Boardering France to the west, for many if they drive from from France to Italy, this is the first Region they see. As you drive through the Region, if you take the coastal autostrada you will think the Region has nothing but incredible tunnels and bridges. The autostrada route is quite the experience. If you want to get anywhere fast stay on the Autostrada, but make some time, get off and driver the smaller highways and roads and see the region.
The rocky cliffs of Portofinio and the stretch of the Cinque Terra are especially scenic.
There are some big ports along here because the continental shelf is narrow and steep so the sea is very deep right off the coast.
The capital of the Region is the city of Genoa. This is the primary port of the area, a ranking it has held for many years. It was one of the most important ports and powers in the Mediterranean dureing the Middle Agees. The home of Christopher Columbus, there is beautiful architecture and history to this city. We have not spend time here and it is on our list of places to explore in more depth.
Alassio, Santa Margherita Liqure, Portfonio and the Cinque Terra are other spots that you would not want to miss.
The original name, Alaxia, became Alassio at one point in time. It was a fishing and shipping village. It was around 1872 when the rail line opened up Alassio to the rest of Europe. Alassio became a destination for the British who came for the climate and beach. Tennis courts, libraries, clubs, tea rooms and a casino were all built and Alassio became one of "the" spots on the Mediterranean. The British invasion ended around 1930 and Alassio next came to life in the 50s and 60s as part of the dolce vita.
Above: some of the grand architecture of Alassio.
In the 1930s the Cafe Roma at the corner of Via Cavour was the hot spot of the town. Famous names came to the Cafe Roma and it was during this time this time the wall, Il Muretto, was designed by Mario Berrino and none other than Ernest Hemingway signed the first tile.
Alassio has been fighting off modern development which has not been so rampant as other places along the coast. With that success, the town still has an old town charm. We started going to Alassio in the 1990s and now when we return we can see the development taking place and as we look back at the changes over the past 20 some years. Okay, I guess they did need a convention centre! I guess things can't stay frozen in time for ever.
Some years, when it seems we had plenty of time we have driven the coastal highway. Great ready to slow down as you enter town after town. Yes the are some ooohhhs and aaaahhs views along the way, but you really have to have patience.
As we plan out what will happen for the rest of our lives, aat one point this was the place we told people we want our ashes deposited. Just walk out on the pier and let them float way. We have stayed in Alassio many times for a number of years it seemed like a second home. I remember one year we were in France, it was Karen's birthday. We looked at each other and said.... let's hit Alassio! We jumped in our car, drove the autosroute at top speed and arrive in town with the challenge to find a hotel. The town does book up.
For a number of years we established ourselves as "regulars" at at hotels such as the Hotel Tirreno - see our notes in Great Places to Stay. Beside the beach, Alassio has some of the best gelato to be found in Italy. So a stay in Alassio would be most enjoyable. A morning trip to some location, an afteroon on the beach, the 7:00 pm walk down Via XX Settembre, and then a meal. There are plenty of restaurants in Alassio.
We watched the restoration of the classic old Il Grand Hotel that took oh so many years. It is now operating under the n ame Grand Hotel Alassio. We did return a couple of times after the hotel opened. I want to stay there just for the memory of watchihg it be restored. The rooms are relatively small and pricey. We found some of our old favourties a better deal and just as good of a memory.
Santa Margherita Ligure
For a while, if we are not staying in Alassio, then we were very likely staying in Santa Margherita Ligure. I know, at one brief moment a number of years ago, I think I said I had been here too many times. But that was only a thought for a fleeting moment. We have been back and I enjoy this town.
The town is scenic and the location is very good. A a great town to serve as a base for travels in the area. You can walk the two km lane along the water that takes you to Portofino, or drive or take a bus to this eye stopper town famous for the rich a famous who would park their yachts in the harbout. But don't let that scare you aware. There is a lot of charm here..
Another positive aspect ofr Santa Margherita Ligure is that the the train station is right in the town. Pop on one of the frequent trains and in a half hour you can be on the Cinque Terre. No use trying to drive there. In fact, you can go from Santa Margherita by train to another stunning location, Pasteum. There are three wonderful ancient temples. Far fewer crowds to fight than some locations. The train stops just about 2 km from the park entrance. It is a pleasant walk.
When in Santa Margherita Ligure we have frequently stayed at the Hotel Jolanda (see Great Places to Stay). It is a relatively short walk from the hotel down to the waterfront. The rooms are big an comfortable. We have also stayed at the Albergo Fasce which is a nice hotel. Both hotels are only a few blocks up from the water. So it is a short pleasant walk. The Jolanda would be our first choice.
I know that when people hear the phrase "day trip location" it can lead to the question: do we really want to go there? But in this case, yes.
This is one of the most unspoiled promontories on the Ligurian Coast. The harbour is scenic. You can walk up to the 16th century fortress of S. Giorgio and get great views of the bay. If you take your car, and you really don't have to, there is a parkade on the outskirts of the town and then you walk down to the harbour.
The multi-coloured houses line the harbour. You can pick up some food and wine in one of the stores and walk down to the harbour and enjoy a picnic lunch - or eat in one of the fine cafes along the water.
When in Santa Margherita Ligure we took a boat that goes to both Portofino and San Fruttuoso. The Abbazia di San Frutuoso di Capodimonte is a Benedictine abbey and was to be the resting place for Bishop St. Fructuosus of Tarragona who was martyred in Spain in 259. The Abbey was rebuilt in the 13th Century.
Camogli is another one of the towns that you can drive to when you stay in Santa Margherita.
We visited it in 1995 when we drove down to the coast to meet Karen's parents and will be returning in 2017. Camogli is a scenic fishing village — and it is the colours of the buildings, and the location, the small town built on the steep cliffs, the harbour and multitude of small boats of a rainbow of colours, that you will certainly remember for a long time..
Just past La Spezia is the town of Portovenere. We have stayed here enjoyed a really the sights and great meal. If you like cats, well there are more cats in the harbout that one could imagine. You can walk along the water out to the San Pietro church. It dates from the 6th Century and was rebuilt in the 13th Century. It has a sharp appearance, with white and black stripped marble.
So enjoy the views, and the slower life pace of this town and count the cats - there seems to be an endless number.
We have stayed here when one one of the visits to Santa Margherita Ligure we could not get a hotel. We were in the Langhe, just south of Milan and we knew that Karen's parents would be in Santa Margherita Ligure. So, since it was unique that we were both in Italy at the same time we popped in the car, drove as fast as I could down the autostrada and arrive in Santa Margherita by about 6:30pm. We searched but could not find a hotel anywhere even following the traveller's rule: as the night gets later you are willing to pay more and more for a room.
As we started to try hotels that were just out of town along the road, we finally ended in Rapallo. Found a very nice hotel at a very good price and enjoyed the stay there. Arriving in night we had no idea how scenic the town was until we woke in the monring.
After driving through or around this town on many many trips along the coast, in 2001 we decided to stay one night and see what the town was like.
We were travelling with our friends, the Grants, and dropped them off in Nice so they could travel back to Vancouver. We crossed the boarded into Italy and stayed in San Remo.
. Lots of old multi-coloured buildings, lots of traffic, and lots of hotels that one day were just "the" place to stay, now parts of the town showed their age.. San Remo was one of the destinations for the English on their tours of Italy in the 19th Century. Some of the hotels have been renovated very nicely. We stayed in one that was almost to the point of being "well aged" but it turned out to be fine and at a good price.
San Remo has a major casino but that is not our scene. We just enjoyed this classic town along the water.
Genoa / Genova
For years we would drive from France to Italy, and that would mean a trip down the E80 which becomes the E25. Where the E25, the auto strata from the north, joins the E80 there is a very tricky stretch of the road. The traffic is hectic with the two autostart joining. You cross a suspension bridge, and as you come off the bridge you have to be in the right lane. We always dreaded this section.
One year we made a mistake and found ourselves into the industrial port area of Genova - one of the busiest ports in Italy. Not a scenic site.
But I have read many articles about the architecture and beauty of Genova, and in 2011 we made Genova one of our main stays of our trip to Italy.
Did we ever enjoy it. It was Karen's 50th birthday. We rented a convertible in Nice and drove down the coast with the roof down, the music blarringt, and just enjoying life. We drove up to our hotel, tossed the car keys to the person who zoomed off with the car, and enjoyed a number of days in Genova.
Genova is one of the most scenic cities in Italy. And, it is not a city that is ridden with crime, in fact I was out most evenings until very late with my camera and tripod and I never left in danger.
The Cinque Terre means the five lands - the coast towns along one of the most scenic coastline in Italy. A designated Unesco World Heritage site and in the World Monument Fund list I highly recommend a visit to this area.
I say that knowing that in 2017 the Italian Government is considering putting in a daily quota of the number of people that are allowed in the area. Not sure how that would work, but it is a very popular location.
On our very first visit we drove into Riomaggiore but on subsquent trips we have arrived in any one of the villages by train, using Santa Margherita Liqure as our base. Travelling by train to the areas was very easy, just get up in the morning, walk to the train station and in about 45 minutes to an hour you are there. There are numerous trains that go along the coast, travelling through the endless series of tunnels. For a few dollars you can catch a train and travel from village to village using the rail system almost like a transit line..
Of course, you can do the walk, a real attraction, and walk through the vineyards from each of the villages. We started to do it on one trip but a wiser person told us to go back as whe did not have the proper footwear for the climb. Our friends Chris and Carmen Grant have completed the walk and they confirmed that there are sections that involve a steep climb but you do not have to be a mountain climber to make the total walk just be prepared for a workout.
We have talked to many who plan to spend quite a bit of time in the villages. Our word of caution is to stay in one of the small towns if you really want to relax. As we found, by the end of the day the tourists leave, and the towns close up. Oh yes there is always a bar or restaurant open.
We are returning to the Cinque Terre in 2017, information on our stay in Manarola is our our Trips of Note page. We will update the information on the area when we return. It will be interesting to see what the difference is crowds amounts to.