Welcome to a Mediterranean paradise, where azure waters meet rugged cliffs, and “la dolce vita” is the lifestyle. A wonderland of rocky shores interrupted by small coves, where you will find graceful beaches and rustic coastal towns. This is a piece of Italy that should be appreciated at a slow pace, wandering through narrow streets, stopping by a terrace for an ‘aperitivo’ while people-watching. A place for hikes in nature amidst the most beautiful scenery, or boat rides on pristine waters that provide the best stunning views. And if you are looking for historical monuments and romantic palazzos, you will find them here too!
Prepare to embark on a journey that will awaken your senses and leave you utterly mesmerized. This is the Italian Riviera off-peak!
Where is the Italian Riviera?
The Italian Riviera, also known as the Ligurian Riviera, is a breathtaking stretch of coastline located in the north-western part of Italy. It extends from the border with France to the border with Tuscany and is famous for its gorgeous landscapes, charming seaside towns, and rich cultural heritage. The area is a beloved destination for both Italians and international travelers seeking sun, sea, and the popular Italian dolce vita.
This region is divided into two main sections: the Riviera di Ponente (the Western Riviera) and the Riviera di Levante (the Eastern Riviera). The Riviera di Ponente stretches from the French border to Genoa, the capital of the region, while the Riviera di Levante extends from Genoa to La Spezia, on the border with Tuscany.
The most important city on the Italian Riviera is Genoa, while Portofino is one of the most famous and glamorous destinations in Italy, and Cinque Terre might be the most picturesque and photogenic. So, it is a coast with destinations for everyone, whether you are looking for a bustling city with ancient history, a town with an elegant and lively atmosphere, or a rustic charm.
Why visit off-peak?
When thinking about the Mediterranean coast of the Italian Riviera, one might want to visit it during the summer season, in order to get the best weather and beach days. What if we told you that may be a mistake? Being a beloved destination for everyone seeking sun and sea, this piece of Italy gets absolutely crowded during the peak of summer, when most Europeans (and Italians included) get their summer vacations. So, why settle for packed beaches, congested roads, and sky-high prices?
For completely different reasons, winter is also a season to avoid. Stacked on the hills, these coastal towns may become inaccessible when the rains get a little tougher and the sea a little rougher. Roads are cut-off, trains are stopped and trails are closed due to the danger of landslides. And if being trapped in an Italian small town may sound somewhat adventurous, it is also a bit dangerous and we can only recommend other Italian destinations during winter time.
In spring, as the flowers bloom and nature awakens from its winter slumber, the Italian Riviera transforms into a colourful paradise. Imagine strolling along the picturesque streets without jostling for space, savouring gelato in peace, and snagging the best spots on the sun-soaked beaches. The temperatures are just right, not too hot and not too cold, making it the ideal time to explore the region's hidden gems and embark on breathtaking boat trips. Trust us, spring on the Italian Riviera is like stepping into a postcard-perfect dream!
Now, let us fast forward to autumn when the Italian Riviera takes on a whole new enchantment. As the summer crowds disperse, you will have the all beaches and attractions practically to yourself. It is a time when you can truly immerse yourself in the local culture, striking up conversations with friendly locals and experiencing the authentic charm of the region. Picture yourself eating a delicious focaccia al fresco, accompanied by a glass of velvety local wine, as the golden hues of autumn paint the landscape. It is a feast for the senses that will leave you craving more.
How to get there?
When it comes to visiting the Italian Riviera, the train is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore the region. The train network in this area is efficient, offers amazing views along the way, and avoids parking concerns, making it a convenient and quaint mode of transportation.
La Spezia is often considered a convenient central hub for exploring the Cinque Terre by train. It is well-connected to the rest of the Riviera, and frequent trains run between La Spezia and the Cinque Terre villages. You can choose to stay in La Spezia and take day trips to the Cinque Terre or use it as a base to explore the region further.
Regional trains are the most common choice for traveling between the different towns of the Cinque Terre and along the Riviera. These trains are frequent and affordable, connecting all five villages. The train tracks wind through tunnels along the coastline, providing breathtaking views of the shimmering sea and vibrant landscapes. To make the most of your visit, consider purchasing a Cinque Terre Train Card, that provides unlimited train travel within the Cinque Terre National Park, access to the walking trails, and other benefits. It is a convenient option to be able to explore at your own pace and hopping on and off the train whenever you like.
Apart from the Cinque Terre, the train journey along the Riviera offers sweeping views and picturesque landscapes. Consider taking a train from Genoa to Ventimiglia, stopping at various towns along the way, to soak in the beauty of the coastline. The train ride itself becomes an enjoyable experience, showcasing the charm and splendour of the Italian Riviera.
What to visit?
With about 300 kilometers of rocky shores interrupted by picturesque villages, it can be a bit overwhelming when choosing what to visit. Well, fear not, we are here for you! Below we unfold some of the highlights and hidden gems that should be on your list.
As the largest city in the Italian Riviera, getting to know Genoa is essential. It is a vibrant port city with a rich history and cultural treasures, such as its historic center known as the Strade Nuove, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its magnificent Renaissance and Baroque palaces. As you stroll through Genoa's labyrinthine streets, visit the famous Genoa Aquarium, one of the largest and most spectacular aquariums in Europe. The city itself is a living testament to its maritime past, with its busy port and charming waterfront.
With a picturesque harbour and colourful waterfront buildings, Santa Margherita Ligure is a gem of a destination that will for sure capture your heart. Its elegant architecture, influenced by its aristocratic past, adds a touch of sophistication to its relaxed coastal ambiance. The harbour is the life of the party, where fishing boats and luxurious yachts bob side by side, and the waterfront restaurants transform the catch of the day into culinary delights.
Sestri Levante is a haven for those seeking tranquility and beauty. The town boasts two stunning bays. Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence), as the name suggests, is a peaceful oasis with a crescent-shaped beach framed by bright buildings and palm trees that invite you to relax and let the gentle sound of the waves lull you into a state of bliss. Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy-tales), on the other hand, has a livelier promenade, lined with cafes and restaurants. Both bays offer a captivating blend of natural beauty and seaside charm.
Accessible only by boat or on foot, San Fruttuoso feels like a secret sanctuary waiting to be discovered. You will be greeted by the sight of a picturesque bay, fringed by turquoise waters and embraced by dramatic cliffs. At its heart lies the mesmerizing Abbey of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte, an ancient Benedictine monastery from the 10th century. This architectural marvel nestled against the backdrop of verdant hills creates a breathtaking scenery!
Revel in your movie star fantasies in the dazzling town of Portofino. Stroll along the boardwalk around the port, pay attention to the eye-catching waterfront buildings, browse luxury boutiques, and try local wines in the PIazzeta, while watching the activity of the yachts around the small bay. Portofino is still a small fishing village, but has the glamour of celebrities since it became a high-end holiday destination in the middle of the 20th century, and has maintained its charm in the transition to a modern tourist location.
Further east along the Riviera di Levante you will encounter the enchanting Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Literally meaning five towns, this is a collection of five fishing villages—Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso - perched precariously on steep cliffs overlooking the turquoise Ligurian Sea. These places are connected by scenic hiking trails and offer breathtaking views of the rugged coastline. If you could only visit one, maybe Vernazza can offer a glimpse of the best of the five, with its natural harbour and terraced vineyards that produce the aromatic Cinque Terre white wine.
So much to do... and taste!
Yes, the Italian Riviera is a place for the dolce fare niente, so sit back, and relax. It is your vacation, after all! But if you have an adventurous mind and an active spirit, there are many interesting experiences you can do to fulfil your days.
If you are a nature lover, you will certainly appreciate the natural wonders that surround Portofino. The Regional Natural Park of Portofino, a protected area of lush forests and rugged coastline, offers fantastic hiking trails. Explore the scenic paths, meander through fragrant olive groves, and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Mediterranean landscape. The park is also home to diverse flora and fauna, making it a paradise for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Cinque Terre also displays various hiking trails, which gives you the fantastic opportunity to explore the ravishing coastal scenery, picturesque towns, and lush natural landscapes. The most famous is Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Trail), which connects all five villages. The trail is divided into several sections, so you will be able to choose the length and difficulty level that suit you best.
For a greater perspective of all the beauty of the Italian Riviera, a boat trip might be the best way to go. Embarking on a boat allows you to discover the green hills, secluded beaches, and breathtaking vistas that are inaccessible by land. Whether you want to explore and stop by for a dip in the emerald waters or just sit back and enjoy the gentle sea breeze, immersing yourself in the quietude of the surroundings, you can be sure some places are best admired from the water – and this is one of them!
For those with a sense of adventure, San Fruttuoso offers fantastic opportunities for snorkeling and diving. The underwater world here is teeming with marine life and the wreckage of the "Christ of the Abyss," a submerged statue that has become an iconic symbol of the area. Dive into the depths and witness the mesmerizing beauty that lies beneath the surface, immersing yourself in an aquatic wonderland.
The Italian Riviera is not only a haven for nature lovers but also a paradise for food enthusiasts. Ligurian cuisine is renowned for its simple yet flavourful dishes, like the famous Pesto, the focaccia bread, and seafood specialties such as sea bass. But the main dish from the region is Farinata – a yummy golden pancake or flatbread made primarily from chickpea flour, with a distinct nutty flavour. It is typically cut into irregularly shaped slices or squares and served hot, often enjoyed as street food, as a snack, or an appetizer.
And speaking about appetizers, it is time for an ‘aperitivo’! So, if you are on the Italian Riviera you must join this unique Italian tradition! The ‘aperitivo’ takes place in the late afternoon or early evening, before dinner. It is a time to unwind, socialize, and enjoy a refreshing drink, typically Aperol Spritz or Campari or a white wine from the region, while soaking up the friendly atmosphere. As the sun begins to set and paints the sky in pinkish tones, the air gets filled with the sound of clinking glasses, laughter, and soft music, creating a sense of celebration and relaxation. Be merry! This is the Italian Riviera off-peak!