What is the Italian Riviera? Is Genoa worth visiting? Where is Portofino, and why is it famous?
The Italian Riviera is the thin, north-western strip of Italian coastline that borders France (and the French Riviera). This strip of land is also known as the Ligurian Riviera, since it lies in the beautiful Italian region of Liguria.
Liguria is an interesting region. It “robs” its neighboring regions of Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna any access to the coast by hugging this stretch of land along the Ligurian Sea. It is extremely narrow, bordered on one side by the sea and on the other by the mountains, which rise up quickly from the coast. The result is a stunning array of perched villages, beautiful beaches, steep cliffs, natural reserves, and an extremely temperate climate.
From the Cinque Terre to Genoa and Beyond
Undoubtedly the most famous area of Liguria are the Cinque Terre, the famed five linked villages that comprise a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the coastline is full of other gorgeous hamlets and towns as well, not to mention Liguria’s beautiful capital city of Genoa.
One of the most stunning of the famed towns of Liguria is the old fishing village of Portofino. This small town is known for its brightly painted buildings that are clustered around its harbor and beach. During our Taste of the Italian Riviera culinary vacation you get to spend a day in Portofino, enjoying a cooking class outside of town surrounded by olive groves, as well as time to explore the village itself.
Genoa–called Genova in Italian–is a city full of old-world charm. As a major port, it has centuries of history and culture to explore. Its has the largest medieval city center in Europe, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a crazy labyrinth of tiny streets and cobble-stoned alleys called “caruggi.” To wander these alleys, stopping in the small squares for a pastry or a coffee, to shop, to dine, or to people watch, is one of the great pleasures of visiting Liguria.
To the west of Genoa lies what is known as the Western Riviera, the “Riviera di Ponente” (Riviera of the Setting Sun). It is less known perhaps than the French Riviera that lies to the west of it, but it is also more laid back. Like the rest of the region, it boasts colorful villages perched along the coastline, an abundance of fish and seafood, and some of the best olive oil in Italy.
Ligurian Gastronomy and a Taste of the Italian Riviera
The region is known for its temperate climate, with some 300 days of sunshine a year, and the resulting lush vegetation and abundant cultivation of olives, vineyards, and other fruits and vegetables. One of these is the famed “chinotto” fruit that grows only in this area. The chinotto is a bitter orange variety that was long used by sailors and now is part of the Slow Food Presidia, in which local producers utilize indigenous products and methods to preserve and protect native breeds of plants and animals.
But the chinotto fruit is only one part of Liguria’s fascinating gastronomy, which includes wonderful pastas, Ligurian pesto (made with locally grown basil and olive oil, of course), focaccia, not to mention the amazing fish and seafood drawn from the Ligurian Sea.
In short, from the bustling and romantic Genoa to the breathtaking villages that dot the coastline, the Italian Riviera is a perfect destination for a culinary vacation in Italy, whether you’ve a seasoned traveler to the country or a first-time visitor.
Learn more about our Taste of the Italian Riviera: Genoa & Portofino.
By Peg Kern
Try a recipe for a typical Ligurian stuffed pasta: pansoti (pansotti).
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