With this article I would like to introduce to you some picturesque and colorful towns that are dotted throughout the Ligurian coast, otherwise better known with the name Italian Riviera. I will start with the western coast of Liguria because it is where I live and easier to reach for me thus I explored more and know more. I do not know if you have ever heard of Genoa, maybe you did, but never thought of visiting because it is not as popular as Florence or Venice and even less mentioned on tourist guides.
Despite this, I suggest you not to underestimate the beauty of this underrated city. If you happen to visit Genoa and you want to explore more its surrounding areas or you just did not like the city itself, I would suggest you to have some one-day trips to nearby coastal towns that are worth visiting. Maybe some of you might know Portofino but I am sure not many of you will know about Camogli and its colorful houses so what are you waiting for, have a look at these hidden gems of Italian Riviera:
Sestri Levante is my favourite coastal town located in the western part of Liguria, quite near Genoa thus very easy to reach by train. It is known as the town of two seas because the historical centre overlooks two different bays. Unlike Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, Sestri Levante is less visited by VIPs and for this reason the prices are cheaper and place is more authentic and less commercialized. The town centre itself is very picturesque with the typical fake façades of Ligurian houses and narrow alleyways called Carugi. The best highlights of the town are the following:
Sea Promenade and Beach
Sestri Levante has a very huge and sandy beach, those kinds where you will always find a place to sit down. Of course, in summer it must be pretty crowded but in spring, around April and May, the weather is great and already quite warm and perfect to lie down. It is also provided with a long sea promenade from where you can see the other coasts of Liguria.
Silence’s Bay and Fairytale’s Bay
Sestri Levante is built on the coast, just like many other Ligurian coastal towns, but the peculiarity is that there is a small isle called l’isola (the island in Italian) connected to the mainland just with a thin isthmus that creates the two bays: Baia del Silenzio (Silence’s Bay) and Baia delle Favole (Fairytale’s Bay). Why fairytale? Maybe for its beauty that reminds you of a fairytale? well, not quite right; even if the landscape is really the one of a fairytale, the reason is different. In this place the Danish fairytale writer Anderson resided, maybe he got some inspiration from these places.
Not to miss, even if smaller, is the Baia del Silenzio, which is a small bay protected on both sides by cliffs. It is a small strip of sandy beach where many houses are located, they are directly on the sea, I wish I could live there! The Bay is really beautiful especially when the sun sets down and everything all around you will turn into a golden colour. Even though it is called Silence’s Bay, there is nothing silent there ahah there are always people, especially families with children that play around and shout but it is not bad, it shows that even small towns like this can be pretty lively.
Church with Panorama
If you are those lazy people that do not like climbing up or moving too much around, well, Liguria is not your place. The best in Liguria is always on the top of some sorts of cliffs and so is in Sestri Levante. Once you reach Baia del Silenzio, you must walk up to the church situated at the top of the cliff because up there you can enjoy a breathtaking view and can grasp the beauty of this hard territory. You can see both Baia del Silenzio and Baia delle Favole with Sestri Levante‘s old town from here, it is the best view you can have in whole Sestri Levante and you must definitely not miss it.
Where is Portofino located? Easy to pinpoint its location as it is very near Genoa, Liguria‘s capital, and near Santa Margherita Ligure where you will get off if you are coming by train. Portofino is those towns that are able to steal your heart and many people might not even know about its existence. For Ligurians and, I guess, Italians as well, it is the town of the VIPs.
Many famous people come here in summer in order to spend their holidays and there is no wonder why they come. The town is a real gem nestled along Italian Riviera with its colorful houses overlooking the sea; it kinda reminds you of Cinque Terre but a posher version. I do not suggest you to buy or eat here, though, as it is a place mainly for wealthy people and everything is overpriced.
I would rather suggest you to go around and explore the colorful sea promenade and venture into a steep stairway located just near Portofino’s port. It will lead you to a hidden place near a lighthouse overlooking the Riviera, there you will find a small bar offering various cocktails. I think the place is perfect for enjoying refreshing drinks while gazing at such a beautiful view and feeling on your skin and through your hair a refreshing sea breeze.
The Best Panorama
Another must-see town’s corner is the park located just above Portofino‘s colorful town centre. From there you will be able to grasp the beauty of the place thanks to the breathtaking panorama over Portofino. It is not hard to find, just venture into the green bushes and you will find it. Very beautiful is also the main church of the fishing town, St. Martin’s Church, located at the top of the town. The feature I like the most is the beautifully decorated floor at the entrance, something very typical Ligurian.
Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure is a small Ligurian coastal town just like Portofino and Sestri Levante but unlike these two, it is a bit more modern but still manages to retain its charm as fishing village. It is also known as good place for rich people to buy expensive clothes but the main purpose of my visit here was not doing shopping but exploring the town. If you are visiting Santa Margherita Ligure (such long name, let’s make it shorter STL), you cannot miss a visit to Portofino too but do not underestimate the beauty of this place! Do not just skip it but at least spend some hours wandering around its town centre and parks.
Church and Villas
Liguria is well-known for its unpassable territory: the coast is made up of cliffs that can be compared to the Alps for their height and difficulty to climb and the region is just a thin strip of land embedded between the sea and mountains so we really have no plain or such here thus it is hard to build houses, as well as streets. The crazily steep stairs that you need to climb up in SML is a perfect example 😉 It is so steep that you cannot see the end of it at the first glance but I assure you that it will be worth it.
At the top you can find this church called Santuario di Nostra Signora della Lettera. There’s a legend saying that the worship towards Our Lady of the Letter is related to a discovering of a wooden statue of Madonna in the sea by some fishermen in 1783, which was then brought to SML and placed in the church. The actual parish church has been built in the XVII century but some historical sources said that it was already there in 1000. The architectural style is Baroque. It is, indeed, a beautiful landmark of SML but my favourite place is the adjacent park.
The park looks like those French gardens that every villa in France used to have with labyrinthine streets. From here you can have a beautiful view over the port and come across Villa Durazzo. This villa is one of the best examples of the noble villa’s residences in Italy where in the past many powerful Genoan families lived. Unluckily you cannot enter but you can take photos outside pretending to be a princess 😉
Not to miss is the town’s port especially after a tiring hike up the steep stairs I mentioned before. It is very pleasant to wander along the sea promenade gazing at the countless ships harboured there and at the colorful houses overlooking the Ligurian Sea. You will eventually come across a big Vergin Mary with open hands, she is the Saint Patron of SML that every city and town in Italy have.
Town Centre and Its Gems
The sea promenade and the port look quite modern so you would not expect to find such old town centre. As many other Ligurian coastal towns, it is made up of narrow Carugi that hides tiny shops selling typical food or local products. I really like the fake façades of Ligurian houses, they are so well painted that they look real; yeah if you have not noticed many houses in Ligurian towns have fake façades with fake decorations ahaha It is said that Ligurians are very stingy, I guess this is the proof we were searching for 😉
The main landmark is, of course, the church. The outside might not be too much impressive but the inside will surprise you as it seems to be made of gold. Its name is Santuario di Nostra Signora della Rosa located on Caprera square and its style is baroque. The construction of the nowadays church is dated to 1658, even if the worship place can be dated to the XIII century.
Camogli is a fishing village located in Genoa’s province, this area is also better known abroad with the name Italian Riviera. Camogli is famous, besides its beautiful and multicolored buildings on the sea promenade, for its anchovies that are cooked in a special pan found at the town’s entrance. As you can see in the photo the pan is very big: more than 3 metres of diameter. It is usually used during the “Sagra del Pesce“, a food festival where fish is the protagonist.
In order to enter, you will pass through a very narrow and picturesque alleyway, a typical feature of all Ligurian towns and you find yourselves catapulted into the past. Camogli is full of little but very chic restaurants, they are mostly located just above the beach so that the clients can have a beautiful view over it. There are also several cafés all around the town, you can find one even in the narrowest alleyways.
The feature of the houses, built not much far away from the sea, is to be searched out in the characters of the territory: Camogli is, indeed, built at the feet of a mountain overhanging the sea. This special feature allows Camogli to have a mild and moderate weather because the mountain prevents the cold winds from coming from Padana plain. The lighter colours that characterize the houses’ horizontal lines are called Marcapiano and they exploited by Camogli sailors to easily recognize their own houses among the others.
The narrow alleyways spread around the town are called Carugi. They denoted degradation in bygone times since many poor people used to live in these narrow and little spaces but now they are just a cute feature that most of Ligurian coastal towns possess. In Genoa you can still find people living there but, in towns like this, Carugi are just streets like many others, just more picturesque. They really drift me to the past and make me think how hard the life of my ancestors could have been.
Church, Colours and Beach
Another distinguish feature of Camogli, besides the colorful houses, is the church, which is located at the end of the sea promenade and stands out all the other buildings. The name is “Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta“ and was built in the XII century on a little island looking like a cliff near Camogli’s port. It, later, disappeared as it went nearer and nearer the coast and became an integral part of the town. The church was renewed several times throughout the centuries until it got the actual looking.
Near the church that I mentioned before, you can also find the Castle of Dragonara of medieval origins. It can be dated to XIII century but nothing is sure since the documents are missing or are incomplete. It can be that the castle was built to be used as shelter by the inhabitants to defend themselves from the pirates’ attacks. The castle was strengthened several times when this territory fell under Genoa Republic‘s rule in order to carry out its role more effectively.
The port was not much big but very pretty and full of boats. There were also fishing nets on the pier that were being used by the fishermen. At the end of the pier there was a little lighthouse that faced the other part of Ligurian coast, where Genoa is located. Many people were laying on the rocks near the lighthouse and enjoying the sun and the warm weather of an August day.
This is what you need to do once you visit Camogli, no matter the season because there will always be a bit of warmth and sun that brighten your day. From this tiny port also a quite big tourist ship depart during summer and brings tourists to visit the famous beach of San Fruttuoso, which can be reached only by foot or by ship.
Once you go up the stairs to reach the church, you find just behind the religious building a perfect place if you want to take photos and the castle I showed you before. There are two cannons and then a lovely corner that overlooks the entire town. You can have a great view on Camogli’s colorful and picturesque houses that, for sure, will draw your attention. You can also see the beach where the people are used to bathe during the warm seasons.
How To Reach:
All the mentioned places can be reached easily by train from Genoa and La Spezia expect Portofino that can only be reached by bus or by foot from Santa Margherita Ligure. If you are interested in prices, just have a look at the official website of Trenitalia. From Santa Margherita Ligure Train Station to Portofino, there is a regular bus service, the number is 82R and the journey takes 15 minutes.
The Scenic Route Back to Santa Margherita Ligure
The alternative to the bus option is that going by foot, which is not a bad idea. The road is almost straight and in some parts you have to walk in the street so you must be careful of cars but I can assure it is worth it! Along the way you find the villa of the duchess Vacca Augusta, where she committed suicide….why rich people always have to kill themselves, look at how beautiful the place where she used to live was. Then there is Paraggi’s Bay, the water there is very clean, it seems to be in the Caribbean and many other smaller beaches. The walking takes roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Have you ever been to one of these places before? Or have you just heard of a few of them? Let me know in the comments below 😉