The Riviera Levante is the lively and breathtakingly beautiful eastern part of the Italian Riviera that runs from Genova down towards the Tuscan and Ligurian border. Crystal blue waters full of fish, charming colorful seaside villages, all the focaccia you can eat and some of Italy’s most famous tourist destinations mean that this area is easy to fall in love with.
Camogli is a fishing village not far from Genoa that has some of the areas most beautifully decorated trompe-l’oeil buildings. This typical style of building decoration is seen all along the Riviera, as stereotypically thrifty Liguria search for less “expensive” ways to decorate their buildings – rather then adding on a terrace or elaborate shutters, they paint them in, over otherwise nondescript and sturdy cement and stone buildings. This town has traditionally been home to fisherman for centuries – even the name, Camogli, derives from the Ligurian dialect for “home of the wives”, as many waited here looking out to the sea for their husbands to return. It’s a charming town full of small, locally owned shops (no big chain stores) and home to a long stretch of rocky beach that lies below a surprisingly ornate and impressive basilica. It’s also an excellent jumping off point for a day on the sea where you can get the ferry to explore the tiny hamlet of San Fruttuoso (population 36) and it’s famous abbey – you can arrive only by boat or a mildly harrowing hiking trail.
Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure
Portofino is synonymous with glamour worldwide, and summer visitors aren’t surprised to share their walk through the village with some of the most famous celebrities in the world. Arriving in the tiny village, you can’t help but notice some of the largest and most impressive yachts on earth docked in the harbor. This village is full of high end, designer stores for those more interested in shopping than swimming, and a “bucket list” destination for many. Since Portofino isn’t connected to the train line, there are a few ways to arrive – by boat, by bus, or by the lovely, seaside walk from nearby Santa Margherita Ligure. You’ll take the flat, winding road, passing through the little village of Paraggi (and it’s gorgeous, shallow beach which is great for paddle boarding), to then arrive in nearby Santa Margherita Ligure (frequently abbreviated as SML). SML is bigger town than Portofino, with a charm you find often in the Riviera – palm tree lined promenade full of cafes and bars, little shops and lots of focaccerie (focaccia shops, for an easy beachfront lunch). We love exploring the stone lined back streets of this town just as much as we do relaxing on the beach or exploring their very active fishing harbor – SML is famous all over Italy for it’s fishing industry as well as it’s prized red shrimp.
Becoming more and more popular with visitors, Sestri Levante lives up to it’s fairytale – once the home of Hans Christian Anderson, this little island is now a peninsula, connected to the shore by a thin piece of land, nestled between the Baia di Silenzio (bay of silence) and the Baia delle favole (the bay of fairytales). Being surrounded by water means that there is no lack of beautiful Ligurian beaches to choose from, and the town itself is full of some of the best restaurants in the region. This town is a particularly good choice for families traveling with children. It’s flat and easy to navigate with a stroller, and during the summer months the whole seaside comes alive with various games and amusements for the kids. It’s also a great choice for younger travelers looking for a bit more activity than the nearby, sleepier villages along the Riviera – home to some of the Riviera Levante’s biggest summer beach parties, this a great town to relax in by day and then pass the night dancing on the beach.
The Cinque Terre
This national park and UNESCO world heritage site has exploded in popularity in the past decade and these 5 small fishing villages are now a “must see” for visitors to Italy, on the level of major cities like Rome and Florence. Though these tiny, one street villages get very crowded during the day, they are still, at the end of the day, small fishing villages isolated between the mountains and still very much worth visiting. The Cinque Terre, made up of the five hamlets of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, all have their own personalities (and even their own traditions and dialects) and each offer visitors something a little different. What makes this area truly unique are the hand-laid stone terraces lining the mountains between the villages – the only way to make the steep, vertical landscape farmable, and a practice still used today. Now visitors hike through these terraces and their vineyards as part of their Cinque Terre experience, taking the scenic and quite literally breathtaking (some have thousands of stairs) trails from town to town, but they are still used actively in the small but proud wine cultivation of the area.
The Gulf of Poets
Just beyond the Cinque Terre, the Golfo Dei Poeti, or “Gulf of Poets”, is the large gulf that encompasses the region just before Tuscany. Composed of small towns like Portovenere and it’s breathtaking church, San Terenzo, charming Lerici, hidden gem Tellaro, and the bustling port city of La Spezia, the Gulf of Poets also hosts the Italian version of island hopping, with the pristine natural reserve of the three islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. An easy and incredible scenic boat ride from the Cinque Terre, this is a great way to explore the gulf by sea, stopping off for a stroll or a swim in the crystal blue waters that the area is famous for, and perhaps to spot a dolphin or two.
The Riviera Levante is full of world famous sites that many travelers have on their “can’t miss” list, and for a good reason – the eastern part of the Italian Riviera is truly enchanting, and full of postcard worthy, gorgeous Ligurian seascapes and villages, along with some of the nicest beaches in the region.