The Italian Riviera, synonymous with Italy’s Liguria region, is a crescent-shaped strip of Mediterranean coastline straddling between the south of France and Tuscany. South of Genoa, its eastern half, the Riviera di Levante, is defined by its rugged cliffs, turquoise coves and pastel seaside towns, including the colorful Cinque Terre fishing villages. It also includes stylish resort areas such as Portofino, Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure.
Four of us drove east and then south to Rapallo from Monaco… our friends Rick and Marylin Smit joined my wife and me on this most spectacular adventure. Rapallo is a beautiful seaside municipality in the metropolitan city of Genoa. Our boutique hotel, “Italia e Lido”, sits right by the water of the coastal town. We booked two rooms with balconies overlooking The Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea), erected in 1551 to counter the frequent pirate attacks. It includes a small chapel dedicated to St. Cajetan, built in 1688. Looking out at night from our hotel, seeing the small castle illuminated, made for a marvelous view.
We walked daily along the arching seaside and palm tree lined promenade, along Lungomare Vittorio Veneto Boulevard, with its wide and tiled sidewalks. Up and down the promenade there are quite a few wonderful restaurants with outdoor seating serving mostly Italian and seafood dishes. We enjoyed quite a few very tasty meals during our stay in Rapallo. Speaking of food, our hotel offered a terrific breakfast buffet spread, and lovely views of the water and the nearby marina.
There are several interesting old churches in town including St. George, the Basilica of San Gervasio and the sanctuary of Nuestra Signora (Our Lady) di Montallegro. Try to visit at least one of these churches.
One morning we walked to the nearby train station and bought tickets to travel south to the furthest of the Cinque Terre towns, Riomaggiore. The trip takes less than 45 minutes and costs just under 12 euros. Once at Riomaggiore, we walked from the station along the quaint streets full of shops to the coast and up to one of the high lookouts.
The views of the beautiful and colorful buildings painted bright orange, red, yellow, pink, peach or white, the sharp cliffs walls, and the deep aquamarine waters made for magnificent views and terrific photos. We enjoyed some warm cappuccino and wine at one of the outdoor cafes. Later we boarded the train once again in the opposite direction towards Manarola, the second smallest of the five; and Cornilia, which sits on a hilltop and not adjacent to the sea. Our other favorite stop of the five, Vernazza, has a wonderfully colorful small boat marina area along a long cement walkway.
It truly has the most colorful little row boats I have seen anywhere. The Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church has a bell tower topped by an elegant cupola and commands one side of the town. Clinging to the rocks, Doria Castle is a medieval defensive structure with a cylindrical tower seen from any distance commands the other side. The contrast of the colorful buildings and the sea is something to truly take in and savor. Small business shops line the streets and courtyards of this lovely town.
Early another morning we took our car and drove, basically south, along the winding coastal roads and towns towards Portofino. For quite a few years Portofino has enjoyed a reputation as one of the most picturesque of seaside towns in all of Italy. A small fishing village, it sits on the tip of a peninsula south of Santa Margherita Ligure, just over 8 kilometers from Rapallo. Taking just about 20 minutes to drive, we parked and walked to the iconic center of the village.
With numerous pastel-colored houses, high-end boutiques and seafood restaurants around its small Piazza plus the surrounding hillsides, it looks marvelous. The Piazza is a small cobbled square overlooking the harbor, which is lined with many sailboats and some luxurious yachts.
Sitting in a waterside cafe table, you can just relax watching bobbing boats and the beautiful scenery while enjoying your meal. A climbing path nearby leads from the Piazza up to the small San Giorgio Church, and from its front square you get wonderful views of Portofino and the harbor. If you go even further up the path is Castello Brown, a 16th-century fortress and museum with art exhibitions and panoramic views of the Ligurian Sea.