Bask in the Beauty of the Mediterranean on an Italy Vacation

Europe & UK

Portofino and the Mediterranean, Italy

Many parts of the Italian coastline are dramatically impressive. One area in particular offers not only outstanding scenic beauty, on an Italy vacation, but also interesting cities, towns, and resorts.

Italy’s north-west coast stretches from the French border along the Italian Riviera all the way to the outstanding Cinque Terre region. If you look at a map of Italy, you will see that the coastline curves around in an arc. This coastline is dotted with gems which can be experienced on a trip to Italy.

Genoa

Why would anyone consider staying in Genoa? Well, I did and I was amazed at the number of attractions in this fascinating port city. First of all, it is a mix of the old and the new. The old is the heart of the city with a medieval network of narrow pedestrian cobblestone streets teeming with life. The new surrounds the old part and offers sophisticated modern avenues lined with cafes and restaurants as well as excellent shopping. There are two geographically significant aspects of Genoa. One is the interesting port area which fronts the old part of the city. The other is a series of hills which form an attractive background to the city below. Many Genoese live up in the hills, and on your Italy vacation, you can have fun taking one of the numerous cable cars which travel up there. From the hills you have fantastic views of Genoa and the Mediterranean.

Narrow street in the historical centre of Genoa, Italy
Narrow street in the historical centre of Genoa

The medieval heart of Genoa is both residential and offers fashionable shops, cafes, and restaurants. The Via Garibaldi is Genoa’s pièce de résistance as it houses some magnificent palaces built in the late 1600s. You can visit most and peer into the elegant staircases and courtyards. The former Palazzo Tursi (now the town hall) contains the violin of Paganini, a home town musician, and letters written by Christopher Columbus who originally hailed from Genoa. The Palazzo Bianco is now an art gallery and the Palazzo Rosso, besides being very striking, has a viewing platform on the top, giving the visitor great views of the city. Another magnificent building is the black and white striped Church of San Lorenzo which has been the city’s cathedral since 985 AD.

Genoa’s aquarium on the waterfront is one of the largest in Europe and contains 5000 sea creatures including sharks, dolphins, and penguins. There is also a floating display of a Caribbean coral reef, a recreation of the Red Sea, and a Madagascar rainforest. While on the waterfront, take a look at the sizable luxury sailboats moored here. You can also take a cruise around the harbour, which gives you a different perspective of Genoa on your Italy vacation.

Port of Genoa, Italy
Port of Genoa

The Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera is a rival to the French Riviera next door. It has many of the same attributes which include a backdrop of a series of impressive hills and a number of resorts offering sun, sea, and sand, plus much more. The best-known resort is San Remo, which once hosted Russian royalty as well as Tchaikovsky. Apart from the very attractive beachfront, there is an older part where you can find many cafes, shops, and restaurants. Perhaps not quite in the same league as Monte Carlo, San Remo has a casino, and just like its counterpart, you are obliged to wear appropriate formal attire to go inside.  Every February, San Remo hosts a popular music festival which attracts top-line performers. If you find yourself in this resort, on an Italy vacation, I highly recommend renting a bicycle and taking the pedestrian and bike-only road that runs all along the coast going both to the east and the west of San Remo. You will enjoy not only the seafront but the panoramic views around the various bays, as you can cycle for long distances.

City of San Remo, Italy
City of San Remo

Another major resort is Alassio, which is arguably the most attractive of all the Italian Riviera resorts, with its fine long sandy beach. It is an upscale resort with a small old town featuring tiny alleyways and a not-to-be-missed wall which contains the signatures of celebrities. For fantastic views, head to Monte Tirasso for wonderful panoramic views of the coastline. Bordighera is a lively resort full of grandiose 19th-century buildings and Art Nouveau villas.  It is renowned for its palm trees and supplies the Vatican with the palm fronds that adorn St. Peter’s on Palm Sunday. As Bordighera has a long history, you can visit the Villa Regina Margherita, one of the two museums in the resort, and learn how Bordighera used to be in the past.

Sandy beach in town of Alassio, Liguria, Italy
Sandy beach in town of Alassio

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre to the south-east of Genoa features a coastline of mountainous terrain with steep cliffs dropping down to the sea. Cinque Terre means “five lands” and consists of a series of five small delightful and colourful towns almost equidistant from each other. From north to south, they are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

There are three ways to see all or some of them, on your Italy vacation. There is a train service which stops at each town and runs roughly every hour. You can drive from one to the next, but I don’t recommend this as parking is very difficult. The third is for the athletic and energetic. There is a trail which runs from one end to the other of the Cinque Terre. However, not only is it extremely steep in places but it also has very rough and rugged patches. To give you an idea, it took me 2 hours to walk from Monterosso to Vernazza over a distance of some 3 kilometres/2 miles. But it was well worth the effort as the views were simply spectacular.

Village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, Italy
Village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre

The Levante Riviera

This stretch of coastline lies between the Cinque Terre and Genoa and is absolutely spectacular. It offers a combination of beautiful resorts and outstanding mountainous terrain which plunges down to the sea. The jewel in the crown is Portofino which is so picturesque that, it seems to me, it is featured in every other photograph of Italy. The woods behind the resort are dotted with the villas of the rich and famous – Portofino does attract these people. To enjoy its beauty on a trip to Italy, take a stroll around the stunning harbour lined with expensive boutiques and restaurants as well as colourful houses, or walk up the hill to the 15th-century castle, Castello Brown, for outstanding views of the town below.

Colourful houses and villas, luxury yachts and boats in Portofino, Liguria, Italy
Colourful houses and villas, luxury yachts and boats in Portofino

Another resort is Rapallo, which has a lively promenade with a miniature castle built in the 16th century to defend the town from pirates, and an attractive old town which has some interesting churches. It has attracted many famous writers in the past such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Ezra Pound. It also has one of the oldest golf courses in Italy. A must is a funicular ride to the Sanctuary of our Lady of Montallegro, where the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant in 1557.

Coastline and picturesque seaside village of Rapallo, Italy
Coastline and picturesque seaside village of Rapallo

One more major resort to experience on an Italy vacation in this region is Santa Margherita, which has an attractive waterfront lined with both sailboats and fishing vessels. It is a chic resort with lots of old-world charm and home to pretty villas lodged in forests of pine and cypress trees. You can visit the Villa Durazzo, a perfect example of the kind of villas built in the 16th and 17th centuries by the rich from Genoa. It is set in a beautiful park full of exotic plants and lemon trees. One thing for the energetic to do is to walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino along the coast.

Panoramic view of the city of Santa Margherita, Ligur, Italy
Panoramic view of the city of Santa Margherita