Best Ways to Explore Liguria
Explore the dozens upon dozens of hidden towns and perched villages in the coastal region of Liguria in northern Italy, along with its rich history, cuisine, natural beauty and breathtaking views. Liguria is one of Italy‘s well known but in many ways overlooked regions, other than a few classical tourist destinations like the Cinque Terre, and Portofino along what is known as the Italian Riviera.
There are a few ways you can explore Liguria and it all depends on your time constraints and how deeply you would like to explore the region. In this podcast episode James Martin and I talked about some of the charming spots you can visit, but they only scrape the surface of where you can explore within the region. You can opt for a quick boat tour, choose a town to have as your base or rent a car and do a road trip. You can do a self-guided tour of the region or check out Flavor of Italy's trip options here.
A Day Trip by Boat
You can grab a boat that will take you all along the coast. From here look up towards the many hidden towns and perched villages in the region's gorgeous hills. A boat tour provides a unique and beautiful perspective on the region, it’s coastline and mountainous area just behind the coast. Once you get off the boat you can then visit an area like the Cinque Terre.
A Two or Three Day Trip by Boat
Another option is to get off the boat and stay in one or more of the coastal towns of your choice. Then you can return back to your original destination by boat, along the coast.
A One Week or More Self-Guided Road Trip Along the Ligurian Coast
The towns along the coast to visit are in the four provinces of the region: Imperia, Savona, Genoa and La Spezia.
The Imperial Province
One option is to fly into Nice France and from there grab a car and head down to Ventimiglia, the first Italian town you will hit after you leave France. Spend a little time here and head up the hill to the old town. Check out the Oratorio dei Neri. You can try the Hotel Kaly in Ventimiglia.
Sanremo is where the famous Italian annual musical festival is held. It’s a town with great food and incredible views: head up the La Pigna hill, and visit its sanctuary. If you enjoy gambling visit the casino.
Perched Villages: You can take the E80, the SS1 or a regional road or trail that will lead you to many of these perched villages: Apricale, Cervo, e Dolceacqua and others. The natural beauty of these towns has attracted artists to the area over the centuries to paint the exquisite views and take advantage of incredible light. Two such artists are Renoir, and Monet who came to the area in 1884.
Bordighera: Monet was particularly attracted to this town and spent a lot of time painting here. It’s also famous flowers and plants and provides Italy with most of its flowers. The entire area is covered with green houses where the flowers are ground.
Imperia is the capital of the Liguria region, located in the Imperia province.
The Savona Province
Noli is delightful: filled with Romanesque churches, a castle, and hiking trails with coastal views. It also has incredible food. If you’re interested in an overnight stay in this town you might want to consider the Relais al Collegio, a former monastery.
Two other towns in this province worth checking out are Albenga and Finale Ligure.
The Genoa Province
Next you head into the Genoa province and the town of Genoa itself. it’s a delightful port town filled with narrow streets and alleyways, interesting shops, a museum and an aquarium. And of course it's famous for its signature dish Pesto Genovese, and the explorer Christopher Columbus.
Camogli is a splash of beautiful colored houses and this is particularly notable if you take a boat trip along the coast.
All of the hidden towns and perched villages in Liguria have their own unique dishes. Be sure to try the fabulous focaccia in Recco, a small fisherman’s village. It's filled with a delicious soft local cheese. Here is a recipe you might want to try. Liguria is full of amazing food and wine that you can read about here.
Portofino is the epicenter of what is known as the Italian Riviera and a vacation spot for wealthy tourists. The port is filled with gorgeous yachts so you might want to spend a little time strolling around and having a look at these.
In Rapallo you can catch the aerial tramway all the way up to the sanctuary. Up here you have a splendid view looking all the way down to the sea. There are also a few good restaurants right up top, just as there are in the center of this town.
Chiavari is a great spot for wonderful fish restaurants and other local traditional dishes.
Lavagna is a great beach town. This is where the Ligurian “black gold”, or slate, is mined. The famous Viesca family wedding cake can be sampled throughout the town.
The La Spezia Province
The last province within the Liguria region is La Spezia and this is where you’ll find the five towns that make up the famous Cinque Terre. This is a great place for wonderful hikes and walks that offer incredible views down towards the sea. One of the five towns, Monterosso al Mare, is famous for its fresh anchovies.
The town of La Spezia has a fabulous museum up on top of the hill above the city. From here you have a wonderful view of the Gulf of Poets.
Nearby Lerici is a small village with brightly colored homes and a magnificent castle. This town captivated the heart of writers Byron and Shelly.
Portovenere is a lovely town; it’s a scaled down, more affordable version of Portofino.
From Levanto you can get a boat up along the coast in the opposite direction to admire all the seaside towns and hillsides.
Be sure to also check out Cornovaglio, Brugnato and its wonderful flower festivals, and Luni which most likely gave name to the neighboring Lunigiana area in upper Tuscany.
All the photos and the Liguria map were provided by James Martin.