Lovely Liguria is consistently underrated by most visitors, who shoot through the region en route to the familiar delights of Tuscany. Many misguidedly think that picture-perfect Portofino is the only resort worth visiting and dismiss Genoa as an industrial port. Nothing could be further from the truth. Genoa has been well-restored and brims with history and culture. As for the coast, the wild and beautiful Cinque Terre villages are a walker’s paradise and picture-postcard perfect.
Famous Portofino is perfection, it’s the place that put the Italian Riviera on the map. Despite the glamour, exquisite shops and expensive restaurants, it still resembles an idealised fishing village.
This rugged region is a celebration of the outdoors lifestyle, with picturesque fishing villages, ‘secret’ beaches and an engaging hinterland. Protected by the Alps, and perched on a crescent-shaped sliver of coast, Ligurian resorts enjoy balmy weather, with the Riviera di Levante, east of Genoa, the rockier, wilder stretch, especially around the Cinque Terre coastal reserve.
The unspoilt Cinque Terre villages are typically Italian, with little fishing harbours and cobbled squares. The five villages are interlinked by cliff-top trails that suit walkers of differing abilities. Hikers can be spotted high along each cliff path, gasping as each panoramic scene unfolds and gives way to a dramatic collision of sea and cliffs. If you don’t favour long walks around the dizzying heights of the Cinque Terre coastline, the villages are easily reached by train, which chugs through the tunnelled cliffs, appearing dangerously close to the sea at times. Lap up glimpses of deep blue sea and cliff-tops given over to vineyards and olive groves.
The Ligurian hinterland is littered with medieval hamlets and inns where healthy eating is a way of life. Unsurprisingly, Ligurians are noted for their longevity. Head into the Ligurian hinterland to taste some of the healthiest (and best-value) cooking in Italy. Visit the higgledy-piggledy medieval village of Dolceacqua to sample Rossese red wine with a pizza. Drop into Taggia to sample its extra virgin olive oil, rated the best in Italy by celebrity chefs in the know. As for local dishes, Ligurian pesto and pasta can be sampled all over the region, as can focaccia bread, and torta verde, Ligurian vegetable tart.
Liguria is a particularly festive region, brimming with entertainment throughout the year. February’s San Remo Song Festival is Italy’s premier talent contest while December’s Boat Show in Genoa is a huge draw. As an ancient seafaring region, Liguria stages colourful water pageants and regattas. La Spezia’s August sailing regatta sees all the local fishing boats battle it out in the lovely Gulf of Poets. Imperia’s tall ships regatta takes place every other year in September. In July, Rapallo stages a three-day firework festival in honour of the Madonnna.
The Milan-San Remo is a classic cycling race while the ‘Classic’ San Remo Rally races through the Ligurian and Tuscan Alps in May.
If you thought Liguria was lacking in culture, head to Genoa. After the restoration of the waterfront, Genoa now has a port worthy of a maritime republic. Clustered around the Porto Antico are a traditional Genoese galleon, the new Museum of the Sea and the superb Aquarium, designed to resemble a ship setting sail.
Walk everywhere in this pedestrianised maze, succumbing to the slow rhythms of city life. Stroll with your gaze focused upwards: virtually every alleyway has striking architectural details, from friezes to trompe l’oeil frescoes.
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What to visit
In Monterosso on the Saturday before Ascension (usually the third Saturday in May), there is a wonderful Sagra dei Limoni (Lemon Festival) when the town is adorned with lemons and, starting from the house of the Nobel Prize poet, Eugenio Montale, you can walk 8000 steps accompanied by the wonderful aroma of lemons. Tip from Inntravel
A must visit is the Aquarium (Genoa), one of the most technologically advanced marine life centres in Europe and home to some of the most fantastic & unusual species of seal, dolphin & shark. Tip from Cottages to Castles
Where to stay
If you are looking for good value for money and tranquillity in Italy, stay on an Agriturismo (farms with converted bedrooms).
If you want to explore the wildly beautiful Cinque Terre with its picture postcard perfect little fishing villages, we recommend Casali Romei just 15 mins from Lerici, another must-visit fishing village with lovely sandy coves closeby. Tip from ABTOI
Where to eat
Beware of ordinary looking bars in Portofino- they can charge a small fortune and restaurants charge twice the price of other parts of the LigurianCoast! Try the fishing villageof Camoglias an alternative. Have dinner or stay at the Cenobio dei Dogi Tip from Inntravel
Take the coastal train from the old port of La Spetza that rides precariously close to the cliff edge affording spectacular glimpses of dramatic coastline and disembark at Monterosso, the last cinque terre. Here you will only find Italians enjoying the lovely sandy beach and typical little Italian fishing village. Take lunch at the Ristorante Belvedere with its panoramic sea views, we recommend the seafood stew of lobster and squid. Tip from Bridgewater's Idyllic Italy
A fantastic place for a picnic is in Monterosso al Mare, at Punto Mesco viewpoint. The view is simply stunning. You can see all 5 Cinque Terre - Monterosso, Vernazza and Corniglia are the closest in view; Manorola and Riomaggiore in the background.
For free tastings of the local tipple of Limoncello or sciacchetra, try Enoteca Gian Luigi in Monterosso. Tips from Headwater Holidays
The “Lanterna" (Lighthouse) re opens in Genoa
A well known symbol of Genoa, La Lanterna (Lighthouse) was re-opened to the public. Anyone who wishes to get the best views of the city and the port can now climb the 172 steps to the first terrace. The Lanterna was built in 1543 has its own museum exhibiting objects relating to its function such as lamps and lenses as well as old films on Genoa and its port.
Go to Ventimiglia's Friday Market
Despite its scruffy exterior, the old town of Ventimiglia has a superb market if you are looking for bags, clothes, Parmesan, oil and a picnic lunch. On the French/Italian border, Ventimiglia is invaded by the French every Friday for its famous market.
Get on Your Bike
A spectacular cycle - pedestrian path now hugs the picturesque Ligurian coast between Tuscany and the French Riveira. It is the perfect way to explore the quaint fishing villages and glamorous town of San Remo. The first 24kms from Ospedaletti via San Remo to San Lorenzo al Mare, offers an exhilarating Riviera break for cycling fans, families or walkers.
The 74km of cycle path provides magnificent coastal views as well as to food trails in the hills. The current path already provides access to 5kms of previously unreachable beaches and a vast Marine Park, which acts as a whale sanctuary. Visit Riviera dei Fiori and check where bikes can be hired along route.
Follow the Christopher Columbus Trail
Christopher Columbus, the 'Great Navigator,' is Genoa's most famous son, with a section of the Genoa's Maritime Museum devoted to his exploits. Columbus' Birthplace in Genoa sees a wreath-laying ceremony followed by an historical pageant and guided Columbus walk.