Originally Published: January 13, 2014

There’s something magical about the Italian Riviera. A strip of land, ever so thin, and yet lined from east to west with places so beautiful it would be hard to find them anywhere else. The Ligurian coast stretches all the way from France’s Cote d’Azur to the northern tip of Tuscany, and is backed by the Maritime Alps. The capital city of Genova splits the land in two halves. West of Genova is the Riviera di Ponente, and to the east the Riviera di Levante.

Guide to the Italian Riviera

The Ligurian beaches disappear into a stretch of clear blue waters, and the seaside towns are characteristically old-fashioned. The Gulf of La Spezia to the east was Byron and Shelley’s favorite, and was renamed The Gulf of Poets in their honor. To the west, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound frequented the town of Rapallo.

In the region of Liguria there’s something for everyone. Head east, in the Riviera di Levante, if you seek breathtaking scenery and glamour. If what you’re looking for are huge beaches and great weather, then head west to the Riviera di Ponente. Whether you’re looking for a spectacular panorama, a high-end getaway, or even a budget holiday, make your way up to the north of Italy and you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

Le Cinque Terre

Along the eastern most part of the Italian Riviera you will find the Cinque Terre, or the 5 lands. Five spectacular old fishing towns (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al mare) built across an 18km stretch of Italian coastline, resting on the tips of five cliffs, overlooking clear turquoise waters. Until 1874, upon completion of the first train line, the area was almost completely isolated. Today, the Cinque Terre are conserved as a national marine park. The villages are connected to one another by a single train. And for the bravest, they can be reached by foot, some in a matter of minutes, others after a long but absolutely worthwhile hike. When visiting Cinque Terre and the Gulf of La Spezia, make sure you also pass through Porto Venere. Together with the Cinque Terre, Porto Venere is part of a UNESCO world heritage site.

The ever breathtaking Cinque Terre
The ever breathtaking Cinque Terre

Lerici & Tellaro

Lerici and San Terenzo are two communicating towns along the eastern coast of the Gulf of La Spezia. A long stretch of beach lines and connects the towns. The easternmost part of Lerici is called Tellaro. Together with Porto Venere, it forms part of the group of most beautiful neighborhoods in Italy. While there, visit the Lerici Castle, built in 1152 and greatly contended over the centuries by Genova and Pisa, for its strategic positioning. And if you’re up for the hike, climb to the top of Montemarcello, from which you will get a breathtaking view of the entire gulf, and more!

Genova

Genova is the capital of the Ligurian region and the main port in Italy. Although the shoreline may seem quite industrial, the further in you wander the more history you will encounter. Warehouses turn into majestic churches and elegant buildings, all making up one of the largest medieval towns in Europe. Although it has been restored since World War II, the old town has remained untouched by the new. While there, visit Via Garibaldi, the city’s most notable sight, and the colorful covered market on Via XX Settembre. Don’t miss the black and white striped Duomo di San Lorenzo.

The Italian Riviera & Food

Since we love food, let’s not forget about the most important thing when travelling: what to eat! The region of Liguria is famous for a number of different delicacies, some known and consumed all over the Italian peninsula, others specific to the region. We all know and love the Pesto alla Genovese, made with basil leaves, pine nuts, pecorino cheese and olive oil. In Liguria they also make different versions of this sauce, with sundried tomatoes or artichokes.

Spaghetti with pesto alla genovese (Credit: Lucadea)
Spaghetti with pesto alla genovese (Credit: Lucadea)

Typical to the region is their focaccia bread (Focaccia di Recco), which is commonly eaten with a creamy cheese, usually crescenza but often replaced by stracchinoLa farinata is a flatbread made with chickpea flour. On the sweet side, Ligurians make a delicious Pandolce (literally sweet bread) with candied orange peel, raisins and nuts, and gobelletti biscuits traditionally eaten with fig jam.

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