STRETCHING FROM THE BORDERS OF PROVENCE down to Tuscany, Liguria’s scenic coastline arcs around the Tyrrhenian Sea in a 200-mile crescent of craggy cliffs, forests and plunging vine-covered slopes. Some of Italy’s most celebrated views are suspended here between the indigo-blue sea and the lush green slopes above.

Make time to pause in Genoa before hitting the gas pedal to reach the much-sung charms of the Ligurian Riviera. This great seafaring city (once home to Christopher Columbus) has been noticeably spruced up since its year as European Capital of Culture in 2004, with architect Renzo Piano masterminding the face-lift.

There’s a vast aquarium and fabulous views across the city from the aptly nicknamed ‘Il Bigo’ – a kind of giant ship’s crane in the old docks. Medieval streets wind past monuments, palazzi, flower stalls and fresco-filled churches to the main squares. And once you’ve had your culture fix you can bar-hop till late in the clubs around Via San Lorenzo.  

Swanky Portofino epitomises the Dolce Vita appeal of the chic Ligurian coast. The summertime home of Europe’s beau monde, it has been a mecca for Hollywood stars, fashionistas and the seriously rich since the 1950s. Pastel-painted houses jostle with expensive boutiques, while the sleek bars of the Piazzetta invite you to slip inside for a cocktail. Keep an eye open for the lurking paparazzi as another gleaming yacht anchors in the bay.

Take a boat trip from the harbour along the coast, stopping off at the little abbey of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte – accessible only by boat – and maybe a dip in the sea. Aristocratic Rapallo, pretty Santa Margherita and cliffy Camogli also have their charms – not to mention swish hotels and narrow streets a-buzz with little shops.

Further down the coast are the five medieval villages of the Cinque Terre, whose cliffside houses cling to impossibly steep hillsides tumbling down to the sea. The best way to explore this World Heritage Site coastline is on foot, walking the trails and mule tracks skirting olive groves and vineyards within spray-shot of the crashing waves below. Don’t miss the stroll along Via dell’Amore between Riomaggiore and Manarola, and the stretch between Corniglia and Vernazza wending among orange and olive groves.

Narrow and often steep alleyways, or carruggi, wind between the houses, offering glimpses of sea and brightly painted houses at every turn. Monterosso has a beach (though there’s good scuba diving all along the coast) while the little port of Vernazza has the lovely church of Santa Margherita di Antochia. Corniglia is surrounded by vine-covered slopes while Manorolo hangs sheer above the waves in defiance of gravity. Riomaggiore’s tall, narrow homes fall in steep terraces to the sea.

Liguria is the home of foccacia, and you can eat it deliciously fresh and hot from little late-night bakeries. Fresh Mediterranean seafood is the next big thing, together with pesto sauce and sinfully sweet Genoan pandolce, stuffed with frutta candita. The region’s distinctive brews include Sciacchetrà raisin wine and ruby-red Rossi di Dolceacqua – perfect for rounding off an indulgent Riviera repast.


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