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Top 10 things to see and do in the Italian Riviera

This narrow coastal strip of the Mediterranean region near Italy's Liguria shore sliced by popular seaside resort towns like Portofino is a summer dream, and much more.

by Sneha Chakraborty
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This narrow coastal strip of the Mediterranean region near Italy’s Liguria shore sliced by popular seaside resort towns like Portofino is a summer dream, and much more.

Rich with intriguing towns and maritime villages, turquoise covers crowned by vividly coloured cliffside houses, the Italian Riviera is a culmination of the best that Ligurian, France, and Italy have to offer, especially when you have long summer weekends to pace and explore.

From Genoa to Boccadasse, we turn the spotlight onto our favourite experiences to help you discover the best of this region. 

The western Italian Riviera coast culture in Savona  

Appertivo hour in Savona

Step off of the boat near Savona and you’ll see why the Riviera is not just a strip of coastline but a destination all on its own. This major Italian port is a grand introduction to all that awaits: hillside villages, privately owned beaches, upmarket seaside Airbnbs designed for luxury, and naturalistic paths for hiking.

Although the forts in Savona are the only ones to survive during the Genoese forces in the 16th century, you’ll still have no trouble understanding the city through the countless lores echoed by the popular mediaeval centre. Oh, and espresso and Panissa at Vino e Farinata is never a bad idea.

Try Genoa’s signature Pasta alla Genovese

With impressionable flavours like Parmigiano Reggiano (Italian hard parmesan) and Sangiovese (Liguria wine), Genoa is home to some of the most loved pasta dishes in all of the country. The popular Pasta alla Genovese—a classic Ligurian dish made with al dente pasta, cubed potato, and pesto—is best enjoyed at Sà Pesta. Pair it with a glass of Scimiscià or Prescinsêua (also called quagliata) and you will blend right in with the crowd.

 

BOOK A TOUR : Portofino Boat and Walking Tour with Pesto Cooking & Lunch – From £139.93 pp
WHAT: A delightful morning on a three-our walking and boat tour with round-trip ferry tickets from Santa Margherita Ligure. Climb to the Church of Saint Giorgio for panoramic views of the charming village, then enjoy a focaccia tasting in the local bakery. Next, join in a pesto making class, and enjoy Ligurian lunch overlooking the water. Finally  enjoy some free time to explore on your own before catching your return ferry.     
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Tour the posh harbour of Portofino

Midday sun on the Portofino harbour.

Trade an hour of your early morning slumber for a golden hour head start exploring the harbourside life of Portofino. This ancient fishing village is one of the most popular resort towns—thanks to the exclusivity that comes from being situated on an enclosed peninsula with unmissable gourmet hotels that can lure you in for hours.

You will need several orders of Focaccia al Formaggio to walk across the harbour and then some more if you’re trying to climb up to Castello Brown the next morning.

Sail the Ligurian coast on a traditional sailboat

Break away from the waterfront bustle and quietly sail over the northwestern waters to soak in the Italian sun on a classic sailing vessel. Take in glittering views of the Gulf of Genoa as you sip on some Ligurian wines to familiarise yourself with the obligatory grape landscape. If you want to get in some adventure to help unwind, islets near and around can act as pit stops for snorkelling, and scuba diving where you can find local marine life, fishing culture and all the views you can take in.

Explore Piazza de Ferrari during aperitivo hour

A glass of aperitivo, or pre-milk drink that is served during happy hour.

In 1786, distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano came up with the earliest variations of Vermouth and the new era concept of modern apéritif—a pre-meal ritual of fortified white wine with added herbs which according to his claim increased appetite. While it remains unclear where the word aperitivo originated from, the term can be traced back to a Latin meaning that translates to “opener”, signifying its consumption before supper. Today, Genoa’s Piazza De Ferrari is a prime spot to observe this tradition as people come out to the town squares or central district between 7 to 9 pm and enjoy a few tipples ranging from dry sherry to amontillado.

Spend hours walking around Old Port

 The importance of Porto antico di Genova or the Old Port facing the main bay is well established in the Mediterranean, dubbed as one of the busiest ports of Italy for trading after the port of Trieste. In recent years, this 22-kilometre stretch of maritime activity also became a cultural icon for showcasing tourism and entertainment services. Begin your journey at the promenade dotted with small cafes, curbside restaurants, and leisure shopping places and mosey on up to visit sights like the Maritime Museum, aquarium of Genoa, Biosfera botanical garden just in time to catch the sunset at Island barge.

Hike through Cinque Terre National Park

A view of the vivid fishing villages in Cinque Terre.

Located in the La Spezia province in Liguria, Cinque Terre National Park is the smallest of its kind in Italy encompassing rugged terrain and dense wildlife within its 39 square kilometres. With five different coastal towns—Corniglia, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Monterosso al Mare—visitors can choose to walk the many hiking trails and get into the local villages for some Italian fare. While the national park itself is free and open for tourism, Monterosso–Vernazza and Vernazza–Corniglia are two routes that need special permits for access. The most popular way to explore around is by investing in the Cinque Terre Train Card which will give you unlimited access to the train lines and entry to the paid hiking trails.

Drive along the Tigullio Gulf coastline

The roads along the Tigullio Gulf are widely considered Italian Rivera’s most scenic stretch of coastline, miles of glassy seas, a landscape of rocky cliffs, and tan-hued houses terraced near the seaside that twinkle after sundown. Add in the happy bustle of Cape of Punta Manara and reward that is Al fresco dining on the beach near the promontory of Portofino, and this road trip offers one of the most serene driving experiences in southern Europe.

Walk from Corso Italia to Boccadasse

A seafront view of the old fishing village of Boccadasse.

A seafront view of the old fishing village of Boccadasse.

Continuing east from Genoa’s city centre, the increasingly scenic 2.5 kilometre-long Corso Italia promenade passes Boccadasse—a famous ancient fishermen village perfect for walking around, tasting a gelato and an aperitif before calling it a night. Just beyond it, the road passes the Capo di Santa Chiara, one of the best viewpoints for admiring the breathtaking view of the pastel-hued villas.

Skip the wine tour for an olive oil tasting experience

Tours and tasting at wineries and vine estates are a recommended part of any trip to Italy, but why not skip the long lines and busy grapevines for an equally enriching liquid gold? Hang your hat at a local olive oil production facility such as near Santo Stefano di Magra (Lower Lunigiana) to lose yourself in a countryside experience as you learn to distinguish between a wide variety of olive oils produced in and around Italy. If you want to extend your journey, you can pair your tasting with a guided food tour that showcases the olive oils you just tasted with dishes like Pesto, Baccalà, Mesciua and more.

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