926 by Edoardo Agnelli, son of Senator Giovanni, founder of FIAT, and father of Gianni. An almost mythological place, where the great family from Turin spent long and literary holidays for more than thirty years,” recalls Maschietto. “When the Agnellis arrived, all of Forte dei Marmi came alive.”

Their presence in this somewhat secret place of the Forte, in the middle of the countryside, secluded, not far from the town center and very close to the sea, helped to attract members of the upper middle class and aristocracy from all over Italy, leading to the creation of the sophisticated and exclusive model of holiday resort known as vivere in villa [villa life].” “To reach the sea, they built an underpass, the only one existing today in the whole of Versilia, under Viale della Repubblica. Even today,” continues Maschietto, “this villa with its 26 rooms retains the furnishings of the time.

There are the large bamboo chairs with the X-shaped backrests and the bamboo bookcase that design lovers adore. The floral wallpapers are the original Sanderson ones from London. And then the chests of drawers, tables and chairs. In the garden, we still have the big tables covered with Venini mosaics. They are unique pieces and are an unusual height. It is thought that they were built so 'low' so that the children of the Agnelli family could enjoy a comfortable standing snack when they got back from the beach.” But the first building in the Augustus Hotel & Resort was in fact the home of Augusta Pesenti, now known as Villa Pesenti. 

“A jewel of the new modernist style.” So different and almost antithetical to the romanticism of Villa Agnelli, it was designed by the famous architect Osvaldo Borsani (founder of the industrial engineering and technological innovation company Tecno) in the late 1930s. The exterior features rationalist style architecture with large balconies used as actual lounges, and the interior is decorated with sophisticated furnishings. In 1953, Augusta Pesenti added a floor, transforming it into the Augustus Hotel, which was the only De Luxe hotel in the whole of Versilia for over twenty years. In the large park surrounding the main building, seven other eclectic villas were then built in the following years, with a delightful swimming pool in the most luxuriant corner of the garden and, from the second half of the 1960s, the Nave (Ship), “another building whose long terraces recall the decks of a cruise ship.”  

This varied offering has attracted famous faces. There was Mina, who took a whole building for herself. “She enjoyed the space and her summer holiday in a private manner, very jealous of her privacy.” Artists and singers arrived in this haven of peace from all over the world. “Among the many, how can we forget Jimi Hendrix: he stayed at Villa Pesenti and was very generous with his tips.” But also Charlton Heston, Oriana Fallaci, Eugenio Montale, Francesco Messina, Mario Monicelli, Paul Anka, Vittorio Gassman, celebrities and sports personalities, to the extent that, in 2013, when Carlo Vanzina was shooting Sapore di te, he immediately requested this location among the ideal settings for the film. Catherine Deneuve stayed at Villa Agnelli with her daughter, from her relationship with Marcello Mastroianni. “He came every day to visit them.”

Private villas and, of course, the beach. You reach the beach along a path of hydrangeas and, for the guests at Villa Agnelli, through the underpass. Here, there is the resort’s bathing establishment. Today, it has white cabins edged with red and blue stripes with the symbol of a camel's head. The establishment is plastic-free and Maschietto has designed an internal shallow swimming pool for children who “mustn't be afraid of water.” But this beach conceals another romantic story. “It was created as a beach shed and hangar for the Agnelli family seaplane,” says Maschietto, “and still retains the charm of the joyful setting described by Susanna Agnelli in Vestivamo alla Marinara.

The establishment is plastic-free and Maschietto has designed an internal shallow swimming pool for children who “mustn't be afraid of water.”

At the end of the 1960s,” continues the architect, who at the end of the sixties was part of the radical architecture group UFO who, as part of the student protest within the Faculty of Architecture in Florence, sought to pursue the spectacularization of architecture in urban and environmental ‘warfare’, “we transformed it and gave a new life to this place of great charm. More than just any old shed: The Agnellis had even had their plumber build a multi-jet shower system inside; a sort of hand-crafted hydromassage system.

This place lent itself to a new life and, in 1969, we transformed it into the Bambaissa, the first modern nightclub in Forte dei Marmi. Piccio Raffanini played the records—who went on to become the star of the television program Mister Fantasy in the 1980s—on Swiss-made equipment and the vinyls came from London. It was avant-garde and madness. 

Like the name “Bamba Issa, which was inspired by an imaginary haven of red sand from a Scrooge McDuck comic strip. So, this club, like a seraglio caravan, had a fantasy interior with large papier-mâché camels that we had commissioned from the artists of the Viareggio [Carneval] floats and a huge hourglass that still welcomes guests arriving at the beach today.”

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