The Italian Riviera is the region of Liguria that hugs the coast and is an extension of the French Riviera; its southern end is about 50 mi/80 km west of Florence.
It is dotted with mountains, villages, small and often secluded beaches (sandy to rocky), a wide range of hotels, entrancing scenery and remarkable culture. Visit several beaches and towns in the area—each is different. Genoa sits right in the middle of the Riviera, and concentrating your time on parts south of there is a wise idea.
Ritzy Portofino, southeast of Genoa, is one of the most attractive sections and the most expensive resort of the Italian Riviera. It has mountains, clear bays, thick evergreen forests, a national park and elegant private villas. You could spend several weeks exploring this charming area alone. Rather than staying in Portofino, however, you might prefer nearby Santa Margherita Ligure (a favorite of wealthy yachters) or once-chic Rapallo.
Portofino's bay is small, and the access road to town is very narrow. In summertime, expect lots of people waiting in line to find a spot to park their cars. There is a lovely wooded walking trail that connects nearby Santa Margherita to Portofino and passes by the tiny but beautiful Parragi beach. Clear green water and colorful homes that dot the shore make the walk well worth it, but be aware that space on the public beach is limited.
Farther south lies the Cinque Terre, an excellent hiking area with a trail that leads through five traditional coastal villages not easily accessible by car (they're best reached by train or boat or on foot): Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia (which produces a fine white wine), Vernazza (a picturesque fishing village) and Monterosso (which fronts upon a long beach). The trail that links the villages hugs seaside cliffs and winds through vineyards and olive groves. If the hiking becomes too tiring, you can always hop on the train that connects the region to La Spezia (to the south) and Levanto (to the north). And if you have a little extra time, there are a number of lovely small medieval churches on the hillsides overlooking the villages. Be aware that the towns of the Cinque Terre are part of a national park, and you will be charged a nominal fee to walk the paths or ride the train between them.
Even farther down the Ligurian coast, on a rocky peninsula, the tiny town of Portovenere has narrow, colorful houses that climb up a hill from the sea. It's fun just to walk the narrow streets. The coast is rocky, but you can swim in a series of coves or take day trips to the nearby islands of Tino and Palmaria.
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