Wondering where to stay on the Italian Riviera? Well here is our guide to help you decide
One of Italy's smallest regions, Liguria stretches west in a narrow ribbon along the coast from France and offers one of the steepest and dramatic coastlines in Italy, all the way to its neighbour, the region of Tuscany.
The coastal area is known as the Italian Riviera and has always been a region loved by tourists as it enjoys an all-year round mild climate, blooming gardens and the Mediterranean vegetation overlooking the sea. The region is awash with sea hamlets and valley villages that are full of character and history.
The region has more variety in landscape & architecture than its French counterpart and is generally less chaotic. Most Italian visitors are eager to press to their chosen sea-side resort and miss the lofty hinterland areas which can offer wonderful respite from the hustle & bustle of the sun-bed lined beaches.
This Mediterranean coastline produces some of Italy's finest herbs, oil and sea food. The rugged steep hills that line the entire region provide a backdrop to ensure idyllic growing conditions for its vineyards.
Like so much of Italy, Liguria is a land of contrasts, home to seaside resort towns and hamlets as well as beautiful villages clinging to the hillsides and mountains. Resorts such as San Remo and Alassio keep the glamour and cosmopolitan feel to the area and Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and the Cinque Terre create enough beauty to fill more than an album of picturesque photos.
1. San Remo - the grand hotels and villas of this queen of the Italian Riviera offer aged glamour & character of this, the first port of call coming from the west and largest of the regions resorts. Set in a huge sheltered bay between twin headlands, its heyday as a classy resort was most apparent in the 60 years prior to World War II. San Remo is blessed with the regions most famous casino and still remains a showy and attractive town with a great beach. The lively & commercial heart of its centre is Corso Matteotti, its main shopping street but the old town is a favourite, a tangled mesh of steep lanes & stairs creeping under archways & narrow tunnels, a casbah experience.
2. Cinque Terre - these "five lands" boast some of Italy's most extraordinary countryside by the sea. Mountains covered by terraced vineyards drop precariously into the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea passing hamlets and tiny fishing villages. The Cinque Terre is by far the principal highlight of the whole Riviera, the scenery is truly breath-taking with bucket list walks between the villages. Our favourite of the five is Vernazza, a mini Portofino, an enchanting little town with it's enclosed natural harbour and houses grouped like an amphitheatre.
3. Alassio - with its spectacular 4km fine sand beach and motorboat trips out to Isola Gallinara nature reserve offers a younger vibe. Quite often referred to as one of the prettier beach resorts on this mountainous stretch, the sea front is lined with places to snack and dine in style but the town still has delightful narrow alleys in the old centre leading down to the sea-front.
4. Portofino - this exclusive home to the rich & famous is one of Italy's most romantic little nooks surrounded by lush Cyprus & olive clad slopes discovered long ago by artists and then by the yachting set. It's delightful port & huddle of pastel coloured houses around the waterfront piazza is a charming attraction. The footpath south from the harbour offers a terrace at its end, where one will find breath-taking views of this pint-sized Portofino and beyond.
5. Finale Ligure - a clutter of twisting alleys behind medieval walls and equally atmospheric waterfront. With its good beach & affordable accommodation, it's a handy base for exploring the Riviera. Well known for its evening passeggiata along the promenade where Italian families spill out from the restaurants and gelatos.
6. Diana Marina - a long sandy beach with palm trees stretching along the promenade. This spot may be sheltered from the wind but unfortunately not earthquakes, virtually destroyed by the Imperia earthquake of 1887, and then completely re-built, becoming a destination for the Italian holiday makers rather than its previous routes as an olive oil centre and port.
7. Porto Venere - from its brightly coloured houses along the waterfront narrow steps & cobbled paths lead up to the hills which are blessed with spectacular panoramic views. This memorably tranquil setting is on the very tip of the south western arm of this bay and along with the Cinque Terre is listed as a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. Rapallo - bright blue changing cabins line the sandy beach. A highly developed resort town with an expanse of glass fronted restaurants and hotels surrounding a south facing bay and mild climate. Its marina and castle are the most striking landmarks and the old town offers meandering ancient cobbled streets behind the stone saline gate.
9. Santa Margherita - the origins of a calm fishing village far from the limelight of other resorts changed this sleepy resort after the visit of Hollywood stars, thus becoming a feature in the national geographic in the 50's. The beachfront and palm tree lined harbour are the main attractions but the rest of the town is also attractive with pleasant shopping streets centred around the Piazza Mazzini.
Why the Italian Riviera?
Due to its popularity as a holiday destination, Liguria has a great selection of properties from seaside apartments to hillside houses and villas. If you're looking for something similar to the South of France, Liguria is humble and less pretentious.
Liguria is mainly about the coast and is a great setting to relax and watch the world go by. The coastal resorts offer a great range of shops, restaurants and bars so you have plenty of choice on offer. Boat trips are a great way to spend a day out or visit the Cinque Terre, also easily accessible by bus or train which runs along the coastline.
For some reason Liguria is often overlooked as a holiday destination internationally, compared to the more famous regions in the south. However, with its mild all year-round climate, easy access from the south of France and numerous airports, outstanding coastline & natural beauty of the mountains, we find ourselves scratching our heads as to why. The Italians love it here and as the old saying goes, when in Rome…..
The coastline is busy especially in summer but it is also exciting with a great choice of bars, restaurants and shopping. The locals are friendly and will certainly welcome overseas visitors as the area is very cosmopolitan.
With the glitz and glamour of the coastal towns, the peace of the valleys and great coastlines, Liguria offers something for everyone.
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