The magnificent Italian Riviera has been attracting rich and beautiful since the days of Byron, Shelley and Keats who spent time here swimming, finding inspiration and drinking around what became known as the Golfo dei Poeti. By the mid twentieth century, Hollywood royalty such as Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra had made it into an immensely glamorous playground, a reputation it still embraces.
Portofino, perched on its own peninsular, is Liguria’s glamorous heart and one of the most perfect fishing ports in the Mediterranean. Attracting small fleets of glittering yachts, the pretty Piazzetta by the harbour is lined with cafe and restaurant tables – perfect for people watching accompanied by pescatoria and a glass of bianco locale. In town are a number of yachting boutiques, jewellers and art galleries aimed at this affluent set. While popular with day trippers, the area has kept its air of exclusivity, especially so after sunset when the crowds depart.
Following the coast eastward to reach Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso, five fishing villages clutching to the rugged coastline that are better known collectively as Cinque Terre. Colourful houses are grouped together on steeply terraced cliffs crisscrossed by a complex system of fields and gardens dating back millennia. Cars banned, ancient paths wind their way between settlements, while scenic boat rides and a 19th-century railway line, cutting through a string of coastal tunnels, ferry the less energetic between villages.
Cinque Terre is renowned for its produce as well as its sublime beauty. Cinque Terre is itself a designated wine region, with dry, delicately perfumed straw-coloured whites and Sciacchetrà desert wines a speciality. The sea food, naturally, is exquisite and an essential part of this region’s cuisine, but a generous use of herbs and vegetables and a few non-fish dishes may also surprise.
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When to go
This is one of the country's most popular coastal destinations and can become very busy during the height of summer. It's best to avoid July and August and travel either side for great weather and fewer crowds.
What to do
- People watch in Portofino's harbour
- Seek out authentic Ligarian seafood
- Take a boat to the otherwise inaccessible San Fruttuoso
- Hike Cinque Terre's winding cliffside pathways
Itineraries including Portofino and Cinque Terre
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