What are the five best things to see and do in the Italian Riviera?

Silvia Donati

The Italian Riviera is beautiful everywhere you go — from the most glamorous towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure to the quieter Portovenere on the eastern portion of the coast. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in the Italian Riviera:
 
1. Anchor yourself in Portofino. This picturesque former fishing village, featuring ports dotted with luxury yachts, is an international tourist destination. Walk its old streets and then sit in the piazzetta to soak in the atmosphere. Make sure you take the 20-minute boat trip to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso, an isolated village of fishermen with a small beach and a Benedictine abbey.
 
2. Drive along the coast of the Gulf of Tigullio. This stretch of the Italian Riviera is spectacular, with its coastal views and thriving vegetation. Drive the old coastal road Via Aurelia, starting from Nervi and proceeding through the delightful villages of Camogli, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Chiavari and Sestri Levante.
 
3. Hike the Cinque Terre National Park. This steep and rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera comprises the five fishing towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, perched on the mountains terraced with vineyards and olive groves. A panoramic walking trail known as the Sentiero Azzurro (the Blue Path) connects all five.
 
4. Relax in the Gulf of La Spezia (Gulf of Poets). The stretch of coast closest to Tuscany, it takes its nickname from the many writers who chose it as their residence, including British poets Byron and Shelley. Its highlights are Portovenere and the two islands, which are rich with marine caves; Lerici, which boasts a castle; and the unique village of Tellaro, widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
 
5. Discover the Riviera dei Fiori (the Coast of Flowers). This stretch of coast to the west of Genoa is well known among Italians but often overlooked by international tourists. It’s best visited by driving along the old coastal Via Aurelia. Explore Albenga, known for its towers and historic monuments; Alassio, with a little church that has a prime view of the town below; Taggia, where you can admire the houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries; Sanremo with its elegant Corso Imperatrice promenade, a casino and medieval neighborhood of La Pigna; and Bordighera, which has a magnificent seafront promenade and old town area.

  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What is the best time of the year to visit the Italian Riviera?

    The Italian Riviera can become extremely crowded during the summer months, when vehicle traffic along the winding roads between the tiny towns becomes congested. If you go in the summer, you might want to avoid weekends and national holidays. The presence of the sea and the protection of the mountains produces an enviable mild climate — both in the winter and summer. The best months to visit are April, May, late September and October. This way you can avoid the summer crowds and still enjoy the warmer weather (and go into the water, if you like). Try to avoid driving here in the summer months; Forbes Travel Guide recommends taking advantage of the frequent train and ferry services connecting the Italian Riviera’s coastal villages.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What is the best thing to bring home from the Italian Riviera?

    The best thing to bring home from the Italian Riviera is pesto. This sauce known all over the world hails from here, precisely in Genoa, and you should buy at least one jar to bring home. Mainly used as a pasta sauce, the traditional recipe uses basil leaves designated with the DOP trademark, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, grana and pecorino cheeses. Ask for pesto made the artisanal way, where the ingredients are ground with a wooden pestle in a marble mortar, rather than the one produced industrially which uses a mixer. When using the mixer, the ingredients are thrown in together, and the olive oil is added at the end. When using the pestle and mortar, the correct procedure is to put in and grind the garlic and the pine nuts with salt first, then the basil leaves, then the grated cheeses and finally the olive oil. This is the way to obtain pesto’s correct flavor and texture.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What are the five best Italian Riviera food experiences?

    Ligurian cuisine is varied and rich, so it’s hard to pin down just five of the best food experiences in the Italian Riviera. Each area of the coast has its own signature dish. Some typical seafood dishes are the anchovies preserved with salt of the Ligurian Sea, the red crayfish of Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure, stockfish, and a local soup called bagnun, made with fresh anchovies, onions, tomato and olive oil. Here’s Forbes Travel Guide’s take on the five best Italian Riviera food experiences.
     
    1. Pesto sauce. Famous all over the world, it’s made with DOP (protected designation of origin) basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, grana and pecorino cheeses. It should be eaten with trenette or tropie, a typical Ligurian pasta.
     
    2. Focaccia. It comes soft or crunchy, plain or flavored with onions, olives, rosemary or sage. A great variation is the Focaccia di Recco (a town on the eastern side of the Riviera), with melted cheese inside.
     
    3. Cima. It’s a meat dish made with veal, cut in a way to resemble a pocket. The meat is put inside along with other ingredients, such as peas, cheese, eggs, garlic and more. When the cima is ready, it’s sealed so the filling doesn’t come out then  It’s then steamed with vegetables.
     
    4. Wine. The many terraced vineyards produce some excellent wine:  among the whites, the Pigato and the Vermentino; among the reds, the Rossese, Ormeasco and Ciliegiolo. Also try the sweet wine Sciacchetrà, excellent with typical Ligurian sweets, such as spongata, buccellato and Genoa pandolce.
     
    5. Dessert. For a sweet treat, try chifferi, or delicious almond biscuits;  baci (kisses), little biscuits filled with chocolate; cakes and pastries with pine nuts; and pane del marinaio (the sailor’s bread), a sweet bread with raisins, candied fruit, pine nuts, lemon and Marsala.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    Where is the best nightlife in the Italian Riviera?

    The nightlife in the Italian Riviera is especially lively in the summer months, when the towns’ piazzas come alive with tourists and locals enjoying the evening breeze. The liveliest villages are Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure; both have main squares and old streets full of restaurants and bars, perfect for people-watching. Sestri Levante, which is at the end of the Gulf of Tigullio, is home to the popular club La Piscina dei Castelli. Covo di Nord-Est and Carillon in Santa Margherita Ligure are also popular nightlife spots. However, you’ll likely be content simply sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants or bars in any of the seaside towns, sipping a glass of local wine and taking in the atmosphere.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What is the best way to see the Italian Riviera in one day?

    If you only have one day in the Italian Riviera, Forbes Travel Guide recommends focusing on just one area, so you have time to linger in the villages and appreciate the atmosphere. Explore the Gulf of Tigullio, where you’ll find the beautiful towns of Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo. This is a magnificent stretch of the Riviera di Levante, brimming with marine views, quaint fishing villages, lush vegetation and mountains.
     
    Start your day by following the old coastal route, Via Aurelia. You’ll begin at Nervi, where you should take a walk on the gorgeous seafront promenade. Continue on to Camogli and wander around the tiny streets of the old village. Climb up to Belvedere di San Rocco for the spectacular view of the coast that stretches from Genoa to Punta Chiappa. As you proceed east, you’ll first encounter Portofino, an old fishing village popular with international jetsetters who park their luxurious yachts in the colorful port. Take the 20-minute boat trip to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso, which features a secluded village of fishermen and a Benedictine abbey.

    Then proceed to Santa Margherita Ligure. There, you’ll find an elegant seafront promenade lined with shops, bars, restaurants and more yachts. Continue on to Rapallo and go up to the Sanctuary of Montallegro to admire the beautiful view. In Chiavari, walk the old main street and visit the Basilica dei Fieschi. End your day in Sestri Levante, a town known for its picturesque port called the Bay of Silence. Climb to the Parco dei Castelli at the top of the cape for your last beautiful view of the Ligurian coast.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    Where is the best shopping in the Italian Riviera?

    The best shopping in the Italian Riviera is found in Portofino. The luxe fishing village has stores from top Italian and international designers, such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo, Missoni, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Dior. Once you’ve refreshed your wardrobe, you can shop throughout the entire Italian Riviera for a wide range of products — from food and wine specialties to souvenirs, handicrafts and nautical objects.

    The region boasts excellent gastronomy products. Pesto hails from here, and the extra-virgin olive oil is very good. Forbes Travel Guide recommends buying it directly from the farmers in the inland areas. The region also produces excellent wines, including whites (e.g. Vermentino and Pigato), and reds (Rossese, Ormeasco and Ciliegiolo) and sweet wine (Sciacchetrà). Pair that sweet wine with desserts like spongata, buccellato and pandolce, which you can find at all local deli shops. Other Ligurian pastries, such as chifferi, cakes with pine nuts, baci and pane del marinaio can all be found in the local bakeries. Non-food souvenirs include items with a marine theme, coral works, naval instruments and seashells.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What are the best things to do with kids in the Italian Riviera?

    The beautiful landscape and beaches make the Italian Riviera a place where the kids are bound to have fun. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the best things to do with kids in the Italian Riviera:
     
    1. Visit Portofino Regional Park. Overlooking the Gulf of Tigullio and Portofino's cape, the park includes miles of trails for all levels of difficulty. Easy ones are Punta Chiappa and Cala dell’Oro. Some trace the old steps of the pilgrims on their way to visit the abbeys of San Fruttuoso, San Nicolò and San Gerolamo della Cervara. The park is also home to the peregrine falcon.
     
    2. Take the 20-minute boat ride from Portofino to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso. From the boat, you can see, 55 feet below the surface is the bronze statue of the Christ of the Abyss, the patron saint of scuba divers. Once on the island, visit the Benedictine abbey of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte. There is also a beach where the kids can swim. 

    3. Trek on Isola Palmaria. It's the island just off the coast of Portovenere — easily walkable in three hours. Isola Palmaria especially known for its marine caves; don’t miss the Grotta Azzurra, Grotta Vulcanica and Grotta dei Colombi.
     
    4. Walk the trail or hop on a boat to see the five Cinque Terre towns. The Sentiero Azzurro is the trail connecting all five towns; but if you only want to walk through a portion of Cinque Terre, make it the mostly flat Sentiero dell’Amore, which connects Riomaggiore and Manarola. The sheer coast of Cinque Terre, with the steep terraces planted with vines and olive trees, offers spectacular views.

    5. Visit the Genoa Aquarium. The largest aquarium in Italy and second largest in Europe is located in the ancient port area of Genoa. The two-and-a-half-hour tour shows the living environments of all marine life and reptiles. Particularly worthy are the three big tanks filled with dolphins, sharks, seals and tortoises. Your kids can even touch the fish in some of the tanks — not the sharks, of course.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Silvia Donati answered the question: Silvia Donati

    What are the five best things to see and do in the Italian Riviera?

    The Italian Riviera is beautiful everywhere you go — from the most glamorous towns of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure to the quieter Portovenere on the eastern portion of the coast. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in the Italian Riviera:
     
    1. Anchor yourself in Portofino. This picturesque former fishing village, featuring ports dotted with luxury yachts, is an international tourist destination. Walk its old streets and then sit in the piazzetta to soak in the atmosphere. Make sure you take the 20-minute boat trip to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso, an isolated village of fishermen with a small beach and a Benedictine abbey.
     
    2. Drive along the coast of the Gulf of Tigullio. This stretch of the Italian Riviera is spectacular, with its coastal views and thriving vegetation. Drive the old coastal road Via Aurelia, starting from Nervi and proceeding through the delightful villages of Camogli, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Chiavari and Sestri Levante.
     
    3. Hike the Cinque Terre National Park. This steep and rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera comprises the five fishing towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, perched on the mountains terraced with vineyards and olive groves. A panoramic walking trail known as the Sentiero Azzurro (the Blue Path) connects all five.
     
    4. Relax in the Gulf of La Spezia (Gulf of Poets). The stretch of coast closest to Tuscany, it takes its nickname from the many writers who chose it as their residence, including British poets Byron and Shelley. Its highlights are Portovenere and the two islands, which are rich with marine caves; Lerici, which boasts a castle; and the unique village of Tellaro, widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
     
    5. Discover the Riviera dei Fiori (the Coast of Flowers). This stretch of coast to the west of Genoa is well known among Italians but often overlooked by international tourists. It’s best visited by driving along the old coastal Via Aurelia. Explore Albenga, known for its towers and historic monuments; Alassio, with a little church that has a prime view of the town below; Taggia, where you can admire the houses dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries; Sanremo with its elegant Corso Imperatrice promenade, a casino and medieval neighborhood of La Pigna; and Bordighera, which has a magnificent seafront promenade and old town area.
  • On July 25, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to eat in the Italian Riviera?

    Besides a charming seaside location, the towns of the Italian Riviera are filled with plenty of trattorias serving up appealing Ligurian food. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best places to eat in the Italian Riviera:
     
    1. Pitosforo, Portofino. Internationally renowned and popular with celebrities, this restaurant is located right on the water in the town’s piazzetta. Pitosforo specializes in Ligurian cuisine with a creative touch.

    2. Da U Batti, Portofino. Located just behind the piazzetta in a romantic setting, surrounded by the old houses once belonging to fishermen, this restaurant specializes in seafood and is famous for the legendary Scampi alla Batti. But don't ask for the recipe — it's a secret.
     
    3. L’Insolita Zuppa, Santa Margherita Ligure. Owned by husband and wife Luca and Margherita, this restaurant specializes in local cuisine with a menu that changes according to seasons and product availability. Some of its specialties are homemade ravioli, mezzelune stuffed with pesto and potato, and l'insolita zuppa — which means "unusual soup" and has given the name to the restaurant.
     
    4. La Conchiglia, Lerici. Located in the little square by the harbor and the Lerici Castle, this restaurant specializes exclusively in seafood, from cuttlefish risotto to spaghetti with shellfish to mixed grilled seafood. The delightful menu is accompanied by an excellent list of wines.   
     
    5. Locanda delle Tamerici, Ameglia. Very close to the border with Tuscany, this is under the helm of acclaimed chef Mauro Ricciardi. He uses the freshest ingredients for a menu that varies often depending on the seasons and the availability of products.
  • On July 25, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best places to stay in the Italian Riviera?

    Since the Italian Riviera is such a frequented tourist destination, there’s a wide range of accommodation options. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best places to stay on the Italia Riviera.
     
    1. Hotel Splendido e Splendido Mare, Portofino. This luxury hotel has two buildings: Splendido is a 16th-century hillside former monastery, while Splendido Mare is located on the town’s main square (piazzetta), by the yacht-filled harbor. Most rooms have balconies and some offer panoramic views of Portofino’s cove. The property features a wellness center and a heated saltwater pool. The annexed restaurant La Terrazza is excellent and specializes in seafood.
     
    2. Excelsior Palace Hotel, Rapallo. This luxurious hotel has panoramic views over the Gulf of Tigullio and is surrounded by lavish gardens. Most rooms have a sea view. The hotel includes two restaurants, Lord Byron with view over the Rapallo harbor, and Eden Roc, on the hotel’s private beach. It also features a swimming pool and a wellness center.
     
    3. Imperiale Palace Hotel, Santa Margherita Ligure. This hotel is housed in a 19th-century villa that used to belong to an aristocratic family. It’s surrounded by lavish gardens, and features a private beach and views over the bay. There is a swimming pool, a gym and a sea view restaurant — perfect for romantic dinners.  
     
    4. Royal Hotel, Sanremo. This luxurious hotel, located in Sanremo on the Riviera dei Fiori, among tropical gardens, is right on the seafront promenade and a five-minute walk to the famous casino. Rooms are outfitted with ancient furniture and some have a sea view. The hotel features a private beach, swimming pool, two panoramic restaurants, tennis courts and a wellness center.
     
    5. Hotel Porto Roca, Monterosso. This petite hotel is located in the Cinque Terre area with a spectacular location on top of a cliff. The famous Sentiero Azzurro, the walking trail that connects the Cinque Terre towns, begins at the hotel. It’s housed inside a villa surrounded by gardens, flowers and terraces overlooking the sea. Most rooms have sea view and balconies. The hotel offers free transfers to and from the Monterosso train station.