When most people think of The Italian Riviera they think of San Remo (worn) the Cinque Terre (crowded) and Portofino (expensive & touristy). But there are scores of amazing coastal towns, many of which remain much less crowded than the more famous spots. Some of the most impressive Italian Riviera towns (and the easiest to reach) are located on the Golfo Paradiso, there is this storied stretch of Ligurian coastline that includes well-known destinations like Santa Margherita Ligure, to small gems like Rapallo, Zoagli, Chiavari, Lavagna and Sestri Levante.
This fishing village is one of the more famous Italian Riviera towns and its idyllic harbor hosts luxury Yachts alongside rickety fishing boats. Since the 50s it has been considered one of the best places to visit in Italy by Europe’s jet set and still attracts its fair share of A and B-List Celebrities. Portofino stands out from other “celebrities-vacation-here” towns due to the natural beauty of its harbor and the regional park that envelops it and extends to multiple towns along the coast – perfect for hiking on flower-lined trails! The best place to view this picturesque town is from Castello Brown, a small house/museum tucked away in the hills above the harbor.
Santa Margherita Ligure
For a taste of a true Italian holiday, look no further than Santa Margherita Ligure. Lined with swaying palm trees and ornate villas, this Italian Riviera Town is an interesting blend of beachside resorts and old world charm. It also boasts a deeply rooted fishing culture. The highly sought-after gambero rosso di Santa Margherita (“red prawn of Santa Margherita”) can be found on most menus, often served raw – a can’t miss for foodies.
Rapallo is a beautiful Italian coastal town but it’s particularly famous for the small castle in its center. The castle was constructed over 450 years ago to protect Rapallo from the attacks of pirates who ranged across the Mediterranean from ports within the Ottoman empire and the Barbary Coast (the old name for the area we now call the Maghreb). The harmonious atmosphere, mild winters, and tranquil seascape of Rapallo led many renowned thinkers and writers, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Ezra Pound, to draw inspiration from its breathtaking views.
The main draw of this Italian Riviera town is its serenity. You won’t find any chain hotels here – just charming bed & breakfasts and agriturismi (loosely “farm-stays” in Italian) along the coast and in the hills of the hinterland. Probably the quietest of the towns on this list, it’s where to go if you really want to see how the locals enjoy the Italian Riviera. It’s also surprisingly good for shopping; Zoagli silk is exported all over the world and is distinguished by its handmade, high-quality weave, staying true to secrets passed down for generations.
Aside from its exceptionally pleasant water, Chiavari is also known as the proud hometown of the founding father of unified Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The center of Chiavari is pedestrianized and one of the better preserved “old towns” on the Italian Riviera. Stay here if you want to escape the noise and congestion caused by drivers on tight roads; you are looking for a nice beach town where you can swim during the summer months; you are an Italian history buff who can’t get enough of the larger than life Garibaldi.
Lavagna hosts what is perhaps the biggest party on the Golfo del Tigullio, the legendary Torta dei Fieschi. Every August since 1949 the six medieval quarters of the town have come together to celebrate the 1230 marriage of Opizzo Fieschi, Count of Lavagna, to aristocrat Bianca de’ Bianchi of Siena. The two-day party kicks off with the “marriage announcement” and “bachelor party,” complete with live music and medieval games. The town rests the following day for the evening “wedding” when the real game begins. After the “wedding vows”, partygoers receive one-half of a card printed in a medieval dialect of Italian. Everyone must then make their ways through the crowd to find the person with the other half of their card before enjoying their slice of the enormous wedding cake.
This Italian Riviera town is located on a peninsula that is split into two gorgeous bays. On one side is Portobello and on the other is the Bay of Fairy Tales”named after Hans Christian Andersen, In recent years the town has grown in popularity among tourists given its unique layout (on a promontory surrounded by the aforementioned bays). While still less glamorous/expensive than Portofino, it is now approaching that town’s renown. And for good reason, it’s probably the prettiest town on our list.