Liguria has so much to offer. It’s possible that Italian cuisine is the best in the world and Ligurian cooking is right up there with the best Bella Italia has to offer. The same can be said for its landscapes that are crisscrossed with a vast range of well-marked hiking trails. This North Eastern corner of Italy is blessed with more than its fair share of eye-watering coastal landscapes. Mix in the friendly down-to-earth locals, romantic hotels with sea views straight from the brochure and, of course, very palatable wines, and you’re in foodie heaven.
When To Visit Liguria
Late April, May, early June, September or early October are my favourite times of year to visit Italy, including Liguria. The weather will likely be warm and sunny, and even the most popular towns and villages won’t be too busy. You may experience the odd cloud burst in April or October, but these tend to be late afternoon storms and usually soon clear. Early April temperatures can drop quite low (5-10 degrees Celsius) especially in the evenings, on the other hand it can occasionally be warm and sunny too. Avoid July and August if you can, as the narrow, winding village streets in this part of the world can get extremely overcrowded, it will be incredibly hot and the hotels and restaurants can be considerably more expensive. Holidays like Easter should also be avoided if possible.
Average Daily High and Low Temperatures in Liguria (Celsius)
If you’re willing to take a gamble and don’t want to lie on the beach or swim in the sea, then February can be absolutely fabulous with clear blue skies and less glare from the sun, bringing the beautiful buildings and seascapes to life in the most brilliant light and detail. You’ll need a warm and waterproof jacket at this time of year. However, I’ve personally experienced warm, sunny days reaching as much as 18 degrees Celcius though it can be much cooler. Just plan for the worse and hope for the best.
How To Get To Liguria
You can fly to Genoa from most UK airports from as little as £29 return (Ryanair from London Stansted) if you can book well in advance, but even if booking just a couple of months before, the two-hour flight from the UK should cost no more than around £160. Many of the low-cost airlines fly into Genoa or Pisa.
As an alternative, you can also fly into Turin, Florence or Milan if you’re prepared to travel a little further on arrival. Another intriguing option is to fly into Nice then catch the train along the coast to Genoa, maybe spending a little time in Nice, Monte Carlo, Ventimiglia, Bordeghera or Sanremo on the way.
Getting ArounD Liguria
Why not push the boat out a little?
If you’re feeling a bit flash and want to go up market try hiring something a little special, from a chic convertible Fiat 500 to an eye-catching bright red Ferrari from Elite Car Hire of Italy. Alternatively, there are some great deals for as little as £20 per day from the usual rental companies – Holiday Autos is a great place to start but I recommend comparing the direct booking price as sometimes you can get one off offers not always available on the comparison sites – the key is, so you can get the best deal, shop around.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive, you can get the train from Genoa to all of the seaside towns in my itinerary, except Porto Venere which doesn’t have a station. For this stopover, you can either hire a taxi, hire a car locally for a couple of days or simply substitute this for another destination that does have a railway station – such as Tellaro or Portofino. A more adventurous, and more typically Italian option is to hire a scooter for this leg of the journey from the excellent Ligurent.
All of the hotels I’ve recommended below have parking facilities (some may levy a small charge depending on the season). Traffic wardens can be very strict in this part of the world, so take care when parking, especially if it seems OK but then turns out to be a “permit holders only” zone.
My Suggested 5 Day Itinerary
Assuming you intend to spend five days in this glorious paradise, based on several trips I’ve made to the area, here’s how I’d spend them with a focus on great food, stunning vistas and some wonderful opportunities to explore.
You can shorten the trip to 3 or even 2 days, but I recommend at least 4 days to do the area justice. I’ve also focused on some higher-end, luxurious hotels, each with stunning views and a wonderful ambience, but tried to select the ones that are also affordable. All the hotels either have very good restaurants, or are within walking distance of the best dining options. I’m not generally a fan of hotel restaurants as I often find them overpriced, but the ones I’ve picked here, though possibly a little on the pricey side, provide delicious menus and varied wine choices. There are, of course, cheaper places to stay and eat in each of the towns I visited allowing you to experience the same gorgeous scenery and just as delicious Italian food, at a lower cost.
Day 1: HOTEL CENOBIO DEI DOGI, CAMOGLI
If you arrive in Genoa outside of rush-hour it’s a leisurely 23 mile trip (taking about 40 minutes on a good day) along the E80 dual carriageway to Camogli (use the ring-road to bypass the snarled up traffic in Genoa itself). There is a more scenic route from the airport that takes you along the SS1 coast road through Genoa. This is a very scenic route, but can add about an hour onto your journey time and will take even longer at peak times. The Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi is in a stunning seafront location and has several restaurants and bars where you can sit and admire the view with a background soundtrack of gently lapping waves. If you’re a fan of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan’s The Trip TV series, then this is the first hotel they stay at in the first programme.
There’s a heated pool and a private pebble beach to relax after a long day of sightseeing. The bedrooms are lavishly decorated, with a very decadent feel, essential for that romantic break.
The hotel is located at the southern end of the town’s small beach, sufficiently distanced to be away from the hustle and bustle but close enough for a romantic sunset stroll through the cobbled streets and the many rustic bars and restaurants.
Ensure you book a room with a sea view to get the most from your stay. A “Standard” room with a sea view starts at €220 per night outside the peak seasons, the even more luxurious “Classic” rooms start at €300. You also have the option of a Classic with a terrace or, at the top-end a suite. I’ve seen the standard sea view rooms for as little as £120 a night out of season, and there are sometimes special offers available.
You can spend your first night relaxing on the terrace as the sun descends, cocktail in hand. Then eat lavishly at one of the hotel’s own excellent restaurants. The views from all restaurants are gob-smacking but La Playa, for me is the best and has the most relaxed atmosphere. The food is excellent and there are cookery classes available if you want to try to re-create some of the dishes at home. The “catch of the day” is cooked in a Ligurian style and the Sea Bream or the Braised Octopus is to die for. There’s an excellent and comprehensive wine list, and the waiters will recommend something (not always the most expensive as you might expect) depending on what you’re ordering to eat.
DAY 2: SAN FRUTTUOSO & Portofino
If you have the time (and the money!), stay for a second night at the Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi and mix things up a little by eating at one of the many rustic “osteria” in the town, or jump back in the car and head the short distance along the coast to the achingly beautiful San Fruttuoso. This tiny, laid-back village is just around the headland from the popular (and hence very busy) tourist destination of Portofino, so we recommend jumping on a bus (you can also drive there but the roads are likely to be clogged and if you’re the designated driver you won’t be able to enjoy a sea-side glass of prosecco). Spend the day exploring the ancient architecture lining the twisty, cobbled streets. You can also carry on around the headland to Portofino but be prepared for hustle and bustle with hordes of tourists and tacky souvenir shops (to be fair there are some nice craft shops too) and over-priced cafes.
If you don’t want to head back to the Cenobio hotel, there is a wonderful hotel in San Fruttuoso, the Albergo (Hotel) da Giovanni. This is a much more rustic hotel than the Cenobio, but worth staying for a night, simply for the scenic views of San Fruttuoso and the excellent food at the Osteria Da Giovanni or La Cantina, each with stunning views.
Depending on the duration of your trip you can stay here a little longer and explore the coastline, or if you’re here outside of peak season, try an overnight stay in one of the many perfectly good hotels in Portofino.
DayS 3 & 4: Grand Hotel, Porto Venere
Today’s destination requires a slightly longer drive of about an hour and forty minutes, a little longer if you stop and admire the many breathtaking sea views on the way. Head to the bay of La Spezia and the wonderfully quaint town of Porto Venere. Just a few miles along the coast from the famous Cinque Terre, the gorgeous seaside port of Porto Venere is a great alternative to the exceptionally touristic and crowded five villages that make up Cinque Terre. There is no railway station in Porto Venere so the town isn’t frequented by quite so many local holidaymakers. You can still enjoy the clear blue water, the delicious food in the many restaurants and the rustic, vividly coloured houses, just without any of the hustle or bustle that is often ever present in the more popular areas.
Stay at the Grand Hotel for wonderfully opulent rooms, stunning views and attentive service. I recommend you eat at the hotel’s Palmaria restaurant for a five-star dining experience. The seafood is to die for. If you’re on a slightly smaller budget, try the Oblo hotel. There are also other mid-range and lower cost accommodation options in the town, and plenty of good value restaurants.
Day 5: HOTEL VIS A VIS, SESTRI LEVANTE
For your final night, head back up the coast to Sestri Levante, a beautiful old town with narrow streets lined with elegant shops, cafes and restaurants.
The town has a picture perfect sandy beach in the old town called Baia del Silenzio which is bordered by rows of rustic, stucco’d buildings. The beach can get busy at weekends and holidays as it’s a magnet for Italians wanting to escape the heat of the cities to cool off in the translucent water.
As you’d expect, seafood is once again the prominent feature on all of the restaurant’s menus.
There’s a wonderful Gelateria on Via XXV Aprile (the main thoroughfare that runs through the town) called Ice Creams Angels with vast choices of flavours, all of them exquisite and served in enormous portions.
If you want a short walk follow the path along the coast heading south east until you come to the Punta Manara, a pretty outcrop of land with stunning views back to the town and the coast as far as Portofino and beyond.
My favourite hotel here is the elegant Hotel Vis a Vis with stunning views, luxurious rooms and fantastic terrace restaurants and swimming pools. Do have a look at the gallery on their website and I guarantee you’ll want to stay in this amazing location. There is an alternative, slightly cheaper hotel, which is almost as stunningly beautiful hotel – the Miramare hotel. You’ll be spoiled for choice for food, and the hotel restaurants are good though a little pricey, but you should definitely make plans to eat at the Vis a Vis restaurant – I promise, you won’t regret it!
On your final day, you will need to allow about a hour to drive back to the airport, so depending on the time of your flight, you may have time for a leisurely breakfast or brunch in the village, or maybe explore a little more.