The Italian riviera
Romantic, charming and always in style, the brightly coloured picturesque villages of the Italian Riviera have been tempting travellers and jetsetters for more than two centuries. The iridescent deep blue sea and smattering of seaport towns along Liguria’s long slender sliver of a coastline connects France’s Côte d’Azur to the north and the Tuscany seaside to the south.
Exploring the riviera requires just a map and a bit of directions. The riviera is divided into two sections. To the west is the Riviera di Ponente (meaning coast of the setting sun) while to the east is Riviera di Levante (coast of rising sun). The 340 km coastline crosses all four Ligurian provinces and their capitals including Genova, Savona, Imperia and La Spezia.
Boasting a rugged coastline of hills and mountains, thanks to the Maritime Alps which stand behind this stretch of shore, Italy’s third smallest region offers a stretch of pine-filled forests, quaint, medieval cliffside villages, an abundance of lemon groves, wildflowers and almond trees, along with kilometres of pristine beaches. Travellers enjoy dramatic coastline views and a terrain perfect for hiking. It’s no wonder that so many artists, filmmakers, poets and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound and Virginia Woolf spent time in Liguria.
Exploring the coastline
Liguria is a hot spot for nature lovers, adventure seekers and overall outdoor enthusiasts. Its unique location offers a temperate climate throughout the year. In fact, thanks to its position between the sea and Alps, the Italian Riviera experiences a rare weather phenomenon known as the Maccaja (or macaia). When this happens, heavy, muggy air causes a fog to roll in, which seemingly floats just above the sea. The atmosphere is surreal, as though the land and cliffside terraces have been mysteriously suspended above the sea, hanging in mid-air.
South East – Riviera di Levante
Let’s start from the south in La Spezia. Everyone has heard of the Cinque Terre – a series of five seaside towns including Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – the craggy hiking trail and swoon worthy secluded romantic spots make it a top tourist destination. Meanwhile, the lesser visited Portovenere is a dream. The UNESCO World Heritage site in the Golfo dei Poeti is a stunning seaside medieval town which boasts a 12th century castle and 13th century church, along with visits to the beautiful grottos and nearby islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto.
Further north is capital city Genova, and the glamourous jewel of the Riviera – Portofino. The seaside hamlet turns into the summer’s place to see-and-be-seen with sleek multi-million dollar yachts, quaint cafes and restaurants, luxury shops and a bubbling nightlife. The town, which usually hovers around 750 residents in the offseason, was the holiday escape for Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra in the ‘60s. Portofino’s legendary orangey and pink hued homes are stunning any time of day, lovingly nestled within a landscape of azalea bushes, cypresses, Mediterranean pines, and classic palm trees. Take a beautiful walk up the brick-lined paths to visit the 16tn century fortress Castello Brown and the beautiful church of San Giorgio. You may even be so lucky as to spot a dolphin in port!
The picturesque setting of Camogli with its enchanting beachside homes and gorgeous seashore on the splendid Golfo di Paradiso (Gulf of Paradise) is the perfect Italian Riviera getaway while the lively yet laid-back beach resort town of Santa Margherita Ligure, located a few kilometres from Portofino, offers breath-taking views of the sea.
North West- Riviera di Ponente
Best known in the Riviera di Pontente is San Remo, a resort city, casino destination and host to the eponymous winter Italian Singing Festival. The coastline is dotted with charming beach towns that fill up in the summer like Pietra Ligure, Albegna and Alassio, famous for its muretto, a wall with autographs of famous visitors.
The sleepier seaside hamlet of Ventimiglia is the last town before the French border, which lies just 7 km away and offers attractions including an archaeological site with remains of a Roman theatre and baths, botanical gardens, prehistoric caves, and an adorable seaside promenade.
While in the region, sip on the Tintoretto, the effervescent traditional local cocktail made from pomegranate juice and spumante. And be sure to indulge in the region’s scrumptious traditional local dishes which include pesto, as well as orata alle ligure (sea bream cooked with olives and potatoes), cozze alla spezzina (mussels filled with cheese and meat) and la torta baciocca (mushroom and potato pie).