Coastal Towns of the Italian Riviera

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The Italian Riviera, a captivating coastal stretch nestled between the South of France and the borders of Tuscany, emerges as a coveted haven for vacationers. It presents a tapestry of vibrant seaside villages adorned in a spectrum of hues, vistas that embrace the panorama, the azure expanse of the Mediterranean Sea, and the allure of pristine beaches. This Italian haven is nothing short of a celestial retreat.

The Italian Riviera is renowned among international travellers for its enchanting coastal villages such as the famous Cinque Terre and the luxurious holiday retreat of Portofino. However, this region has much more to offer than its well-known attractions. Let’s delve into these remarkable destinations!

Portovenere

Church Of Saint Peter In Portovenere
Pixabay / Reiner

Portovenere holds a special place in our hearts as one of the most captivating towns along the Ligurian coast. Nestled in the charming Bay of Poets (Golfo di Poeti), this colorful gem is steeped in history and surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty, making it an undisputed favorite of ours on the Italian Riviera.

Our journey to Portovenere began on the final day of October, coinciding with the closure of the coastal Cinque Terre ferry season. The town serves as the initial stop on the ferry route from La Spezia to Cinque Terre, positioning it ideally for exploring both destinations and the adjacent coastal areas.

In the bustling summer months, the options are boundless. However, on our visit day, the waterfront was surprisingly calm, with only a few boats moored. As we entered the quaint and picturesque harbour, we questioned how we would fill our time here, especially with our children in tow.

Our initial impressions couldn’t have been more wrong. Portovenere unfolded to us as a treasure trove of attractions. We delved into the 12th-century castle and the 13th-century San Pietro church, traced the rugged cliffs and admired nearby grottoes, scaled countless staircases, and wandered through the labyrinthine alleys of this medieval haven. The town presented an abundance of dining options, gelaterias, and charming boutiques.

Our hours in Portovenere slipped away all too quickly. The experience was an enchanting blend of history, sweeping views of the Mediterranean, and the welcome absence of the crowds that often swarm Cinque Terre.

Notably, you can embark on a scenic boat excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the nearby islands of Palmaria, Tino, and Tinetto. During the summer, additional opportunities arise, including boat rentals, beach visits, and water activities like swimming, snorkelling, and diving.

In essence, Portovenere unveiled itself as a hidden jewel, waiting to be discovered in all its splendour.

Read our Portovenere Travel Guide

Camogli

Camogli
Pixabay / Gianluca

Camogli truly presents itself as a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. While its beauty may be known among international travellers, stumbling upon it unexpectedly can create a truly magical experience. The first encounter, even on a rainy day, can leave an indelible mark.

Arriving by car might lead you to a hidden aspect of Camogli, as the town’s charm often sneaks up on visitors. A simple decision to explore for just a few minutes can quickly transform into hours of enchantment.

Nestled amidst rolling hills adorned with vibrant houses, Camogli’s natural and architectural beauty forms a picturesque backdrop that leaves a lasting impact. The captivating beach, which reveals itself as you walk down, can evoke a sense of awe and wonder, offering a mesmerizing sight that surpasses what photographs can capture.

This place has the power to create “wow” moments, those special instances that remain etched in one’s memory. That sense of being in a location that will forever hold a place in your heart.

Pictures may not fully convey the emotions that a visit to Camogli can evoke. The experience of being on a serene beach, even during a stormy day in November, can be a unique and unforgettable memory. Children playing and collecting colourful stones add an extra layer of delight to the atmosphere.

And just like the neighbouring towns, Camogli has much to offer throughout the seasons. From its beauty as a vacation destination to its practicality as a base for exploring the Portofino Peninsula by hiking or boating, the town invites visitors to immerse themselves in its charm. In the end, Camogli’s allure isn’t just about its visual appeal; it’s the emotions and memories it elicits that make it a true hidden gem along the Italian Riviera.

Read our Camogli Travel Guide

Manarola

Manarola
CC BY-SA 2.0 / chensiyuan

Manarola, a village older than Riomaggiore, traces its origins back to the beginning of the 13th century. Nestled amidst picturesque vineyards and situated along a charming stream, Manarola boasts a notable reputation for its wine production. The village’s famous “Via dell’Amore” originates here, a pleasant and paved pathway that spans two kilometres, linking Manarola to Riomaggiore.

The village’s architecture is captivating, as the houses seem to cascade down to the water’s edge, gripping onto rugged rocks that are lapped by the waves. The main street itself is built atop the covering of a former torrent, while narrow stone-paved alleyways branch off from it. The etymology of Manarola’s name traces back to “Manium Arula,” a small temple dedicated to the Manes, which was erected during Roman times. It maintains a connection to Riomaggiore, of which it is considered an outlying village, through the renowned Via dell’Amore.

High up in the village, a visit to the Church of San Lorenzo, constructed in 1338, is recommended. The church’s standout feature is its exquisite rose window, which dates back to the 14th century.

Manarola’s rich history, breath-taking scenery, and festive traditions make it a truly enchanting destination to explore and enjoy throughout the year.

Read our Manarola Travel Guide

Portofino

Portofino, Italy
Pixabay / JimboChan

Portofino, often hailed as one of the most picturesque towns on the Italian Riviera and even in all of Italy, is a true postcard-worthy destination. Its azure blue waters adorned with luxury yachts, colourful houses that grace the landscape, and opulent estates create an idyllic scene that seems to have been plucked from the pages of travel guides. Nestled between majestic mountains and a captivating coastline, the Portofino Peninsula is a captivating gem that Liguria proudly offers.

The journey to Portofino along the narrow coastal road is an experience in itself, with scenic vistas that mirror the beauty of the surrounding area. One delightful highlight is the walk leading to Castello Brown and the iconic lighthouse of Portofino. Moreover, embarking on a boat trip to the nearby San Fruttuoso Abbey, a historic abbey dating back to the 10th century, is an opportunity not to be missed.

However, amidst its undeniable charm, there’s a sentiment that Portofino might not evoke the same level of affection as some of the other Ligurian towns. A notable issue is the prevalence of overpriced restaurants coupled with personnel that might come across as snobbish, detracting from the overall experience. There’s a contemplation about whether traditional local fishermen still frequent the waters of this once-renowned “fishing village.” Over time, Portofino has transformed into a destination that caters to the affluent and famous.

Read our Portofino Travel Guide

Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita Ligure
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Michal Osmenda

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, is a compelling reason in itself to explore the sun-drenched and enchanting Italian Riviera. Affectionately known as “Santa” by its bronzed locals, this destination is a vision of pastel perfection, enticing boats to chart a course towards its shores.

Once a simple Ligurian fishing village, Santa Margherita has transformed into a splendid coastal resort that occupies a prominent spot on one of the Riviera’s most renowned stretches. Positioned between the stylish Portofino to the south and the vibrant Rapallo to the north, Santa Margherita presents all the allure of the Riviera with a slightly more subdued ambiance. Nestled within lush hills adorned with vibrant villas that rival the hues of the shirts fluttering along the classic promenade, Santa Margherita exudes a relaxed charm.

In the expanse of the Tigullio Gulf, where Santa Margherita is situated, opulent superyachts glide gracefully into view. The adjacent Portofino National Park and the Portofino Marine Reserve contribute to the region’s exceptional biodiversity, both above and beneath the undulating surface of the Ligurian Sea.

Read our Santa Margherita Ligure Travel Guide

Vernazza

Vernazza, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Med Cruise Guide

Vernazza, the quaint fishing village, is arguably the quintessential representation of the Cinque Terre and has earned its place as one of Italy’s most picturesque villages.

With its origins tracing back to around 1000 A.D., Vernazza’s history intertwines with the Republic of Genoa, which held dominion over it from 1276 onward. The construction of Belforte, a medieval castle, took place in the mid-1500s primarily to safeguard the village from marauding pirates.

Approaching this enchanting village by sea provides an idyllic experience. The petite harbor is enclosed by the characteristic pastel-colored Ligurian houses, while the charming piazza is graced with inviting restaurants and bars. Within the natural harbor, one can find a small sandy beach and the Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.

Surrounding the village are olive groves organized into steep terraces, famed for yielding some of the nation’s finest olive oil.

Read our Vernazza Travel Guide

Lerici

Lerici La Spezia
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Evelyscher

Lerici, positioned gracefully on the Gulf of Poets, possesses an inherent charm that has made it an inevitable destination. A town adorned with pastel hues, nestled by the serene gulf, Lerici’s allure to literary figures and travelers is undeniable. Often referred to as the Pearl of the Gulf, Lerici is indeed a precious gem in its own right.

Its significance is not lost on history, with mentions by Dante and the visits of celebrated poets like Shelley, Byron, and D.H. Lawrence, who found themselves drawn to its shores for inspiration. The town’s captivating features include sinuous coves, rugged cliffs, a glistening sea, and the cheerful façades of its painted houses, all beneath the watchful gaze of its dominant castle. Lerici exudes a magnetic appeal akin to the renowned Cinque Terre but maintains its own character, less crowded yet boasting ample sandy expanses along its beaches.

Traversing the town unveils numerous hiking trails, a picturesque boat harbor, vistas of unparalleled beauty, abundant sunlight, and a welcoming local populace. The seaside is graced by a mile-long promenade, perfect for leisurely strolls. Wandering through the narrow alleyways reveals the town’s richness, including a captivating Jewish ghetto, intimate piazzas, and architecturally intriguing structures. Amidst these passages, artisanal shops, charming cafes, and a wealth of dining establishments await, collectively adding to the vibrant tapestry of Lerici.

Read our Lerici Travel Guide

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre
CC BY-SA 2.0 / chensiyuan

Riomaggiore, the southernmost jewel of the Cinque Terre, rests a mere two-minute train journey away from Manarola. This picturesque village gracefully ascends along the coastal ridges, overlooking the serene expanse of the sea. Its hallmark lies in the quintessential stone houses, adorned with colorful façades and roofs of slate. A leisurely stroll along the main thoroughfare, Via Colombo, carries you towards the tranquil sea, where a charming marina and harbor emerge. This harbor is embraced by delightful pastel-hued dwellings and enlivened by the vibrant colors of fishing boats. Close to the docking area and this idyllic harbor, a pebble-strewn beach unfurls, offering a touch of seaside respite.

Riomaggiore holds a special distinction among the Cinque Terre villages as the premier vantage point for capturing the mesmerizing hues of the setting sun. As daylight fades, a gathering of people assembles on the rocky enclaves surrounding the harbor, embracing the spellbinding view. Furthermore, Riomaggiore does not lack nightlife, boasting an array of restaurants and bars that remain open until the early hours of the morning. This vibrant tapestry adds to the allure of this coastal gem.

Read our Riomaggiore Travel Guide

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