The Italian Riviera is a marvellous province in Italy located tightly between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. When you spot the towns built on the hills and the romantic green shores from the sea, an amazing feeling will overcome you. As if you were an adventurer from the past who is about to enter a new and exciting world. Its elegance can be compared to any beach resorts in the world. We would like to give you a non-exhaustive list of things to do in the Italian Riviera.
This article gives you an overview of the following topics:
- Things to do in the Italian Riviera: History and culture
- What to do in the Italian Riviera: Active recreation
- What to do in the Italian Riviera: Gastronomy
- Things to do in the Italian Riviera: Families travelling with small children
In Italy, practically every stone has its own history. Areas on the coastline started to develop rapidly as early as in the Roman period. They established a buzzing commercial and cultural life in these regions.
Genoa has been the busiest port in the Italian Riviera and the second largest one on the Adriatic Sea for centuries. Currently, with its 700,000 habitants, it shines as bright as ever, similarly to the period when they considered it the commercial centre of the world. The city used to be a flourishing maritime power; Cristopher Columbus and the famous violinist Niccolo Paganini were born here. You can enjoy rocking on the water at Porto Antico, the old port. The shallow port and the water, surrounded by hills, offers centuries-old tales. You must definitely see La Lanterna, the lighthouse, which has been guiding sailors in the night for almost 900 years. This is the second oldest lighthouse in the world, towering 77 metres above the port.
In the capital of the Italian Riviera, you can organise cultural programs for yourself. Visit the largest aquarium in Italy or the Maritime Museum with its unique collection of items representing the history of sailing.
What else can you do in the Italian Riviera? Look for the small fishing town, Portofino! It is a true gem hidden at the meeting point of the sea and the mountains as if the colourful houses were born of their love. If you set foot on the shores, you practically get lost on the crooked streets. These were specifically built against pirate attacks, to deceive the attackers. Liguria had been inhabited since the Bronze Age.
It was also an important strategic centre for the Roman Empire. We can find several village towns with Roman bastions. Portofino has become one of the most exclusive resorts in the Italian Riviera. In Portofino, you can often spot a celebrity in a café or a famous actor eating their lunch at the table next to you. The streets lead to terraces, a church and a castle, all with great panorama. The church is a dream spot for weddings. It towers above the village, and its terrace provides a great view of the sea. The tiny fishing town essentially has the atmosphere of a really buzzing historic town. You can go on a nice walk on the shores while succumbing to the temptation of the bays and the crystal clear water.
If you would prefer a more adventurous holiday, you can find it in the Italian Riviera! The natural features here offer thousands of opportunities.
The Rapallo gulf can be found the app. 30 kilometres from Genoa. Portofino, mentioned above, can also be found in this area; from here, we can only access San Fruttoso on foot or on a boat. This small fishing town has a history of a hundred years. It is a real paradise for divers. The most important sight here is an underwater statue of Christ, 15 metres deep in the sea. They have a celebration every year, on the last Saturday of July when a priest says a blessing over the statue. You will have several opportunities in the Italian Riviera to go snorkelling or scuba diving. Almost every bay has crystal clear water and rich marine wildlife.
What to do in the Italian Riviera? One of the greatest maritime exhibitions in the world is the Boat Show in Genoa. Thousands of sailboats, catamarans, yachts and other vessels are exhibited both on the land and on the water. Several manufacturers are introduced with their new boats, and you can also get to know the newest technologies. If you are interested in sailing, you should definitely take part!
Excursions in the Italian Riviera
Sentiero Liguria is a 600 kilometre-long hiking trail along the shores of the Italian Riviera, connecting the eastern and southern region. There are higher and more challenging sections, as well as parts ideal for less experienced hikers. Walking on the path, you will see the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. During the hike, you will have many opportunities to stop and rest in the towns and have a taste of the local specialities. You can make a one-day-long trip form practically every port if you feel that you need some extra exercise.
The Beigua Geopark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site exhibiting unique geologic formations on almost 40,000 hectares. It is located near Genoa, to the west. There are several interesting and rare geologic formations on the territory of the park – canyons, fossil corals and sedimentary green rocks, all telling the tales of the million-year-old sea. Giant gravel fields and black sandy shores await visitors.
If somebody mentions Italian cuisine, we all think of the same things. Wine, cheese, basil, pasta, olives and so on. There are some other curiosities that are rather unheard of. What should we eat in the Italian Riviera? In the following section, we are presenting some specialities that we can definitely only taste in Liguria.
Frutti di Mare
Prepare for the diverse seafood dishes! They serve shellfish, crab, fish and octopus anywhere you go. They prepare the most diverse dishes according to the ancient local recipes.
The “gold” of Noli
Noli is one of the gems on the western shores. It is famous for its salted anchovy, often called the “gold” of Noli. Generally speaking, the SlowFood movement has a large fan base here – most people prefer local meals. You must try Noli’s famous Michelin starred restaurant, Il Vescovado. It is worth mentioning that it was at Noli’s shores where underwater greenhouses were first built. Since 2012, they have been growing basil, lettuce, strawberry and bean 10 metres deep in the water.
Il cappon magro
Cappon magro is a traditional Ligurian dish made with different fish, crab and vegetables. Its ingredients are piled on a large dish and fixed with gelatine. It looks like a big octopus cake. They put beetroot, tomato, lettuce, carrot and frutti di mare in it. They consume it with a little vinegar and light white wine.
Dough and pasta
In this region, you can taste thousands of different dough and pasta. Scone, bread, pie and filled pasta are served.
The different types of Polenta
Polenta is a dish made of corn flour, served with tomato, cheese, basil or ewe cheese. One of the local variations is made of chickpea; it is called panissa.
Pansoti is a type of filled pasta similar to ravioli. It does not contain meat, so it is ideal for fasting. They serve it with pesto or seasonal vegetables.
Legend has it that the michetta was made to commemorate a tragic love story. It preserves the memories of a heroic woman. It is a sweet scone often kneaded in the form of a rose. They have been organising a festival every summer for 700 years. Everyone makes michetta based on their families’ recipe, and they announce the winner at the end of the contest. The evening, of course, is closed with invigorating music and dance.
The Italians are famously happy and passionate. Their drinks are a good example. When it comes to meeting with friends or family gatherings, the following drink is essential!
Grolla, the drink of friendship
If you visit a traditional Ligurian pub, you should definitely not miss the Grolla. This is a unique local alcoholic beverage. They put a mixture of coffee and alcohol in a round bowl, and drink it hot. They pass it around in a circle and drink it all up. This is how friendships are made during the Italian nights!
Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur. They drink it ice cold, and it provides great refreshment on a hot summer day. Traditionally, they also cook the lemon peel to achieve a bitter aftertaste. It helps digestion, and of course, has a good impact on our spirit as well.
A treasure on the land
Beside the sea, the land also offers countless edible treasures. They grow lemon, capers, olives and chestnut everywhere. The famous cream, made with pesto basil, olive oil, pine seed and parmesan is served on bread or with pasta. It is a traditional recipe from Genoa. Local gastronomy is not only famous for the frutti di mare, but the mutton and the goat meat, too. The salty air in the mountains is ideal for ageing cheese and ham. Sweet chestnut is also popular, and used in many areas; they make bread, dough and beer from it, and even eat it smoked or cooked.
If you are a wine enthusiast
Due to the close relationship between the mountains and the sea, the Italian Riviera is a wine region with real treasures. Wines are produced in small amounts, so we can only taste these nectars locally.
It would not be more refreshing for our body and soul if we bottled sunshine itself than the white wines of Cinque Terre. Even though it is hard to access, the mountainous area located in the western corner of the Italian Riviera has hidden treasures for wine enthusiasts. It is rather a sailing destination due to the fact that it is more challenging to access it from the land. Locals have been making wine on the steep mountainsides for about 1,000 years. They still do everything with their hands today. The harvested bunches of grape are transported from the hills using carts specifically made for the process.
The 3 most important white wines of the Italian Riviera are made from 3 types of the grape; their quality matches the finest wines’ in the world. The Bosco, the Albarola and the Vermentino grapes are used for two types of wine. The sweet one is Sciaccethrá DOC, and the dry one is Cinque Terre DOC. The vineyards are spanning on an area of 4390 hectares. If you prefer to try something else rather than swimming, you will not have to think too much about what to do in the Italian Riviera. Visit the natural port of Vernazza, and enjoy the sunshine while sipping a glass of wine.
Riviera Ligure di Ponente
Riviera di Ponente – The Coast of the Setting Sun – refers to the shore segment located to the west from Genoa. This is the part where the most elegant resorts, hotels and towns are in Liguria. The Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC certified brand of origin includes both red and white wines. Most of the orchards are located about 30 kilometres from the sea. The salty wind and the moderate climate by the sea are perfect for the grapes. Although the rocky, alpine terrain does not allow for abundant harvests, the taste and the content are more concentrated. You can taste all kinds of wines here. The aromatic red and the sweet and light white wines, as well as the slightly sparkling frizzante, offer a wide variety of choices. Moscato, Grenache, Rosesse and Pignato are the most commonly grown types of grape here.
If you visit the Italian Riviera with your family, you will also find plenty of suitable programmes. There are dozens of beaches, festival and other events during the year.
The Ligurian Riviera has beautiful bays where it is safer to enjoy the water. The beach of Alassio is a truly elegant, long sandy beach with a complete architecture. It is just perfect for families travelling with small children; they even organise a sandcastle competition every year. The beach of Bergeggi near Savona is another true gem. It is a small beach that gets crowded quickly, but the view is wonderful, and we can swim with colourful fish in the turquoise water. The beach of Baia del Silenzio can be found in a protected bay, to the east from the Rapallo gulf. The water in the mid-summer period can get as warm as 28-30 degrees, making it ideal for families with small children. The beach of Diano Marina is 3 kilometres long. The water here is quite shallow, and there are many playgrounds along the shores as well.
Programmes for children
The world’s second-largest aquarium, exhibiting marine wildlife, can be found in Genoa. Children can admire the unique sea creatures from up close. The program will take an entire day. Next to the Aquarium, we can see a replica of a Spanish galleon, providing the kids with an interactive experience. The Maritime Museum will amaze both children and adults with its unique collection. It is worth visiting Cinque Terre in the middle of May, during the Lemon Festival. You can taste all kinds of specialities made with lemon, such as cakes, spirits, juices or cookies. They organise the Andersen Festival every year in Sestri Levante. Streets are filled with theatres, puppet shows and storytellers.
Visiting the Italian Riviera is beyond an ordinary holiday. It feels like a new and unknown paradise has been born out of the love of the sea and the mountains. The clear water, the mood of the locals, the fresh seafood and the wines from the mountains are all gifts from the Earth. If you have the opportunity to choose one sailing destination, it should definitely be Liguria! Whatever you do in the Italian Riviera, it will be a tale of a lifetime.