We have over a hundred lidos in the UK. These are not to be confused with lilos, which are inflatable mattresses used for bobbing around on the water. Lidos are outdoor bathing pools with other facilities clustered around them…and probably a few lilos too.
Lidos became popular in the UK in the 1930s, hence why a lot of them feature art-deco architecture. We used to have many more lidos but, after falling into disrepair, a lot have disappeared. This includes the one we had in Cleethorpes, the seaside town where I grew up. After getting battered by a storm and high tides in 1978 it was demolished a few years later. Here’s a picture I took of its final days.
I remember swimming in its murky pool with my goggles on, and a huge turd looming up in front of me out of the darkness. This was around the same time that the film ‘Jaws’ came out. I think I would have preferred coming face to face with a shark.
Its lack of cleanliness, and presumably toilets, probably explains why it was never actually referred to as a ‘lido’. Lidos tended to be more associated with wholesome outdoor pursuits, other than the clever trick of laying an alfresco cable whilst doing the backstroke.
Our British lidos, and those all around the world, are named after The Lido in Venice…or ‘Lido di Venezia’, to give it its Italian name. The Lido is a long thin island that forms part of the natural barrier that protects the placid Venetian Lagoon from the more turbulent waters of the Adriatic Sea.
You can see this in my excellent illustration of the lagoon. Note how I have artistically captured the notion of ‘turbulence’ in the Adriatic.
On the Adriatic side of The Lido is a very long and wide sandy beach, a stark contrast to the busy streets and crowded canals of Venice. This more remote aspect began to make The Lido popular in the 18th century with the writers and artists that were visiting Venice as part of their ‘Grand Tour’. For instance, it allowed Romantic poets like Byron and Shelley to get all romantic as they watched the sun come up over the sea.
Around a hundred years later, in the late 1800s, The Lido was developed as a full-blown seaside resort, although quite an upper class one. It was promoted as having health-giving benefits with its warm sunshine and sea-bathing. Thus it attracted the ageing bourgeoisie in search of rejuvenation…followed by a slap-up lunch with lashings of champagne. Even now, the posh hotels still own most of the beach.
It then took on an even more glamorous aspect when The Venice Film Festival was launched in the early 1930s. This was an attempt to boost Venetian tourism after the Wall Street Crash had dented the coffers of the fancy hotels and restaurants. The marketing strategy worked, and The Lido once again became the place to see and be seen. A Hollywood home away from home.
Like our old lidos though, there is now a bit of faded grandeur about the Lido di Venezia. Admittedly I visited in October, somewhat out of season, but peeling paint and dog-poo on the pavement didn’t really give me that movie-star feeling, despite all the palm trees. More Hull than Hollywood.
Although maybe they tart the place up when the summer visitors arrive with their bulging wallets. I don’t think they would have bothered for me, even if I’d warned them I was coming. I’m more the demographic that brings their own lunch, freshly stolen from the breakfast room of my budget hotel.
The No.1 Vaporetto goes to The Lido from St Marks in Venice. I used this as an opportunity to get the last dregs out of my outrageously expensive seven-day Venice public transport pass. Having never been to The Lido before, I thought it would make for an interesting stop-off before catching the water bus back to the airport.
As I say most of the beaches are private but there is a public beach at the north end of the island.
Be warned though, it’s a much longer walk than it looks on the map. I’d also suggest not going when the buses are on strike, it’s a sweaty sprint back to the Lido boat terminal lest you miss your flight.
These are real road buses by the way, the Lido does indeed have real buses on real roads…which was a bit strange after not seeing any road traffic at all in Venice. Not that I ever actually saw the Lido buses. As I say, the idle buggers were on strike. However, they do exist… as testified by the bus stop I stood at for half an hour wondering why the timetable kept lying to me.
Footnote: Incidentally, the 1970s song by Boz Scaggs called ‘Lido Shuffle’, has nothing to do with the Venetian Lido, or any other lido for that matter. Its about a man called ‘Lido’ who presumably shuffles around. Well, if he does that when there’s a transport strike in Venice he’ll miss his plane home.