Known as the Italian Riviera, Liguria is Italy’s spectacular welcome to travelers traveling overland along the coast from France.
Mountains drop sheer to the sea, with isolated mountain villages teetering on slopes carpeted with olives and vines.
The Italian Riviera has more variety of landscape and architecture than its French counterpart, and is generally less frenetic.
Its main city is Genoa, an ancient, sprawling port, often acclaimed as the most atmospheric of all Italian cities. It has a dense, fascinating old quarter that is complemented by a vibrant social and ethnic mix as well as a newly energized dockside district.
The city stands midway between two distinct stretches of coastline.
To the west is the Riviera di Ponente, a long ribbon of hotels filled during the summer with Italian families who book a year ahead to stay in their favorite spot.
San Remo, near the French border, is the grande-dame of Riviera resorts. Flanked by hillsides covered with greenhouses, it is a major center for flower export. Albenga and Noli are attractive medieval centers that have also retained a good deal of character; and Finale Ligure is a thoroughly pleasant Mediterranean seaside town.
To the east of Genoa is the more rugged Riviera di Levante. Umbrella pines grow horizontally on the cliff faces overlooking the water, and in the evening a glassy calm falls over the little bays and inlets.
Walks in Monte di Portofino and the famed Cinque Terre take you through scrubland and vineyards with memorable vistas over broad gulfs and jutting headlands. Nearby Santa Margherita Ligure is a little more relaxed, and Levanto is a great place for those on a budget.
Visiting out of season, of course, is the best way to enjoy the beauty without the hubbub.