The Italian Riviera is said to be perhaps even more beautiful than its French equivalent. Its coastal landscape is more varied and nestling its many swooping coastal valleys are quaint but still bucolic little fishing towns and villages, rather less manicured than those over the border. It possesses a natural beauty that is frankly out of this world – faded terracotta houses tumbling onto pristine yet unspoilt little bays and rocky, pine-clad cliffs opening onto sheltered coves.
This Riviera runs the length of the Ligurian coast of Italy, from the border with France to Cinque Terre and there are loads of fabulous beaches all the way round it. Notably on the stretch known as Riviera Ponente, which runs from Genoa to France, there is a group of beaches making up two areas called Finale Ligure and the Baia dei Saraceni that can’t be missed. Finale Ligure is not just about the stunning beach but the pretty old town that bolts onto it. It’s very easy to get intoxicated with the charm and mood of this cosmo town. After a laze on the sand you’ll find yourself happily stroll through these beautifully preserved streets and lanes feasting on pizza and gelati (ice cream). But don’t forget to climb to the Wuillerman castle to feast upon the spectacular views too!
Another favourite beach sits within the Baia dei Saraceni area with its own idyllic village, Varigotti. This is a crescent bay filled with fine sand and emerald warm waters. The beach is tucked into rocks and backed by woods. Varigotti is an old fishing village of terracotta-hued cottages literally spilling onto the beach and is totally unique and totally Italian. Levanto is a different type of beach but equally beautiful. It is in fact Italy’s answer to surfing on the Med. It has decent waves, for the Med, and offers good quality fine sand and some much appreciated space. Overlooking this wide bay are pines and yet another charming old town packed with some of the region’s best eateries.
You can’t leave the Riviera without a visit to the famous Cinque Terre. These are five of Italy’s quaintest towns, three of which are on the sea. Firstly, Monterosso which offers a sweet pebble beach which is probably the best out of them. That said, its old town is not as spectacular as its cousins and quite expensive. Then there’s Vernazza, which is often considered to be the prettiest of the five towns with its colourful jumbled houses rambling down to the harbour. Finally there is Manarola, made-up of another colourful village of higgledy piggledy cottages that roll into a turquoise cove. The other two are also worth a visit, but are inland.
Finally Balzi Rossi – which is so sort after that it has been totally privatised and despite hefty charges for a day there, it continues to attract even more crowds than the free beaches! It is probably due to its impressive natural beauty (crystal spearmint waters and wooded cliffs) its perfect weather (conveniently sheltered from the wind) and thanks to top rate beach management keeping it so perfectly maintained. There’s something to be said for enjoying sundowners on a beach lounger before tucking into a romantic dinner on the beach.
Finding suitable accommodation isn’t always easy but one website which only advertises coastal holiday cottages and beach villas in Italy as well as most of the popular European seaside destinations is Beachlets. Most properties display live availability and can be booked online and you’ll find everything from apartments with sea views to luxury beachfront villas with pools.