Why an Italian tan will cost you your shirt

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

PITY the poor Italian sun worshipper. The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, this weekend invited people to 'enjoy the holidays' and forget the lira crisis. But up and down the glorious beaches from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic, anyone without plenty of lira had better keep off the sunbeds.

Over the years, beach after beach has been swallowed up by commercially managed concessions. Their regimented lines of sunbeds and parasols march from the Riviera to Sicily. Rows and rows of barrack-like cabins enclose tennis courts, cafes, children's playgrounds and volleyball pitches.

But it c omes at a price, and there is frequently no choice but to pay. It can cost a couple more than pounds 200 just to lie on an Italian beach for a week; not inclusive of hotels, meals, paperbacks, drinks, suntan oil or ice cream.

Last week priests in coastal parishes spoke out against the lack of free beaches for those unable to share in the good times proclaimed by the Prime Minister in his 'you've never had it so good' address on Friday. Don Carlo Caviglione of Genoa said his part of the Riviera lacked any beaches where poorer people might relax. In Tuscany, two of his colleagues said free space on the beaches was shrinking because of 'local authorities who think only of making money'.

Along the Tuscan coast the daily rate for a cabin, two sunbeds and a parasol is more than pounds 20. In the luxurious resorts of Capri and Ischia it can go up to about pounds 30.

Italian law stipulates that nobody can be forced to pay to sit on a beach. But anyone who ventures, towel and sun cream in hand, into a private concession to look for a spot on the sand will feel very unwelcome. The law is not applied; beach operators pay the authorities for their concessions and neither wishes to jeopardise this lucrative trade.

What of the visitor seeking the unspoilt golden strands familiar from tourist posters? They should probably forget theTuscan and Genoese coasts. And down in Sicily matters are regulated with awesome efficiency. It has been calculated that the 1 million inhabitants of Palermo enjoy free access to only 200 yards of their extensive local seashore. The rest is managed by a 'consortium'.

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