Living It Up in Liguria and the Italian Riviera

By Priscila Siano

For more than a century, international travelers have recognized the warmth and beauty of Italy’s famed Liguria and the Italian Riviera. Long the place where the rich and famous would gather to enjoy warm water, wide sandy beaches, and upmarket resorts, the heyday of some towns in the Italian Riviera has passed but the area still maintains a certain upscale atmosphere that invites discriminating travelers to come and explore.

Liguria is located in the northern portion of Italy, between the French Riviera, Piedmonte, and Tuscany. The weather in Liguria is nearly always nice and can best be described as balmy. Thanks to its location, it’s protected from most nasty weather by the mountains of the Alpine range. Average summertime temperature is a comfortable 77 degrees F and in the winter, it rarely dips below around 50 degrees. Sunshine is abundant and the vegetation across the region is lush. That’s why, for decades, Liguria has been attracting the rich and famous who come to play in San Remo’s famed casino, enjoy the harbor at Portofino, or explore quaint seaside towns like Camogli and Rapallo.

Liguria is generally divided into two areas or coasts. West of Genoa is where you’ll find the traditional wide, sandy beaches and resorts that make this a much-visited vacation spot. The area is known as Riviera di Ponente or Shore of the Setting Sun. Stretching all the way to the French Riviera, this part of Liguria boasts towns such as turn-of-the-century Bordighera, with its beautiful seaside promenade; the famed resort of San Remo; the medieval town of Masone; pretty Alassio with its 2-mile long beach; and the hill town of Sassello.

On the eastern side of Genoa is Riviera di Levante, Shore of the Rising Sun. The towns here are less developed, the coastal scenery more rugged. You won’t find huge resorts on this side of Genoa, but what you will find are some of Italy’s most charming small towns, all lined up within just a few miles of each other and eager to welcome visitors. Head for little Portofino, perfect for those who require a little glitz with their vacation, or if you’re looking for something less pretentious, travel just a few miles to pretty Santa Margherita Ligure, a charming town that was once a well-known retreat but is now quiet, boasting a pristine beach and lots of friendly locals.

If you’re a city person and you’re visiting the Italian Riviera, don’t miss an opportunity to spend some time in Genoa, one of Italy’s least-visited cities but definitely worth a stop. Quite a historic city, Genoa’s history can be traced back to the Etruscans of the 5th century BC and the city is simply full of wonderful archeological and architectural gems.

The most visited sight in Genoa is probably The Palace of the Doges, dating from the 13th century (not to be confused with the one in Venice). Other must sees include the magnificent Cathedral of St. Lawrence (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo); the Old Harbor area; the Museo d’Arte Oriental with its excellent collection of Oriental art; and the fun and educational Aquarium of Genoa, one of the largest in Europe. You’ll also want to take a stroll down the Via Garibaldi. This street, lined with palaces, is a fascinating World Heritage Site.

No matter where you go in Italy, you’ll want to be sure to taste the local food. Liguria is no exception. Seafood, of course, is quite popular, given the region’s location. You can expect most restaurants to have an excellent selection including fish plucked from the sea just hours before dinner is served. Produce in Liguria is equally tantalizing and – like the seafood – you’ll often find fruit or vegetables on your plate that were picked the same day. Be sure to try the orata, a tasty local fish, usually cooked with olives and potatoes; or the gattafin, pasta stuffed with beetroot, onion and parmesan. Liguria is also the birthplace of pesto sauce so remember to order a dish that includes this popular topping.

Learn more about the Liguria region of Italy in our regional guide.