Jaspreet Narang whisks you away to some of the most stunning parts of Italy.
ITALY: A five-letter word encapsulating all things beautiful in life, and a country that genuinely needs no introduction. Home to some of the world’s greatest art, architecture, gastronomy, wine, and landscapes, Italy romanticizes, inspires, and enthralls like no other. No single trip can encompass everything this glorious land has to offer, and just the same, neither can this article. It would be an injustice. So let’s just zone in on the northwest of Italy: specifically, the Italian Riviera
Where is the Italian Riviera?
Situated between the south of France and Tuscany, the Italian Riviera lies in the region of Liguria. It is an enchanting mix of history, pristine beaches, panoramic views, vibrantly coloured homes and mouthwatering regional cuisine. In fact, lovers of la dolce vita like artists, writers, celebrities and royalty have been flocking to this glamorous destination since the 1800s, and it’s easy to see why!
There’s something for everyone: picturesque hiking along the Cinque Terre, music and glitz in Sanremo, the open air markets of Ventimiglia, parks in Portofino, and dozens of quaint waterfront towns set along miles of clear blue water.
Portofino: Crescent of the Mediterranean Coast
This culturally rich and historic fishing village is one of the more famous Italian Riviera towns, with its pastel-coloured houses, and idyllic harbour hosting luxury yachts alongside rickety fishing boats. Portofino also stands out due to the verdant beauty of the surrounding Mount Portofino National Regional
Park and Marine Reserve. The best place to gaze upon this picturesque town is from Castello Brown, a small house museum tucked away in the hills above the harbour. Afterwards, get seats at one of the restaurants that spill across the town, or swim in the child-free, sun-warmed Paraggi bay. It’s the perfect place to steal a slice of la dolce vita.
Where to stay:
Do not stay directly in Portofino. It is highly touristic, especially in the summer, and prices are exorbitant, as it attracts some of the wealthiest people in the world. Instead, stay in the nearby coastal towns of Santa Margherita Ligure or Rapallo.
How to Get to Portofino:
Going by car is possible, but I advise against it. Taking a bus, train, or water taxi from whichever neighbouring town you are staying in is your best bet. I also recommend hiking back through the flower-lined ‘red carpet’ trail. It is a family friendly, rewarding seven-kilometre hike from Portofino to Santa Margherita, with picturesque views of the coastline.
Cinque Terre: Pastel-Hued Perfection
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cinque Terre consists of a series of ancient seaside villages set amid some of the most dramatic stretches of Italian coastline. In each of these five settlements, Monterosso al Marre, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, brightly painted houses and vineyards sprawl down precipitous terraces; harbours are bustling with activity; olive groves and citrus orchards abound; and trattorias serve local seafood specialties along with classic Ligurian pesto. The famous Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hike runs through the villages and offers sweeping sea vistas.
Where to stay:
Aside from Monterosso al Mare, there are not many options to stay directly in Cinque Terre, but this is absolutely fine. There are so many charming towns slightly outside of Cinque Terre dotting the coastline, including Sestri Levante and Moneglia.
How to get to Cinque Terre:
Thankfully, most car traffic was banned from the region more than ten years ago. This means that the best way to get into Cinque Terre is by train, directly from any neighbouring village you choose to stay at. While it is possible to do Cinque Terre in one day, to avoid feeling rushed, and to truly enjoy it, two days or more is recommended!
Monterosso al Mare is perhaps the least typical of the five villages. Most visitors tend to stay here, as it is the first of the five villages along the coast. However, the beach has been set up like a factory catering to sunbathing Caucasian tourists with rows of unending beach chairs. I skipped this town, as it did not appeal to me.
Vernazza and Manarola are two of my favorite villages. Vernazza is a picture-perfect marvel, with tasteful architecture, intricate doorways and winding lanes leading to the main piazza. Manarolo is perched on a dramatic cliff over the sea. This area is filled with terraces, vineyards, and orchards.
Corniglia is small and remote, but certainly still worth a visit. The only options going in and out of this town are by train, or on foot, along the hiking trails. Ferries do not dock here.
Riomaggiore is Cinque Terre’s most famous town. The zone’s most famous trekking route, Via dell’Amore or ‘Way of Love,’ begins here and leads to Manarola. Another route to look out for is the Blue Trail or Sentiero Azzurro, cutting across the National Park of Cinque Terre.
Because people flock to this region in the summer,I recommend visiting the Italian Riviera during the spring or autumn; April, May, and September are ideal. You will surely be rewarded with a quieter, more relaxed vacation. You can explore lavish palazzi or humble village churches and then simply swim, eat, walk, and enjoy an aperitivo while gazing at the sea. Truly ‘la dolce vita.’