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Discovering Liguria, Italy

Portofino, Liguria

It’s hard to say which region of Italy is most packed with things to see and do, and I’ll admit to being partial given I was born here, but Liguria is a real treasure-trove for all those Italy lovers out there who might be looking for slightly less crowded cities and beaches.

Stretching on the coast of north-western Italy and overlooking the homonymous Sea, Liguria offers everything from cultural tourism in its main city Genoa, to hikes up steep hills overlooking the jagged shoreline, to tiny coves and big city beaches for the more relaxed traveller.

From the UK, it’s easy enough to fly straight into Genoa, or otherwise grab a more frequent flight to Milan and jump on an intercity train that will take you there in just over an hour.


Genoa Architecture - Image: Arianna Meschia

Genoa Architecture

Image: Arianna Meschia


One of the main ports on the Mediterranean, Genoa has been nicknamed La Superba, the Superb, because of its rich history and the impressive industrial and maritime prowess of days gone by.

The city took its name from the Roman god Janus, famous for being two-faced, a characteristic that remains to this day in the apparently unkempt and dirty streets of the city centre. Much like its inhabitants, Genoa might appear a bit rough and ready on the surface, but if you give it a couple of days, you will discover a real gem under a tough skin.

Ideally, plan to spend three full days here, and start with the picturesque city centre, part of which added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.

Stroll around the vicoli, the historical centre comprising tiny alleys that make up an impenetrable and confusing hodgepodge of churches, high-ceilinged buildings once inhabited by the nobility, and little squares dotted with bakeries and restaurants. Here you can enjoy a piece of tasty focaccia (a proud creation of Genoa) or a full plate of the local pasta, trofie, with the famous Genoese pesto.

Piazza de Ferrari, Genoa

Piazza de Ferrari, Genoa

Make sure you check out San Lorenzo cathedral, where an unexploded bomb from WWII still stands as a memento of the miracle that saved the city in 1941, and the majestic Piazza De Ferrari – with its fountain, Opera theatre and City council buildings, it’s a popular meeting point as well as the perfect spot for an ice-cream from nearby Cremeria delle Erbe, rumoured as being the best in town…

On the second day, check out the long Corso Italia, the seaside promenade crowded with eager joggers in the morning and families in the afternoon, ending at the beautiful Boccadasse bay, a cluster of houses that used to be a separate village but was swallowed up by the intense urbanisation of the 19th Century.

If you still have time and are keen for a bit of a walk, jump aboard the Righi funicular, which will take you to a beautiful viewpoint and the start of a day trip to the old fortifications, Forti, that used to encircle the city and defend it from the mountainside.

Corso Italia, Genoa - Image: Arianna Meschia

Corso Italia, Genoa

Image: Arianna Meschia


For all you jetsetters and celebrity lovers, Portofino is the place to be. Historically a favourite of the rich and famous, Portofino is a tiny fishing village about 40 km east of Genoa, overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Tigullio.

Tall and narrow pastel-coloured houses overlook criss-crossing alleys full of fancy boutiques, ice cream shops and the omnipresent bakeries with focaccia. Take a short walk up to the castle, named after Consul Montague Yeates Brown who bought it in 1867, and overlooking the bay: from there, the village crowded around the tiny harbour makes for a postcard-worthy view.

If you’d like to get away from the crowds and fancy a bit of a hike, consider getting the boat from Genova or Camogli to San Fruttuoso, then hike over the Portofino promontory for about two hours, and make sure you stop at Cala degli Inglesi, the English Cove, for a refreshing dip halfway through.



Cinque Terre

A visit to Liguria wouldn’t be complete without a day (or three!) in this unreal stretch of coastline. Cinque Terre, literally Five Lands, are a cluster of five villages that by some miracle manage to hold onto the steep hillsides, covered in vineyards and olive trees.

You can easily hop from one village to the next on the frequent boats that start from nearby La Spezia, or even walk the entirety of the Sentiero Azzurro, the Blue Trail, which encompasses all of the villages and is a good full-day hike, with lots of ups and downs, steps and some pretty breathtaking views.

A word of caution, though: because the path is so open to the elements, parts of it are frequently closed for maintenance or due to weather damage, so make sure you check on the Cinque Terre National Park app or on the official website before going.

If you only have time for the highlights, make sure you: have a dip followed by some freshly caught fish in Riomaggiore; walk to Punta Bonfiglio to marvel at Manarola, possibly the most scenic of the villages, with its clustered houses clinging onto an alarmingly small rocky outcrop; dip some bucellato cake from Vernazza in the sweet Sciacchetrà wine produced in Corniglia; and check out Neptune’s statue in Monterosso, which seems to hold the whole hill on its shoulders.

Seafood Risotto

Seafood Risotto

An insider’s tip: once you’ve fallen in love with Liguria – and you will – consider exploring the coast a bit more. Just east of Cinque Terre, Framura is a well-kept secret spot where you’ll enjoy all the beauty, food, wine and walks of Cinque Terre, with a fraction of the crowds.

Written by Arianna Meschia

I travel (a lot), I write (always), I take pictures (too many). Born and bred in Italy, London adopted me until I grew bored of the film production routine, bought a one-way ticket to Malawi and gave into my first and biggest passion: putting words together to tell stories, better if unheard. I’ve just come back from an East Africa bike trip churning 8,000km through six countries, and I’m about to continue into Europe, aboard a trusted BMW F650GS, before moving back to South Africa.

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