The Italian Riviera: a journey through the colorful Liguria
Welcome back to our blog.
If we look at the map of Italy, at the top left, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, we will see a narrow and long crescent-shaped area of land: the Liguria region. This region stretching from the French Côte d’Azur south to Tuscany, is a small region, but rich in traditions, art and culture, which will enchant anyone!
How to reach Liguria
There are different ways to reach this small region of Italy. You can arrive by plane landing at Genoa airport, or you can arrive from Milan (about two hours by car) or from Tuscany. It is also easily accessible by train, because every small town on the Ligurian coast has a train station. In summer, however, the trains are very crowded and there is the risk of not finding a seat.
Genoa is the capital of Liguria and it is the sixth largest city in Italy. This city is very unique, as it is built between the sea and the surrounding mountains. In fact the whole city is mountainous. Rich in noble palaces, museums, churches and “modern” attractions (such as the famous Aquarium), Genoa is worth a visit!
What are the most relevant things in Genoa?
1. The Royal Palace
It is commonly called as Palazzo Stefano Balbi. One of the most important art galleries in the city is located inside the Palace, which contains paints of Van Dyke and Tintoretto.
2. The house of Christopher Columbus
Where he moved with his family when he was four years old.
3. The fishing neighborhood called “Boccadasse”
It is a beautiful bay where small fishermen’s boats are docked and where you can enjoy an excellent ice cream.
4. The Cathedral of St. Lorenzo
The Cathedral is composed of three naves and contains a lot of sculptures, beautiful frescoes and paintings and the Treasure Museum.
5. La Lanterna (the lantern)
With a 77 meter high structure, it dates back to the fourteenth century signaling the entrance of the port to ships. “La Lanterna” is considered the symbol of the city.
6. Palazzo Spinola
The National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola is one of the most important galleries in Genoa. Built in 1593 at the behest of Francesco Grimaldi it is one of the best noble palaces in Genoa. Inside, you can admire furnishings, ceramics, engravings and silvers donated to the Italian State (in 1958) by the Spinola family.
7. The aquarium
It is the second largest aquarium in Europe (after Valencia, in Spain) and the new area was designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano.
The Italian Riviera and its villages
With the name of “Italian Riviera”, the Ligurian coast is known throughout the world for the beauty of the sea and the small villages that follow one behind the other. Often a film set, the Italian Riviera is a wonderful place to spend Italian holidays. The mix of simplicity, good food, emerald sea and colorful houses makes this region one of the most interesting in the Bel Paese.
The Riviera extends from west to south east and Genoa is right in the middle. To the left of Genoa, lies Riviera di Ponente (where the sun sets), to the right of the capital is the Riviera di Levante.
What to see in the Riviera di Ponente:
The Riviera di Ponente stretches from Genoa to France. On this side of the Riviera you can visit the provinces of Savona and Imperia with their beautiful villages. In addition to these two medium-sized cities, the town of Sanremo is famous on this coast, where the most important festival of Italian music is celebrated every year in February: the Sanremo Festival. This small town is also famous for its casino, one of the only 4 casinos in Italy.
If you are looking for small villages with an authentic soul, the Riviera di Ponente will surprise you. At least five villages are not to be missed if you are in this part of Liguria.
It is a village with ancient and illustrious origins, cited by Dante in the Divine Comedy, in the thirteenth century it obtained the title of Maritime Republic. What to see in Noli? The remains of the Castle of the Marquises of the Carretto, with the fortification that runs along the Monte Ursino; the ancient Episcopal Palace, with its marvelous frescoes, inscriptions and period furnishings; the church of San Paragorio where you can admire the Holy Face, an expressive wooden crucifix from the 12th century.
It is a very small town near Finale Ligure known as the best natural harbor of Western Liguria. The colorful houses with flat roof terraces overlook the beach where the old fishing boats are moored. The flowery balconies, the colorful houses and the places to have an aperitif, make Varigotti one of the most beautiful villages in the area.
It is located 11 kilometers from Imperia and it is a beautiful medieval village on a rock overlooking the sea. The very ancient medieval walls that protect the Castle of Clavesana make it a magical and full of charm thanks to the maze of narrow alleys that descend towards the coast. You cannot visit Cervo without making a stop at the Church of San Giovanni Battista.
It is a village where coral fishermen have brought wealth to the town: thanks to those in the parish of St. Matthew you can admire altars and paintings from convents and Genoese churches of religious orders once suppressed. Don’t miss the small squares on the beach, the tower on the sea, the pier and the boathouse where fishermen adjust their nets. For trekking lovers, the Nordic Walking Park has been created in Laigueglia, where you can find a route composed of six itineraries of varying difficulty.
It is a lesser known place of the Riviera di Ponente, but one of the most beautiful villages. The majestic Baroque and medieval buildings make this place even more fascinating. The most important? The Basilica of San Biagio and the convent of Santa Caterina of 1360.
What to see in the Riviera di Levante:
The Riviera di Levante extends from the city of Genoa to the city of La Spezia. Starting the journey from Genoa, the first village not to be missed is Camogli. A labyrinth of alleys among colorful houses will take you to the old village harbor. Camogli is a great starting point for exploring the Riviera di Levante!
1. Discovering Portofino and the Gulf of Tigullio
If we talk about the Gulf of Tigullio, I am almost sure that few of you know that it is in Liguria. But if I mention Portofino, everyone has heard about it at least once in their life. That’s right, Portofino is located in the Gulf of Tigullio, a natural gulf where the mountains descend straight into the sea. Portofino is one of the most characteristic villages of this region, but also the most glamorous and expensive. From the small village square, overlooking the marina, you will see moored dream boats. The Gulf of Tigullio goes from Portofino to Sestri Levante. Since the end of the 19th century this area was the holiday destination of the aristocratic families of northern Italy. Intellectuals, writers, politicians, noblemen and wealthy entrepreneurs possess splendid villas overlooking the sea. They are easily recognizable by their size and the Liberty style that characterizes them. Some famous Italians that have a mansion in the Gulf of Tigullio? Berlusconi (the politician), Pirelli (tires Company) or Mondadori (the publisher).
If you are taking a vacation in the Gulf of Tigullio, a trip that you will have to do is the boat trip to the San Fruttuoso bay. An abbey is built in this bay between pine forests overlooking the sea. This abbey can only be reached by sea or through a trek from Portofino (high difficulty level).
2. Le Cinque Terre
But if you are looking for simplicity, Portofino is perhaps not the most suitable place for you! Just move south, to find 5 small villages that follow one after the other: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola e Rio Maggiore. These five villages, all together, are better known as “Le Cinque Terre” (the five lands).
All five of these villages together form the Protected Park of the Cinque Terre. Because the almost inaccessible position, the best way to reach “Cinque Terre” is by train or boat. Each village of this park will leave you breathless with its beauty and authenticity.
3. La Spezia and Portovenere
Going south towards Tuscany, there is the small town of La Spezia, important for its military and commercial port. A few kilometers away from the city (precisely 8 miles) is the village of Portovenere. It is a gem set in the western part of the Gulf of La Spezia. Do not miss the Church of San Pietro, overlooking the sea. Also to be visited in Portovenere is the castle of the Doria Family, one of the most important and powerful families of Liguria.
Because Liguria is a region with sea and mountains, traditional cuisine is very rich in fish, but also in pork, poultry, rabbit meat and vegetables such as wild herbs that are used to fill the typical Ligurian ravioli called “Pansotti”. This is a fresh pasta that is filled with a mix of wild herbs and cheese. Pansotti are usually covered by a nut-based sauce, once considered food for the poor. Another typical Ligurian food is the “focaccia”. Visit one of the many local bakeries and I am sure you’ll fall in love with the Ligurian foccacia. There are several versions: plain, with cherry tomatoes, with onions, with rosemary. But one is inimitable and is called “recco focaccia”. It is a focaccia filled with a very creamy cheese.
The masterpiece of Ligurian cuisine
Green, fresh and with the summer flavor of basil, pesto sauce is among the most popular sauces for Italians! Yes, this delicious sauce is born right here in Liguria. Do you know how it was born? Thanks to the antibacterial properties of garlic, at the time of long voyages to the Americas, this sauce was used as a condiment for food and with the aim of preventing diseases among sailors. Nowadays this sauce is used in all Italian families to dress pasta and make even the youngest happy! The typical kind of pasta to combine with the pesto sauce is called “trofie”. In Liguria each restaurant offers “Trofie al Pesto”, but make sure they offer you the authentic recipe, the one that requires that after mixing the pasta with the sauce, pieces of boiled potato and green beans must be added.
Liguria is a rugged land where man has had to fight over the centuries to wrest arable land from the mountains. From the vinicultural point of view it has been possible to obtain particular wines, thanks to the adoption of the Vermentino grape variety, which finds its homeland of quality here. Liguria is in fact renowned for white wines.
Rossese & Cinque Terre DOC
In this blog we would like to mention a wine from the Riviera di Ponente and a wine from the Riviera di Levante. From the Ponente is the “Rossese di Dolceacqua”, a wine produced in Val Nervia, near the city of Imperia. It is a ruby red wine, with a sapid, soft, fragrant and full-bodied taste and an intense aroma. It can be combined with both white and red meats. From the Riviera di Levante, the most interesting wine is the “Cinque Terre DOC”. It has an intense yellow color, a delicate fragrance, a characteristic dry and pleasant taste. It is perfect with seafood from starters to main course like anchovies, breaded and fried anchovies, Ligurian focaccia, pasta with crustaceans, marinara risotto and baked or grilled fish.
And which wine do we combine with dessert? A unique wine, produced in very small quantities: the “Sciachetra”. Excellent with cheeses or desserts, it has a golden yellow to amber yellow color and a pleasantly intense aroma.
I hope that you enjoyed this insight into the Liguria region and that you are inspired to learn more or see for yourself! If you enjoyed this blog post, share it with a friend and if you are interested in learning more about traveling to this area or any other region in Italy, please contact us for more information.
Stay tuned for more blogs about other regions in Italy and be sure to click the link below for an example of tours we offer in the Liguria region.