Liguria: Beautiful coastal towns of Italian Riviera
Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy; featuring impressive mountains and lovely rolling hills, colored by the green Mediterranean turf and overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Its Mediterranean coastline is known as the Italian Riviera. bordering with France. The 5 colorful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, as well as stylish Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, are on the eastern coast or Riviera di Levante. Adding its capital Genoa and also Bologna to my itinerary, I have below a rich route you'll love.
I have elected Santa Margherita as a base and traveled to each destination as day-trips, which I found quite effective 😉 So a sample itinerary could be:
- Day1: Bologna
- Day2: Camogli & San Fruttuoso
- Day3: Genoa & Portofino
- Day4: Cinque Terre
- Day5: Santa Margherita
Portofino is a tiny sea village on the Italian Riviera circumscribed by the green of the Natural Regional Park and Marine Reserve. This splendid sea resort with its lux, Mediterranean personality, also boasts an ancient marine culture, and yet is another one of those spots beloved by artists and celebrities.
The Piazzetta, meeting-up point for the international jet-set, is the symbol of Portofino, while the port, with its characteristic, brightly-colored houses, is the icon of this borgo’s maritime traditions.
Church of Portofino’s Patron Saint, the Brown Castle (Castello Brown), a fortress smack-dab in the middle of a hanging-garden, the lighthouse situated on Punta del Capo and Gothic Oratory of the Brotherhood of Mary Assumed are the main attractions you might want to pay a visit to.
In Portofino, the famous recipe is “Lasagna di Portofino”. What's typical beforehand is, heading back to the Piazzetta for 7 o’ lock aperitivo, where you can snack on Genoese foccaccia and sip some Giancu de Purtufin, a wine that combines several of the territory’s grapes and that is only produced locally.
Genoa, the Capital of the lively Region of Liguria, home to piazzas is where one can smell the fragrances of a history marked by skillful mariners and astute traders that traversed the Mediterranean.
The landmark of Genoa is definitely San Lorenzo Cathedral. The basilica of San Lorenzo became a cathedral in the 9th century, replacing the basilica of the Twelve Apostoles. Interestingly, the romanesque, gothic, mannerist architecture houses a grenade that was shot in 1941 by the British Royal Fleet during one of the worst attacks against the city of Genoa during the Second World war to the undying memory of the horrors of war.
Much of the city’s historic center is delineated by the so-called Strade Nuove. Many palazzi such as this one Palazzo della Nuova Borsa in the main Piazza De Ferrari paint Genoa in the light of its illustrious past.
Others include entirely frescoed Palazzo San Giorgio; the Ducal Palace, that currently serves as a cultural-artistic exhibit center; the Porto Antico (Old Port) area with mixed architecture of classical and neoclassical palazzi, edificing more oriental in appearance.
Renzo Piano, the architect of London’s Shard, Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, made his biggest contribution to his hometown Genoa. His projects include Porto Antico that has transformed the inaccessible port to a waterfront promenade; the Aquarium, one of Europe’s largest; Il Bigo, an open-air auditorium and a skating rink in the shape of dockside cranes once used to move goods that arrived by sea; and the Biosphere, a bubble of glass and steel, home to a tropical forest of 150 bird and plant species.
Did you know Galata Maritime Museum is in fact named after the neighborhood in Istanbul that was once a colony of the Republic of Genoa?
This beautiful building is by far my favourite in Genoa <3 It houses The Western Ligurian Sea Port Authority which is the joint management of the ports of Genoa, Savona and Vado Ligure.
Genoa, the birthplace of the world-famous pesto and other excellent gastronomic delicacies, is still today the site of an efficient commercial port, numerous industrial activities and even of avant garde scientific and technological manufactures.
By far my favourite village in the whole Italian Riviera is Camogli! It’s one of those places where you’d like spend the rest of your life when you retire 🥰
Once the city of a thousand sailing ships, this small, pretty fishing town surrounded by the forested slopes of the Portofino Regional Natural Park is a total delight.
Camogli's pragmatic beauty is an enduring reminder of the village's longtime maritime power. Beautiful facades painted in tones of apricot, cinnamon, and amber used to make the town easy for seamen to identify from the water. Washed in the Mediterranean sun, their effect is both subtle and jewel-like, transforming a row of facades into a necklace of colored stones. If you look closely, you’ll notice visual tricks; some of the shutters, arches, pediments, windows, curtains, even the crowd inside, are in fact man made!
Stroll along the seafront promenade as far as the castle and the basilica; the two dazzling highlights of the town. Castello della Dragonara dates from the 15th century and now holds occasional exhibitions. Built in 1200 next to the castle as a chapel, the Basilica Santa Maria Assunta once used to stand high on a rocky promontory that was only accessible by a wooden bridge since it was separated from the coast. Today, after several renovations over the centuries, it rests on a cobblestone square reachable by a marble staircase.
Hiking in the surrounding countryside is also very rewarding. Hiking fans can enjoy spectacular views to San Fruttoso or Portofino. Equally satisfying are boat trips out to San Fruttuoso and to the Punta Chiappa.
One highlight of the year in Camogli is the second Sunday in May when a great fish festival called the Blessing of the Fish is held. Large amounts of fresh fish are fried up along the town waterfront and enjoyed for free!
Don’t forget to stop by Focacceria Revello for focaccia like you've never tasted before.
San Fruttuoso is famous for the Catholic abbey, named after St. Fructuosus, a Catalan bishop and saint whose ashes are still preserved there. This secluded bay is between Camogli and Portofino. The 1100 years old Benedictine abbey lies on the shore of a crystal clear sea. Still only reachable by sea or on foot, it was a perfect pirate’s hideout at the time. Apart from the beach, you think what else is there to do, right? You can dive in to see the worldwide famous Christ of the Abyss or enjoy special occasions like concerts.
Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure is the perfect base for exploring the Italian Riviera as it’s located right in the middle. The train station is fairly central, and provides good connections with the rest of Italy. Passenger ferries (not especially cheap) connect the town with other resorts up and down the coast, and are a good way to see the area.
The town has a number of attractions such as the Villa Durazzo, a 17th century palazzo with a beautiful view of the harbor; fancy church of San Giacomo in Corte; Basilica di Santa Margherita in the Piazza Caprera; Convent of the Capuchin Friars and the old castle.
Angolo 48 is where you can enjoy traditional food like ravioli with pesto sauce.
Bologna has plenty to offer tourists, from food to art to hidden secrets. In the foodie hub of the inventors of bolognese (just remember it isn't called that here!), Via del Pratello is a great spot for lunch, and the student area near Via Zamboni has plenty of options for a filling aperitivo.
Asinelli and Garisenda Towers are a symbol of the city, and the shorter of the pair, Garisenda, puts Pisa to shame as it leans much more dramatically.
The famous arches (porticoes) that line Bologna's streets are a handy shield from rain or blinding sun, and years ago they were where merchants would set up stalls to sell their wares. You can see evidence of the former markets on Via Indipendenza. These arches are numbered so you can track your progress until you reach the final arch, number 666, wait what?!
As well as the San Luca, the city centre itself boasts plenty of impressive churches. The Chiesa della Santa has the mummified remains of Saint Catherine of Bologna in an eerie side chapel, while San Domenico Basilica has a Michelangelo statue and a piano used by Mozart during his time studying in Italy.
At the time, Bologna was a city built on canals. Most of the them now lie under the car parks, sadly, but if you wander along Via Piella, you’ll see a small window built into the wall, through which you can spot the canals. It’s referred to as “Little Venice” 😉
Did you know you can take professional courses in making gelato at the Carpigiani Gelato University 🙂 ?
Enjoy pasta dishes such as lasange with wine in an atmospheric part of the market area, at Caffee del Mercato. Remember, there's no cafeteria in the train station, nor food is sold on the trains.
The five fishing communities of the Cinque Terre are the Italian Riviera's most iconic highlights. I have dedicated a whole blog post on Cinque Terre, do check it out. With colorful houses built into the side of a cliff, gorgeous hiking trails, easy access to public transportation, and the beautiful Ligurian Sea surrounding the area, it’s easy to see why this has become a favorite spot for travelers!
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