Lake-side lounging in the Florence area
Summertime day escapes.
When summer strikes and the inevitable heat wave rears its head in Florence, locals and travelers alike seek respite from the scorching Renaissance city. This doesn’t necessarily mean escaping to the seaside: though the coast is just a quick train ride away, there are solid alternatives to the beach that make for fast, inexpensive, relaxing day trips, often with fewer crowds to contend with. Look no further than two of the region’s top lakes: Bilancino in Barberino di Mugello and Renai in Signa.
If you’re looking for the “local” experience on your trip to Florence, both options are popular with off-duty residents and families, so you’ll see a side of Tuscany that’s less polished than the postcard-perfect version so often presented; you’ll get a real taste of authentic life in the area.
Let’s begin with Bilancino, the human-made lake that covers five square kilometers just off the Barberino highway exit. While originally created to resolve systematic water issues in the region, and mitigate the possibilities of floods and droughts, now it’s a mecca for those seeking outdoor sports, sunbathing, sailing or just a chance to chill out in a beautiful natural setting.
If you’re not up for the athletic activities offered – competitive fishing, canoeing, sailing, and windsurfing, to name a few – plenty of other amenities might appeal. In the “Bahia Beach” area, you’ll find an outdoor eatery open at lunch and dinner (with a terrace with views that rival those of any beach club), plus beach chair, umbrella and pedal boat rentals.
Take Fido along if you fancy: the area is dog-friendly and staffed by lifeguards. Slightly further afield on the northeast banks of the lake, you’ll find the Gabbianello Oasis, a wildlife preserve where you can catch glimpses of marvelous birds including blackwinged stilt and flamingoes.
The Lago Renai is a slightly closer escape from the city and part of the larger Renai Park complex in Signa – if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even reach the park via a flat and family-friendly bike path that departs from the Cascine Park in Florence (it begins on the viale Abramo Lincoln just beyond the park entrance and passes the Ponte all’Indiano and continues for several kilometers.
Here you can boat, swim or indulge in a picnic lunch at one of the park tables; play a spot of beach volleyball if you wish you were at the coast. (Our two cents? These lakes are practically preferable to the beach – there’s just as many or more amenities, more room to spread out and less of a chance of salt water stinging your eyes.)
Beyond the lake itself, Renai is part of a protected WWF nature reserve and offers a plethora of kid-friendly activities (not to mention parental fun – think cocktails and occasional events or DJ sets).
Spurn the seaside, live the lake!