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Culture: Choosing your Italian beach destination

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Only a short distance from Aviano, you will find sandy beaches perfect for the whole family or enchanting pebbly shores far from the crowds. Italy has a piece of coast for anyone, including suntan fans, nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, kids and even pets.

The Friuli Venezia Giulia and neighboring Veneto regions share more than 150 miles of the Adriatic Sea coastline. To fully enjoy your time, here is a short guide to help choose the best beach for you.

The first thing you should consider when deciding upon a destination, is the difference between a spiaggia libera (free public beach) and a spiaggia privata (private beach). If all you want to take with you is your swimming suit and a towel, a private beach might be the best for you, as beach umbrellas (ombrelloni), sunbeds (lettini) and deckchairs (sdrai) are available to rent.

Prices vary from place to place, current season and the length of your stay. You can rent your umbrella at the offices located at the beach entrance. For most seasides, such as Lignano Sabbiadoro, Grado and Bibione, it is also possible to book a spot online. Most private beaches do not allow personally owned beach umbrellas or sunbeds, although you can lay a towel and stay on the foreshore without paying any money.

Safety is assured by lifeguard service on spiaggia privata. Facilities like toilets, showers, first aid centers and bars, as well as activities for children and adults, such as swimming lessons, aerobics and aquagyms, are also available. And if you feel like heading out to sea with the whole family you can rent one of the characteristic pedalò (pedal boats) along the shore.

On the other hand, you will have to bring beach umbrellas, small tents or sunbeds with you to spiaggia libera. Also take into account that some of the free beaches might not have all the facilities usually available at private beaches, so make sure you have everything you need, including food and drinks.

If you are travelling with kids, head for Lignano Sabbiadoro, Grado, Lido di Jesolo or Jesolo Pineta. These beaches have won the "green flag," an award assigned by pediatricians as places fit for children based on standards like beach sand, size, safety, water cleanliness and water depth.

Alongside the "Green Flag" award, Eraclea Mare, Bibione, Caorle, Cavallino Treporti, Lido di Venezia, Sottomarina and Rosolina Mare have also been awarded with the "blue flag," an international certification of high quality.

If you are feeling more adventurous and want to avoid most of the crowd, or if you just wish to relax and enjoy incredibly blue water and nature, I would suggest one of the stony or pebbly beaches in the Trieste and Gorizia area (http://www.turismofvg.it/Sea/Trieste-sea).

If you like history, you'll probably love to sunbathe at the Duino Aurisina beach, which is not far from the stunning Duino castles, or the beautiful, golden island of Grado, which is full of historical and evocative spots.

If you prefer sports, you'll be happy to know that many beaches offer kayaking, rowing and scuba diving.

If you have a dog, keep in mind that pets are not allowed on many beaches, but there are designated beaches with special facilities for dogs and their owners. Among these are La Spiaggia di Snoopy in Grado, Fido Lido in Muggia, Doggy Beach in Lignano Sabbiadoro and La Spiaggia di Pluto in Bibione.

Once you've decided your destination and have everything you need, you're ready to leave. Keep in mind that on weekends and public holidays you will most likely find lots of traffic on the way to the beach. Taking a different route besides the autostrada might be a good alternative.

Finding a parking spot close to the beach can also be difficult on busy days, so it is good to know that some of the main seaside resorts, such as Bibione and Grado, offer free shuttle service from parking lots to the beach.

Once you have arrived at the beach, here are some recommendations on how to behave. Beach regulations vary from place to place but some general rules of behavior should be followed anywhere.

· Most importantly, respect others. Avoid excessively loud music, talking or playing. If you want to play with a ball or rackets make sure you do it far enough from the umbrella area and where you will not bother anyone. Do not use or occupy any extra space than the one assigned to you and do not use an extra sunbed or chair.
· Respect the environment by throwing trash in the appropriate disposal bins provided.
· Although topless sunbathing is allowed on many beaches, nude sunbathing is not unless in a designated area, like the nudist beach at La Costa dei Barbari in Trieste.
· Take care of your possessions and beware of illegal peddlers.

Ultimately, for your own safety and that of others, do not forget to check the establishment or beach's flag. Its color indicates the weather conditions. A blue or white flag means that weather is good and entering the sea is safe; a yellow flag warns sunbathers to close their beach umbrellas because of strong wind, and a red flag signals particularly bad weather and that bathing is dangerous.

Now that you have a general understanding of Italian beaches, it's time for you to pick your destination, put on your swimsuit and enjoy the Italian sun.