Also known as the Italian Riviera, the beautiful winding Ligurian coastline, stretching from the French border to Tuscany, is known for its year-round mild climate, picturesque fishing villages, stunning mountain backdrops, luxurious vegetation and delicious food, making it an ideal destination for the perfect holiday.
The main port town of Genoa divides Liguria into two. West of Genoa, known as the Ponente takes you to charming old-fashioned resorts like Bordighera, Alassio and Diano Marina, popular with Italian families returning year after year. The micro-climate has made it ideal for the growth of diverse flora and fauna and is known for its vast production of flowers, especially roses, hence this area is often referred to as Riviera dei Fiori attracting florists and horticulturalists from Italy and afar. The town of San Remo, known for its annual Italian music festival, is a particular favourite of mine and I love to have a wander in the quaint back streets and piazzas, as well as take an evening stroll on the long seafront promenade, dotted with cafés and fish restaurants.
South of Genoa, known as the Levante, brings you to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Italy with its rocky coasts, small coves, fine sandy beaches and pretty ports. Here you will find the picturesque resorts of Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Sestri Levante, Camogli and the internationally renowned Portofino. Although Portofino has become a magnet for the wealthy who moor their yachts in the harbour, this attractive fishing village still retains all of its charm. Even if you don’t stay in Portofino, a trip to this small but picture-postcard resort is a must. The main hub is the piazza around the harbour, lined with bars and restaurants from where you can enjoy a drink or meal whilst watching the boats and indulging in some celebrity spotting!
Although not a great deal to do there, I enjoy spending time in Camogli, where fishermen make up the small population and fishing boats line the harbour. I like to stroll around, watch the fishermen bring in their catch, perhaps do a bit of fishing myself, relax on the beach and look forward to a lovely fish lunch in one of small restaurants along the front.
Further south, the protected UNESCO Heritage Site of Cinque Terre should be on everyone’s Liguria itinerary. It is made up of five ancient fishing villages, each with their own church, castle remains and characteristic pastel-coloured houses spectacularly clinging to the rocks. Cars fortunately cannot reach all the villages and walking is the best option on the specially made-to-follow trail known as Sentiere Azzuro. If you prefer, however, you can take a train which stops at each village. You can also arrive by boat and this is probably one of the most pleasant ways of getting around the coastal resorts.
Another gem along the coast is the town of Lerici, often referred to as Golfo dei Poeti (Poets’ Gulf) for the inspiration it brought to many famous poets from Shelley to Byron. The area is home to many stately villas perched in the hills. Visit the charming old town and seafront and the wonderful medieval castle which dominates the town.
Liguria is not just about the coast, I love to go exploring inland – the lush vegetation, age-old olive trees, breath taking mountain scenery and pretty little villages make for a perfect day out. I like Badalucco, a quiet but friendly town so typical of this area with its river gently flowing underneath the ancient Roman bridge. When I’m there I visit my friend whose family-run business produces some the best olive oil in Italy.
Ligurian olive oil is delicate and goes so well with the unpretentious but healthy local cuisine. It is perfect in making the region’s speciality of pesto made with locally-grown sweet-smelling basil and enjoyed in a dish of Trofie al Pesto – the famous Ligurian pasta dish. Seafood is a must in the numerous fish restaurants along the coast – try burridda, a local fish soup or stoccafisso, sea-dried hake cooked with potatoes. Liguria is the place where focaccia was born and everywhere you will find kiosks selling this traditional flatbread. Try the Focaccia di Recco – a delicious focaccia filled with local cheese only obtainable in this area.
Genoa, the capital of Liguria, and once one of the four Maritime Republics, is worth a day’s visit, especially if you enjoy historic buildings. Head for the old town with its maze of squares and alleyways, the cathedral, its many palaces, medieval gate and lovely parks. Look out for the plentiful flea markets and food markets Genoa has to offer.