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Brightly painted houses dangling off of cliffs that jut out from the sea, the wafting scent of basil, glamorous seaside resorts, and boats bobbing around small coves—this is Liguria. Nestled between Tuscany and Piedmont, this charming region, known as the Italian Riviera, is worth visiting if you love beautiful scenery, good food and wine, and a relaxed lifestyle. (And who doesn’t?)
No doubt the most famous part of the region is the Cinque Terre (“five lands” in Italian), a group of five picturesque villages connected by hiking trails. “Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are these five towns, and their colorful fishermen’s houses are among the most precious treasures of Liguria,” explains Fulvio De Bonis, founder of luxury tour company Imago Artis Travel.
Lately, Cinque Terre has made headlines for taking a harsh stance on combating overtourism, which plagues the area in the summer. If you decide to hike the hillside trails, make sure you wear proper hiking shoes, as authorities have begun fining people up to €2,500 for wearing flip flops, pumps, or other sandals. Of course, you could avoid the problem entirely by experiencing these towns from the sea. “We recommend enjoying the view of some of the towns in either a half-day or a full-day boat tour, since our luxury boats will make it possible to enjoy the best of the coast, to swim in the crystal waters, and to have lunch in one of the towns,” De Bonis says.
He also recommends exploring other charming villages, like the Medieval fishing town of Portovenere, and Sestri Levante, which was built on a peninsula surrounded by Silence Bay and Fairytale Bay. “Portofino is another must-see in Liguria—its delightful bay is the perfect set for the Italian Bella Vita and from its port a private boat can lead you to San Fruttuoso Abbey, an exquisite monument dating back 1,000 years with one of the most impressive views of the region,” he adds.
In Portofino, you’ll find some of the best luxury hotels on the Italian Riviera. Built in the 16th century as a monastery overlooking the Bay of Portofino, Belmond Hotel Splendido—an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property—is an icon of La Dolce Vita. The glamorous hotel has hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, and countless other celebrities. It’s currently undergoing a renovation and will reopen in 2020. In the meantime, you can stay at Eight Hotel—a member of Small Luxury Hotels surrounded by beautiful gardens—or Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita Ligure, a member of Leading Hotels of the World that’s been owned by the same family for 70 years.
When in Liguria, you mustn’t overlook Genoa, the region’s capital. One of Italy’s original maritime republics, the city has been an important port since the days of the Roman Empire. During the 12th and 13th centuries, it rivaled Venice as the most important commercial center in the region, and it’s still Italy’s busiest shipping port, importing and exporting commercial goods like wine, olive oil, and textiles.
De Bonis recommends doing a food tour in Genoa. He can also arrange a cooking class, during which you can learn to make traditional pesto Genovese, which was born there and makes ample use of the region’s fragrant basil. Of course, there are plenty of other regional specialties you should taste. “Do not miss also the “fugassa” (Focaccia in Italian), the local flatbread filled with cheese in its most popular version,” De Bonis says, adding, “Anchovies and codfish are two fish specialties of this area.”
Aside from food-focused activities, Imago Artis can organize a relaxing cruise on a goletta, a traditional wooden boat, and even a meeting with one of the world’s last carvers of wooden figurehead ships. They can also take you to meet local artisans so you can see how they make traditional lace and silk.
Whether you’ve never been to Italy or have visited a hundred times, you’re sure to discover something new in Liguria.