The Italian Riviera, also known as the region of Liguria, is a charming curved area that borders Tuscany to the East and stretches all the way to the French Riviera in the west. It is renowned for housing some of Italy's most exquisite coastal scenery. If you appreciate vibrant seaside towns, rich maritime history, and breathtaking landscapes, you will undoubtedly fall in love with the Italian Riviera. Let's embark on a visual journey, starting at Cinque Terre.
When you think of the Italian Riviera or Italy in general, Cinque Terre often comes to mind. This destination is famous worldwide and served as the inspiration for Pixar's film, Luca. Cinque Terre consists of five medieval seaside villages. While you cannot drive directly to Cinque Terre, you can conveniently reach it by train from La Spezia in the south or Levanto in the north. Once you arrive, you can explore the villages by train or embark on scenic hikes between them. The entire trail spans 11 kilometers and takes around five to six hours to complete, but please note that certain sections of the trail may be closed.
The northernmost and largest village in Cinque Terre is Monterosso al Mare. Although it might be less popular than the other villages, it is certainly worth a visit. Monterosso boasts the most expansive and picturesque beaches in the entire Cinque Terre, offering breathtaking views of the Riviera. It's an ideal spot to unwind and relax.
Continuing south, you will come across Vernazza, which is probably my personal favorite village in Cinque Terre. It stands out with its natural harbor and retains the authentic charm of a fishing village. Vernazza tends to get crowded, especially in August, so I recommend visiting during the shoulder months of September or May to enjoy a more peaceful experience. Walking along the stone pier and exploring the village's tunnel, which connects to the other side of the sea, are among the highlights. Additionally, don't miss the Doria Castle, perched atop a hill, providing stunning panoramic views of Vernazza and its surroundings.
The next village to the south is Corniglia, often overlooked by tourists. To reach Corniglia, you must climb 380 stairs, as it lacks direct beach access. However, this village offers remarkable vistas of the Cinque Terre and provides a more authentic and less touristy experience.
Moving on, we arrive at Manarola, which happens to be my second favorite village in Cinque Terre. It is delightful to wander through the village's many pathways, providing excellent vantage points to admire Manarola's beauty. What particularly struck me was a fantastic swimming spot sheltered from the waves, where people were cliff jumping. Regrettably, I didn't take the plunge, but it's an exhilarating experience worth trying. You might even spot a mermaid or two!
Right next to Manarola is Riomaggiore, the southernmost town in Cinque Terre. It is an ideal base to stay, offering various accommodation, dining, and activity options. Riomaggiore stands out as one of the most scenic villages with its unique shape and vibrant, colorful buildings. Walking out on the Via dell'Amore, a panoramic walkway made of giant boulders, rewards you with breathtaking views, especially during sunset. The colors and atmosphere of Cinque Terre are truly unparalleled.
Before we conclude our exploration of Cinque Terre, I highly recommend experiencing it from the sea. You can take ferries that connect the villages or opt for a private boat tour, both of which offer incredible views of the coastline that cannot be witnessed from land.
Next on our itinerary is the nearby town of Portovenere, situated just south of Cinque Terre along the same coastline. Approximately 25 minutes away from La Spezia, Portovenere dates back to the 1st century BC and served as the base for the Byzantine Fleet after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. One of the highlights of Portovenere is the Chiesa de San Pietro, a Catholic church built on a rocky outcrop in 1198. Adjacent to the church is the Grotta di Lord Byron, a remarkable swimming area frequented by the English poet Lord Byron. The cliffs throughout Portovenere offer splendid views, making it a truly scenic spot on the Riviera.
Our journey continues to the charming town of Chiavari, nestled between popular areas like Portofino and Cinque Terre. Although often overlooked by tourists, Chiavari has been gaining popularity among Italians. The town's promontory, which was once an island until it connected to the mainland, creates two unique bays, earning it the nickname "the city of two seas." Chiavari is characterized by its picturesque harbor and offers convenient access to many popular destinations on the Riviera within an hour's drive.
We then venture to Ceriale, located in western Liguria, approximately an hour away from the French border. Perched upon a hill, Ceriale is a small village with roots tracing back nearly 2,000 years when it originated as a Roman mansion along the Via Julia Augusta. The village's stunning location right next to the Mediterranean Sea and its beautiful beaches make it one of the most scenic hilltop villages in the Italian Riviera.
Our penultimate stop is Genoa, the capital city of Liguria. Genoa has been one of the most significant ports in the Mediterranean since the Middle Ages and was a powerful maritime republic from the 11th to the 18th centuries. This city has a fascinating history and was the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. It is also where two of the world's earliest banks were established during the 15th century. Today, Genoa is the sixth-largest city in Italy, a popular stop for cruise ships, and an excellent starting point for exploring the Liguria region.
Finally, we arrive at the nearby town of Camogli, located approximately 30 minutes outside of Genoa. Camogli is a small fishing village on the western side of the Portofino Peninsula. Its beach, with pebblestone sand and clear waters (when the weather permits), is a highlight. The backdrop of the church, with its scenic clock tower, adds to the charm of this picturesque fishing town.
Continuing our journey, we reach Rapallo, situated on the opposite side of the Portofino Peninsula. Rapallo is a beautiful town on the sea, featuring a pleasant harbor. One of its standout attractions is the castle situated right in the water, providing a unique sight. Rapallo's strategic location allows easy access to many popular destinations on the Riviera within an hour's drive.
For our final destination, we visit the nearby town of Portofino, only a 20-minute drive from Rapallo. Portofino is an idyllic and world-renowned town on the Italian coast. Its picturesque harbor has been a haven for royalty and artists since the 12th century. Portofino tends to be crowded, especially during the peak of summer, so I recommend visiting during less popular months or early in the morning. Alternatively, you can reach Portofino by taking a ferry from nearby towns such as Rapallo, Genoa, or Camogli. Don't miss the opportunity to hike to the lighthouse, a 20-minute trek offering incredible views of the Ligurian Sea. Additionally, a must-visit place near Portofino is San Fruttuoso, accessible only by boat or a 90-minute hike from Portofino. This hidden cove features a 10th-century abbey and a submerged statue of Christ, inviting adventurous souls to explore its depths.
That concludes our journey through the top destinations of the Italian Riviera. Feel free to share your favorite places in the comments section.