The Italian Riviera, a stretch of coast that lies between the south of France and tucked in against the Piemonte, Emilia Romagna and Tuscany borders, is one of our favourite Italian coastal destinations. Mostly known for its colourful seaside villages, including the five towns of the Cinque Terre, there is so much to love about this slice of heaven on the Mediterranean. On a recent trip to watch the Milano-Sanremo 2022 race, we took the time to explore a few more of the seaside towns of the region, and we here share some of our favourites, along with what we love most about the Ligurian coast.
We began our 5 day trip in Noli, a small and charming medieval town located in western Liguria, towards the French border. This was the place from which we watched the classic Milano-Sanremo on a dramatic stretch of road that was cut out from the cliff – with its twists, turns and tunnels making for the most spectacular setting to not only watch the race, but for Damian to enjoy riding the magnificent stretch of coastline that he says should definitely be on any cyclist’s bucket list.
In and around the race, we loved meandering through Noli’s small streets, discovering and watching local life unfold on Saturday morning and enjoying some of the local specialties. A pre-race ‘progressive Ligurian street food’ lunch, enjoyed on a park bench in the piazza with the locals, included the traditional focaccia alla genovese topped with onion and another with friarelli, and also farinata di ceci, a chickpea flatbread topped with gorgonzola and another with onion. Wow, what a taste sensation.
Noli is situated right on the sea and just across from the arch entrance to the old town, lies the beach with its many beach clubs and restaurants, and fishermen attending to their boats after returning from their morning catch – all of which ends up in the local pescheria in town for sale to the locals or in the many wonderful seafood restaurants which define this town. This very authentic culture of sea life is what we loved about Noli and its neighbouring village Spotorno, situated only 2km away and connected by a lovely seaside walking path.
We stayed at a fantastic apartment in town called Paradise House. Situated right in the piazza, with a well appointed kitchen and living area, the apartment makes for a very comfortable stay, whether for a night or two, or even a week.
We enjoyed aperitivo at a very cool little bar called Enoteca di Controcorrente in a side street in town and then took the owner’s recommendation for dinner at La Baracchetta, a delightful seafood restaurant in a converted kiosk right on the beach. Great food and wine, lovely service and a perfect location with views.
• Watching the race from the dramatic cliff hugging road
• Riding the spectacular stretch of road from Noli
• Enjoying the very delicious focaccia and farinata di ceci from the local forno in town
• Amazing oysters, polpo al sugo or octopus and Ligurian vermentino
• Authentic fishing village life
• Great beaches with long sandy stretches, particularly at Spotorno
Nestled amongst a mountain backdrop that quite literally drops into the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, and which is in full view from its colourful promenade, Camogli is one of those fairytale Ligurian fishing towns with still rustic charms, that has so much on offer – and finally we made it here after years of wanting to visit.
On arriving into the village, one of the first things that strikes you is the beauty of its promenade, lined with characteristic colourful buildings and traditionally painted facades. It’s a hive of activity and was buzzing with weekenders from Milan and Genoa when we were there. While Camogli is a favourite destination for Italians all year, in the summer it is also for international tourists. However somehow, even with its high level of tourism, this town still feels very ‘real’ and authentic.
With beautiful shops and boutiques, great restaurants and bars that line its promenade with views across the Mediterranean, a delightful harbour of artists, boats and fishmongers, a black stony beach that is a haven for sun lovers, and a promontory with plenty of beautiful walking trails to surrounding beaches and towns such as Portofino, Camogli is the type of place where you could easily spend a week and have something different to do every day – not to mention an amazing restaurant to try each night or Ligurian food experience to savour each day – with the most notable mentions being Revello for the most amazing focaccia and torta salata, Semmu Friti for a cone of fritto misto and Wally’s for a wonderful tasting and learning experience of the region’s local gins, wines and digestives.
We stayed at a very unique apartment called Sguardo sul Porto which is located right in the heart of the centro storico, overlooking the fishing harbour. Embracing the architecture of Camogli’s very old, narrow and tall buildings, the apartment was reached by the steepest set of stairs we’ve ever walked up and was cleverly appointed to utilise every inch of its space. Run by Francesca, a wonderful host who also helped us out with parking for a small fee (this is a huge bonus in a town like Camogli where only residents can enter), we’d stay in this apartment again for sure.
NB: Francesca also runs a B&B in town called La Gioia which would equally provide a great base from which to enjoy this wonderful town.
Being the off-season, we thought we’d arrive into town and find plenty of restaurant options available, but on a busy weekend (even in March), this wasn’t to be. We lucked ourselves a booking at La Camogliese which turned out to be a wonderful experience with a delicious seafood meal of local acciughe or anchovies made 3 ways in a Ligurian style, a delightful seafood risotto, great local wine and service, and with a lively atmosphere right on the promenade.
We had also been recommended by Francesca to dine at Ostaia da ö Sigù but it was full, so if you do visit Camogli, we’d recommend trying it as it looked great and we’ll certainly be booking it in advance when we return.
• Aperitivo overlooking the Mediterranean sea at sunset
• Dinner at La Camogliese with its lively atmosphere
• Morning stroll along the promenade and coffee in the sunshine, by the water
• Hike to San Rocco di Camogli along a beautiful walking trail and arriving to the amazing views at the top (we can’t wait to visit again to walk more trails, enjoy lunch and a vino in places such as Portofino and San Fruttuoso, and catch the ferry back)
• Meeting Wally at his enoteca and talking about life in Camogli
• Enjoying a late brunch on the beach of focaccia and torta salata from Revello (it’s absolutely worth queuing for)
• Sitting in the harbour at night after dinner and enjoying the tranquility of this beautiful village
We had heard so much about Portovenere, a small town located just south of La Spezia at the entrance to the Gulf of Poets, and often referred to as Cinque Terre’s ‘6th town’, that we decided to include it on our itinerary and discover it for ourself.
On arrival mid-afternoon, we instantly had the feeling that this is a day-tripper’s town. While the main piazza, historic colourful buildings lining the seafront, lovely walking path along the sea or ‘lungomare’, famous shopping street of Via Capellini and picturesque setting of the historic Doria Castle and Church of San Pietro were all beautiful to see, we felt we only started to experience the real joy of what Portovenere offers once the day-trippers had departed at around 5pm. Suddenly we found ourselves in a town with a tranquil vibe, immersed in a natural setting and surrounded by beautiful calm waters. We continued to explore and as we walked up from the San Pietro church and along an ancient stone wall and path, we were immersed in the warmth and beauty of sunset across a picture-perfect, glittering bay. While it was still too cold to dive in when we were there, we could certainly see how venturing down into the sea caves in summer would be delightful, as would exploring the nearby archipelago – the cluster of islands lying close to Portovenere’s shoreline – Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto – which all form part of a UNESCO world heritage site and have placed the area on the tourist and celebrity map.
Even though Portovenere is often considered as a base from which to explore the nearby Cinque Terre or as a day trip by boat from nearby La Spezia or Lerici across the other side of the Gulf of Poets, this is definitely a town with its own beauty and vibe – and worth a visit. Just make sure you stay a night or two.
We stayed at the beautiful Relais Santa Caterina and would stay here again in a heartbeat. With arguably the best location and views in Portovenere, and a tranquil garden setting, this B&B is located about 50 stairs up from the main piazza and was a delight to stay in – not only for its lovely rooms, but also for the beautiful breakfast experience as you take in the warm sunlight and spectacular views.
We enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Trattoria Tre Torri, located in the main piazza. Featuring a tasting plate of varied local seafood to start and a pasta dish with bottarga to follow, this meal was simply delicious.
• Sunset in a tranquil, natural setting with no-one around. There’s no bars or promenade here for sunset….
• A delicious local seafood dinner featuring many of the region’s delicacies including local mussels and anchovies from the Cinque Terre
• Morning walk ‘lungomare’
• Views across the Bay of Poets to another of our favourite towns, Tellaro
Whichever way you do it, we recommend adding the Ligurian coast to your list of places to visit when you are next in Italy. Whether you’re joining us on our Tour of Tuscany, L’Eroica, Piemonte, Como, Stelvio & Dolomites Tour or Giro d’Italia, many of the Ligurian towns are within easy reach by car, train or ferry and are a perfect pre or post tour destination.