A town transformed by superyachts
The popular seaside resort of Viareggio has a rich shipbuilding heritage at its heart.
For many people, the Italian city of Viareggio signifies two things. Beaches and carnivals. Tourists flock to the region’s sandy shores in the summer months. And when winter arrives, it’s a waiting game until the famed ‘Carnevale’ – one of the most popular festivals in Italy, which draws over a million people every year.
But there’s another aspect to this Tuscan city that is often overlooked. Viareggio is one of the world’s most significant shipbuilding hubs; where almost a fifth of all superyachts are made.
Its reputation as a shipbuilding hub is nothing new. The region has long been famed for its marble and back in the day the city built strong wooden ships to transport it to wherever it was needed. “This laid the foundations,” says Viareggio-based shipbuilders Perini Navi. “Then, when demand increased, shipyards evolved and shifted from making wooden boats to building stronger and more modern vessels. Nowadays, Viareggio is where the world’s largest and most exclusive yachts are made.”
There are a cluster of superyacht shipyards in the region including Perini Navi, Benetti, San Lorenzo and VSY. Together, they represent some of the most well-known names in the superyachting world. The impact of that on the city itself is significant, especially as many of the yard’s hire locally. “Many of our employees are originally from Viareggio,” says Benedetta Moreno from Benetti, a yard that has over 350 yachts on its books. “There’s a profound bond that links the yard to the wider region.”
Those employees can spend months or years on the sorts of complex, custom-build projects that come out of these high profile yards. “From the project brief to the final product, it might take up to three years; that’s about 250,000 man-hours on average and there could be up to 60 people involved each month during construction,” says Perini Navi. It’s not unusual to find generations of local families who have all worked at the same yard – handing down traditions and craftsmanship skills as they go.
Of course, it helps that Italy is renowned for its artistic flair; and the kudos of having a ‘made in Italy’ stamp on your superyacht is not to be underestimated. Perini Navi agrees. “The region’s artistic roots have helped to drive its success in the industry. Tuscan cities have always been renowned for their artistic flair and craftmanship and people willing to buy a superyacht expect everything – from the interior and the exterior – to look perfect.”
With the likes of Florence, Siena and Pisa on its doorstep, the yards at Viareggio have their pick of the best leathers, woods, and marbles – not to mention the most experienced and sought-after designers and architects. And in the superyacht industry, having the cream of the crop on speed dial is paramount. Each owner tends to have specific tastes when it comes to design, so each custom-built superyacht ends up looking completely unique. While one owner might want a rustic home-from-home, filled with sumptuous creature comforts, another might want more of a showpiece yacht, complete with bespoke artworks and high-end finishes. The ability to choose every last detail is key.
Of course, once the long-awaited yacht is complete, it helps that there are some excellent cruising grounds to explore very nearby these Italian shipyards. “Viareggio is in a good strategic location for sailing enthusiasts,” says Perini Navi. “It is a great place to start enjoying sailing in the region.” And what better way to celebrate your new yacht than by taking it for a spin up the Ligurian coast to the famed Cinque Terre? Or south to Capri?
Back in Viareggio proper, there’s even an annual yachting event – the Versilia Rendez-Vous, which takes place every May. “The event celebrates the yachting world as a whole,” explains Perini Navi. “It represents the combined effort and teamwork between major shipbuilders. Collaboration is fruitful, not only among shipbuilders but also with other local companies that operate as ambassadors of Italian excellence.” The 2019 edition saw over 20,000 visitors flocking to the region to explore the latest offerings from local yards and suppliers.
Of course, whilst the superyacht is being built, there are, typically, many journeys back and forth for the owner as he or she puts the final touches on the boat. And there’s yet another tick in the box for Viareggio. “Many of Benetti’s owners choose Viareggio and Tuscany to build their yachts because these are great and unique places to visit and stay during the construction,” says Moreno. A quick stop by the shipyard and then onwards to one of those famed sandy beaches? What’s not to like?