I love visiting Italy and bringing you new things to do and see while you’re here so I have put together my top 5 best things to do in the valleys and coastlines of Liguria. Liguria is the crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy, famous for its Mediterranean coastline, known as the Italian Riviera, which enjoys a mild and sunny climate all year round.
The eastern coast features the 5 colourful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, as well as the stylish Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, while the west coast enjoys the Riviera di Ponente and is home to the beautiful San Remo vintage resort with a turn-of-the-century casino and a flower-filled promenade. Getting to Liguria is easy with a 2-hour flight from London to either Nice Airport or Genoa Airport, if however you want to enjoy the French countryside en-route, you can sail to Calais and take a leisurely 12/13 hour drive through France.
Things to do
This area offers so many wonderful things to see and do, so I have tried to narrow it down to just five must-do activities, not forgetting the fact you could simply spend hours just strolling through the picturesque and winding streets of Liguria’s many small villages, discovering tiny boutiques, cafes and hidden local restaurants that allow you to embrace the true Italian lifestyle.
1. Medieval Villages
If you want to get off the beaten track in Italy, then exploring the beautiful, enchanting and fascinating Medieval Villages will do it. Dolceacqua, Isolabona, Apricale, Castel Vittorio, Rocchetta Nervina and Perinaldo are all worth a visit, filled with winding lanes, breath-taking architecture, meandering rivers and ancient bridges. Easy to reach by foot, bike or car, each of these charming villages has a story to tell and friendly folk ready to tell it and while you can’t tour them all, just visiting a few will add an authentic Italian flavour to your trip to Liguria.
If you haven’t already been, this is a must-see if for no other reason than to sit-back in a bar or café and people-watch. Portofino is a fishing village on the Italian Riviera coastline, southeast of Genoa. It entices visitors all year round with its pastel-coloured houses, high-end boutiques and seafood restaurants which fringe its Piazzetta, the small cobbled square overlooking the harbour, which incidentally is lined with some breath-taking super-yachts. And if you’re looking for a little culture, there’s a path that leads from the Piazzetta to Castello Brown, a 16th-century fortress and museum with art exhibitions and panoramic views of the town and the Ligurian Sea.
3. Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. Each of the five towns boasts colourful houses and vineyards which cling to steep terraces, while their harbours are filled with fishing boats and authentic little trattorias turn out seafood specialties along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce: pesto. The Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail links all the villages and offers sweeping sea views, however if you fancy something a little more majestic, one of the best ways to see these villages is from the sea on a yachting daytrip from La Spezia from about GBP£100.
4. The Toirano Caves
If you want to visit something out of this world then then Toirano Caves situated in Toirano, Savona offers just that. This karst cave system is a true prehistoric settlement, and the largest cave bear graveyard in Europe. The most famous and without doubt the most spectacular cave is the Grotta della Bàsura (the Witch’s cave) which also features a series of internal amphitheatres that were only discovered in 1950. For millenniums, the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) found refuge in this cave, using it to hibernate and leaving behind a large number of bone remains, ground paw prints and claw marks on the walls. Of particular interest are testimonials of prehistoric human presence, recently dated to approximately 12,000-12,500 years ago; there are foot, hand and knee prints and, in the “mysteries amphitheatre” as well as numerous small balls of clay stuck to the wall where they were thrown, likely as a ritual, which are all clues of the Upper Paleolithic human presence – local hunter-gatherers who used this cave for ritual purposes rather than shelter.
5. Baia dei Saraceni (Saracen Bay)
I couldn’t complete this list without a nod to some of the beautiful beaches of the Italian Riveria and for me one of the most beautiful, without being too overrun, has to be Baia dei Saraceni which I find almost reminiscent of Sardinia in its beauty. It can be found just before you get to the town of Varigotti coming from the Savona direction, about 6km from Finale Ligure. This crescent shaped sandy beach is hemmed in by gorgeous wooded hillsides and the shore is lapped by the azure blue sea – tip: the warm shallows are a delight to swim and snorkel in. The nearby village of Varigotti is also an idyllic little village to explore filled with multi-hued fishermen’s cottages, narrow lanes and quaint little shops.
A wonderful base from which to visit all of the above is the lesser-known, but beautiful, medieval village of Pigna which is like an unspoiled Eze on the French Riviera with has scenic mountains, relaxing countryside, small rivers, bustling coastline and glamorous coastal towns all on its doorstep. This is not a destination for the masses but rather a hidden gem, perfect for those who would like to experience something rather special and authentically Italian.
Perfectly positioned to visit the fashionable French coastal towns of Menton, Monaco, Nice and even Cannes which are all just a short drive away, as well as to discover what the Italian Riviera has to offer with the refined towns of Bordighera, Alassio and Ventimiglia and the sandy beaches of San Remo and Ospedaletti where you will find plenty of opportunities to enjoy all sorts of watersports, including sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.
The village itself boasts a wealth of art, monuments and history as well as some excellent restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine; wonderful rock pools to explore and bathe in; for those looking for a slightly warmer swim there are the indoor and outdoor infinity pools and spa at the 4 Star Grand Hotel Pigna Antiche Terme & Spa and finally for the adventurous there are numerous trekking and mountain biking trails around for all levels of fitness. Through the summer months the village is a hive of activity hosting many cultural events and festivals which can involve eating, drinking and dancing – need I say more? Now of course you could stay in the 4 Star Grand Hotel Pigna Antiche Terme & Spa, but if you want to try something extra special, why not stay in a beautifully renovated medieval townhouse?
Liguria Holiday Homes offers its guests the chance to stay in a charming 500-year-old medieval townhouse (click on pictures above) that extends over 3 levels and has been beautifully restored and fully refurbished to an exceptionally high standard throughout. Accommodating up to 6 guests at a time, this relaxing and sophisticated hideaway is your ideal home-from-home in Liguria. On the ground floor, you will find the master bedroom with king-size bed and beautiful exposed stonework, along with the luxurious bathroom featuring whirlpool bath and large walk-in rain shower.
On the first floor lies the cosy yet spacious lounge with 42″ 4K TV, Blu-Ray DVD Player and feature pellet stove for those romantic nights in. On the second floor, you will find the magnificent kitchen-breakfast room with fully integrated Siemens appliances along with two further bedrooms (one with double bed and one with single bunk beds) both benefiting from beautiful exposed stonework. The house is both elegant and tranquil, featuring all the amenities you would expect from such a beautifully boutique residence including complimentary wifi, fine bed linens and complimentary toiletries. Outside you will find the spacious terrace with seating area, BBQ and pizza oven, offering a fabulous space to enjoy alfresco dining with family and friends, while the secure cellar provides a safe place to leave bikes, walking gear, skis and so on. The property is south facing, enjoying sun all year round, however the thick stone walls keep it lovely and cool in the summer months and in the winter the gas central heating will keep you cosy and snug. It’s worth noting that the property has a strict no smoking and no pets policy and children under 5 years of age are not permitted to stay.
Insider Tip: Car hire is recommended for convenience in Liguria to allow you to get the best out of the area although it’s not absolutely essential as there are good transport links to Pigna and airport transfers can easily be arranged.
So, if you’re looking for an authentic Italian escape surrounded by beautiful medieval villages and within easy reach of the Italian Riveria and glamorous French coastal towns, then a visit to Liguria to stay in Liguria Holiday Homes’ enchanting 500 year old medieval townhouse will take a lot of beating.
Read my other top five best articles to discover the best beaches and luxury hotels around the world including my best destinations for a magical Christmas, my best destinations in Europe, my best wilderness lodges in the world and the best swimming pools in Europe.
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