The Best Spots on the Italian Riviera
Although the entire stretch of the Ligurian coastline known as the Italian Riviera is beautiful, there are some towns and locations within the region that merit special attention.
The town closest to the French border at the western side of the Riviera is San Remo. High-rise free, this part of the coastline seems to uphold the image being projected by the Riviera and its magnificent albeit hedonistic way of life. Luxury villas lined with palm trees, long expansive beaches with cabana filled beach clubs and a large walk along the Mediterranean.
Flowers abound in pretty San Remo, a friendly reminder that this is the source of all the flowers needed to manufacture special scents.
Within San Remo, there is a large and lively old section known as Pigna, a medieval town where weekly flea markets are held every Saturday. There is also a huge indoor food market overflowing with local produce and wine. In Pigna there is a hill that tourists climb just to get a breathtaking view of the Levante and the Ponente. The Russian Orthodox Church, which was built for visiting Russian aristocrats, was also constructed in San Remo as specifically requested by the aristocrats who were attracted to the mild weather in the region.
The nightlife is alive and well in this region, with San Remo serving as the site of the glittering Casino Municipal. Just like in Monte Carlo, residents of San Remo are forbidden to play in the casino.
The port city of Genoa stands right at the center of the narrow stretch of the Ligurian coastline known as the Italian Riviera. The biggest commercial port of Italy, Genoa is the capital of Liguria and the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. During the time of the Romans, it served as an important maritime center for the empire and, during the period of the Renaissance, was known as one of the richest cities of Renaissance Europe. An old port city, Genoa is a mixture of the old and the new, the elegant and the squalid, the historic and the modern. Remnants of the Roman Empire are still available within the town’s medieval walls right next to the tenement homes. Stretching for several miles from the hills to the coast, Genoa lives up to its reputation as the cultural capital of Europe, a title it won in 2004 and which it most likely will be able to continually hold via its theaters, museums, restaurants, cafes, shopping centers and Europe’s largest aquarium. Today, Genoa is alive and bustling at all times of the day and night with its steady influx of tourists and visitors, its restaurants, night clubs, museums and a lot of other colourful and exciting things happening around it.
One of the prettiest harbors in Italy, Portofino is known as Liguria’s jewel. Its multicoloured houses and stunning seaside scenery all contribute to give this tiny harbor town a picture-perfect milieu and make it one of the most visually appealing of all areas within the region of Liguria or the Italian Riviera. Although not as busy as its neighbouring towns, Portofino is nonetheless the best place to go to enjoy and marvel at the magnificence and serenity of the cliffs that surround and protect this once tiny fishing village as well as its magnificent coastline. First described by Pliny and given the name ‘Portus Delphini’, it was the wealthy Italians who discovered Portofino and developed it as a quiet getaway secluded and protected from the frenzy and hassle of city life. Luxury villas perch on the hills of Portofino overlooking the marina where yachts and private boats bob on the water below set against the vibrantly coloured dwellings of fishermen. There are very few beaches and hotels in the picture-perfect Portofino. What there are in abundance are bars, boutiques, nightclubs and fishing boats. Portofino is well known for its world-famous visitors like Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, just to name a few.
Santa Margherita Ligure
One ferry ride from Portofino takes you to Santa Margherita Ligure, one of the main resorts of the Italian Riviera. It is also that one spot in the Riviera where vehicular traffic abounds in every corner of the town. One well-known and highly recommended hotel in this resort is the Splendido Hotel. Owned by the prestigious Orient Express Group that owns some of the world’s finest hotels, the Splendido Hotel is a grand hotel in every sense of the world. A favorite among British aristocracy who used the hotel for their discreet trysts with partners other than their spouse, Splendido Hotel was ‘discovered’ by well-known Hollywood stars as well as Europe’s leading politicians and industrialists. The vibrant and modern luxury stores at Santa Margherita Ligure which some people call a shopper’s haven, are wonderful shops to go to for a fine day of expensive shopping. One can pick up a painting or two by one of Italy’s painters Massimo Meda or purchase designer home furnishings, original Lacoste shirts, and designer clothes from brand-name shops. Choose from a wide variety of brands — Marina Yachting, D&G, Harmont & Blaine. If you are shopping for something bigger, like a yacht perhaps, then stop by the Ferreti Yachts office to place your order for your very own yacht.
The Cinque Terre or region of the Five Lands, as it has been known since the 15th century, is a series of five small villages sitting on the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea. These tiny villages, which are accessible mainly by train or by foot using the paths that connect them with one another are brightly coloured and create a mountain cliff setting that is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The five small villages — Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza — are individually lovely and possess a personality all its own. Corniglia is built in the higher part of the mountain, which allows it to offer magnificent views and an even more secluded beach. Manarola is a fishing village whose colourful houses are perched on a rock above the port. Monterosso al Mare was founded in 643 and boasts of the most famous beach in the region, a 16th century Capuchin monastery, and an ancient castle. Riomaggiore is a picturesque village with pastel coloured houses crawling down the cliff to the sea. Vernazza juts out over the sea and houses a medieval tower. Although the train only travels nine kilometers from the first village to the last, the most exhilarating and fulfilling way to visit these villages is to go by foot, following the paths that intertwine and connect the villages. The walk takes anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. While it may seem overwhelming at first, those who have walked through these tiny villages speak only of having an lovely time.