Frommer's Italy (2015)

The village of Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre.

Hugging the Mediterranean coastline from the French border to the tip of Tuscany lies a crescent-shape strip of land that makes up the region of Liguria. The pleasures of this region are no secret. Ever since the 19th century, world-weary travelers have been heading for Liguria’s resorts, such as San Remo and Portofino, to enjoy balmy weather and sapphire blue sea. Beyond the beach, the stones and tile of fishing villages, small resort towns, and proud old port cities bake in the sun, and hillsides are fragrant with the scent of bougainvillea and pines.

Liguria is really two coasts. First, the “white sand” stretch west of Genoa known as the Riviera di Ponente (Setting Sun), is studded with fashionable resorts, many of which, like San Remo, have seen their heydays fade but continue to entice visitors with palm-fringed promenades and gentle ways. The rockier, more rugged, but also more colorful fishing-village-filled stretch to the southeast of Genoa, known as the Riviera di Levante (Rising Sun), extends past the posh harbor of Portofino to the ever popular villages of the Cinque Terre.

The province’s capital, Genoa, is Italy’s busiest port, an ancient center of commerce, and one of history’s great maritime powers. Despite its rough exterior, it is an underrated gem filled with architectural delights, Italy’s largest historical center, and a sense of “real Italy” that has become hard to come by in many of the country’s more popular cities. Just a short drive or train ride away, you will find yourself once again immersed in the easygoing and charming seaside villages and resorts that populate the region as a whole.

GENOA (GENOVA) Red-Star2_redstar2

142km (88 miles) S of Milan, 501km (311 miles) NW of Rome, 194km (120 miles) E of Nice

With its dizzying mix of the old and the new, Genoa is as multilayered as the hills it clings to. It was and is, first and foremost, a port city: an important maritime center for the Roman Empire, boyhood home of Christopher Columbus (whose much-restored house still stands near a section of the medieval walls), and, fueled by seafaring commerce that stretched to the Middle East, one of the largest and wealthiest cities of Renaissance Europe.

Genoa began as a port of the ancient Ligurian people at least by the 6th century B.C. and by the early Middle Ages had become a formidable maritime power, conquering the surrounding coast and the mighty outlying islands of Corsica and Sardinia. Genoa established colonies throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and made massive gains during the Crusades. With bigger success came new, bigger rivals, and Genoa locked commercial and military horns with Venice, which eventually took the upper hand in the late 14th century. Genoa increasingly fell under the control of outsiders, and though self-government returned for a while in the 16th century, by then sea trade was rapidly shifting to Spain and eventually to its American colonies, a trend exemplified by Genoa’s most famous native son, Columbus, who had to travel to Spain to find the financial backing for his voyage of exploration across the Atlantic.

It’s easy to capture glimpses of Genoa’s former glory days on the narrow lanes and dank alleys of the portside Old Town, where treasure-filled palaces and fine marble churches stand next to laundry-draped tenements and brothels. The other Genoa, the modern city that stretches for miles along the coast and climbs the hills, is a city of international business, peaceful parks, and breezy belvederes from which you can enjoy fine views of this colorful metropolis and the sea.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    By Plane    Flights to and from most European capitals serve Cristoforo Colombo International Airport, just 6.5km (4 miles) west of the city center (www.airport.genova.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-60-151). Volabus (www.amt.genova.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-558-2414 or 800-085-311 toll free from within Italy) connects the airport with the Principe and Brignole train stations, with buses running the 30-minute trip once or twice an hour from 5am to 10pm; buy tickets (6€, includes a transfer to or from the city transportation network) on the bus.

By Train    Genoa has two major train stations, Stazione Principe (designated on timetables as Genova P.P.), near the Old Town and the port on Piazza Acquaverde, and Stazione Brignole (designated Genova BR.), in the modern city on Piazza Verdi. Many trains, especially those on long-distance lines, service both stations; however, some stop only at one, making it essential that you know the station at which your train is scheduled to arrive and from which it will depart. Trains (free, as they don’t check tickets btw. the downtown stations) connect the two stations in 5 minutes and run about every 15 minutes.

Genoa is the hub for trains serving the Italian Riviera, with trains arriving from and departing for Ventimiglia on the French border about once an hour, and La Spezia, at the eastern edge of Liguria, even more frequently, as often as three trains an hour during peak times between 7am and 7pm (regional: 11⁄2 hr.; high-speed: 11⁄4 hr.). The regional trains make local stops at almost all the coastal resorts while the faster trains stop at only a few of them (for towns covered in this chapter, see individual listings for connections with Genoa). Lots of trains connect Genoa with major Italian cities: Milan (one to two per hour; regional: 2 hr.; high-speed: 11⁄2 hr.), Rome (hourly; 5–6 hr.), Turin (one per hour; regional: 2 hr.; high-speed: 13⁄4 hr.), Florence (hourly but always with a change, usually at Pisa; 3 hr.), Pisa (hourly; regional: 3 hr.; high-speed: 11⁄2–2 hr.).

By Bus    An extensive bus network connects Genoa with other parts of Liguria, and with other Italian and European cities, from the main bus station next to Stazione Principe. It’s easiest to reach seaside resorts by the trains that run along the coast, but buses link to many small towns in the region’s hilly hinterlands. Contact PESCI, Piazza della Vittoria 94r (Black-Phone_bphone 010-564-936), for tickets and information.

By Car    Genoa is linked to other parts of Italy and to France by a convenient network of highways. Genoa has lots of parking around the port and the edges of the Old Town, so you can usually find a spot easily. It can be pricey (1.60€–2.50€ an hour), though in some lots you don’t pay for the overnight hours.

By Ferry    Genoa is linked to several other major Mediterranean ports, including Barcelona, as well as Sardinia and Sicily by ferry service (www.traghettitalia.it). Most boats leave and depart from the Stazione Marittima (Black-Phone_bphone 010-089-8300), which is on a waterfront roadway, Via Marina D’Italia, about a 5-minute walk south of Stazione Principe. For service to and from the Riviera Levante, check with Tigullio (www.traghettiportofino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-284-670); there’s almost hourly service from 9am to 5pm daily in July and August.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The main tourist office is on Via Garibaldi 12r across from the beautiful city hall (www.visitgenoa.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-557-2903), open daily 9am to 6:30pm. There are branches also in Piazza Caricamento near the aquarium (Black-Phone_bphone 010-557-4200), open daily 9:30am to 6:30pm; and Cristoforo Colombo airport (Black-Phone_bphone 010-601-5247), open daily 9am to 1pm and 1:30 to 5:30pm.

Genoa’s port.

GETTING AROUND    Given Genoa’s labyrinth of small streets (many of which cannot be negotiated by car or bus), the only way to get around much of the city is on foot. This, however, can be a navigational feat that requires a good map. The tourist office gives out terrific maps, but you can also buy an audioguide with map that really helps you navigate the small vicoli or backstreets. Genovese are usually happy to direct visitors, but given the geography with which they are dealing, their instructions can be complicated.

BY BUS    Bus tickets (1.50€) are available at newsstands and at ticket booths, tabacchi (tobacconists, marked by a brown and white t sign), and at the train stations; look for the symbol AMT (www.amt.genova.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-558-2414). Otherwise, they cost 2.50€ on board. You must stamp your ticket when you board. Bus tickets can also be used on the funiculars and public elevators that climb the city’s steep hills surrounding the ancient core of the town. Tickets good for 24 hours cost 4.50€, or 9€ for four people (two people travel for free). You can also buy a pack of 10 single tickets for 14€.

BY TAXI    Metered taxis, which you can find at cabstands, are a convenient and safe way to get around Genoa at night if you are tired of navigating mazelike streets or trying to decipher the city’s elaborate bus system. For instance, you may well want to consider taking a taxi from a restaurant in the Old Town to your hotel or to one of the train stations (especially Stazione Brignole, which is a bit farther). Cabstands at Piazza della Nunziata, Piazza Fontane Marose, and Piazza de Ferrari are especially convenient to the Old Town, or call a radio taxi at Black-Phone_bphone 010-5966.

BY SUBWAY    The city’s nascent subway system is a work in progress, as there are still only seven stops on a single line between Piazza De Ferrari and a suburb to the northwest called Certosa (there are convenient stops in between at Stazione Principe and at Dinegro close to the ferry port). The tickets are the same as those used for the bus.

FESTIVALS & MARKETS    In June, an ancient tradition continues when Genoa takes to the sea in the Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare (not to be confused with Venice’s own Regata Storica, competing against crews from its ancient maritime rivals, Amalfi, Pisa, and Venice, who host the event in turn. Another spectacular—though more modern—regatta takes place every April, the Millevele, or Thousand Sails, when Genoa’s bay is carpeted with the mainsails and spinnakers of nautical enthusiasts from around the world.

The Mercato Orientale, Genoa’s sprawling indoor food market, evokes the days when ships brought back spices and other commodities from the ends of the earth. Still a boisterous affair and an excellent place to stock up on olives, herbs, fresh fruit, and other Ligurian products, it is held Monday through Saturday 7:30am to 1pm and 3:30 to 7:30pm, with entrances on Via XX Settembre and Via Galata (about halfway between Piazza de Ferrari at the edge of the Old Town and Stazione Brignole). The district just north of the market (especially Via San Vincenzo and Via Colombo) is a gourmand’s dream, with many bakeries, pasticcerie (pastry shops), and stores selling pasta and cheese, wine, olive oil, and other foodstuffs.

CITY LAYOUT    Genoa extends for miles along the coast, with neighborhoods and suburbs tucked into valleys and climbing the city’s many hills. Most sights of interest are in the Old Town, a fascinating jumble of old palazzi, laundry-festooned tenements, cramped squares, and tiny lanes and alleyways clustered on the eastern side of the old port. The city’s two train stations are located on either side of the Old Town. As confusing as Genoa’s topography is, wherever you are in the Old Town, you are only a short walk or bus or taxi ride from one of these two stations. Stazione Principe is the closest, just to the west; from Piazza Acquaverde, in front of the station, follow Via Balbi through Piazza della Nunziata and Via Bensa to Via Cairoli, which runs into Via Garibaldi (the walk will take about 15 min.). Via Garibaldi, lined with a succession of majestic palazzi, forms the northern flank of the Old Town and is the best place to begin your explorations. Many of the city’s most important museums and other major monuments are on and around this street, and from here you can descend into the warren of little lanes, known as caruggi, that lead through the cluttered heart of the city and down to the port.

   A Cumulative Ticket

Admission to Genoa’s major palaces and art galleries is grouped together on the Card Musei (12€ for 1 day, 16€ for 2; 14€ and 20€ respectively also gets you unlimited use of the city’s public transport), which includes entrance to the principal palaces, the Museo Sant’Agostino, San Lorenzo, the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, the Museo di Palazzo Reale, and a handful of other museums around town, plus a discount on admission to the aquarium and movie theaters. Pick it up at any city museum, the airport tourist office, or in one of several bookstores downtown (www.visitgenoa.it).

From Stazione Brignole, walk straight across the broad, open space to Piazza della Vittoria/Via Luigi Cadorna and turn right to follow broad Via XX Settembre, one of the city’s major shopping avenues, due west for about 15 or 20 minutes to Piazza de Ferrari, which is on the eastern edge of the Old Town. From here, Via San Lorenzo, accessed by exiting the southwest corner of the square, will lead you past Genoa’s cathedral and to the port. To reach Via Garibaldi, go north from Piazza de Ferrari on Via XXV Aprile to Piazza delle Fontane Marose. This busy square marks the eastern end of Via Garibaldi.

facts_factfacts GENOA

Bookstores    Genoa’s best source for English-language books and other media is Feltrinelli, Via Ceccardi 16, near Piazza De Ferrari, just off of Via XX Settembre (www.lafeltrinelli.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-573-331).

Crime    Genoa is a relatively safe city, but some of the very small alleyways of the Old Town near the port can be sketchy at night, and even during the day they can sometimes make you feel unsafe. Wait for other people, preferably locals, before entering little-trafficked alleyways and avoid any streets that make you feel uneasy. In an emergency, call Black-Phone_bphone 113; this is a free call. There is a police station on the cusp of the Old Town and the port at Via Balbi 38/B (Black-Phone_bphone 010-254-871).

Drugstores    Pharmacies keep extended hours on a rotating basis; dial Black-Phone_bphone 192 to learn which ones are open late in a particular week. Usually open overnight are Pescetto, Via Balbi 185r (Black-Phone_bphone 010-246-2697), across from Stazione Principe; and Europa, Corso Europa 676 (Black-Phone_bphone 010-397-615).

Emergencies    The general emergency number is Black-Phone_bphone 113; for an ambulance, dial Black-Phone_bphone 118. Both are free calls.

Holidays    Genoa’s patron saint, San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist), is the same as Turin’s and is honored on June 24. For a list of official state holidays, see p. 31.

Hospitals    The Ospedale San Martino, Largo Rosanna Benzi 10 (Black-Phone_bphone 010-5551), offers a variety of medical services.

Laundry    There is a self-service laundromat, Lavanderia Self-Service, at Via Gramsci 181R (Black-Phone_bphone 340-235-1492; Mon–Sat 9am–6pm).

Luggage Storage    The luggage storage office in Stazione Principe is along track 11 and is open daily 7am to 11pm; the fee is 4€ per piece of baggage for the first 5 hours. It is an additional .60€ per hour for the next 7 hours and then an additional .20€ per hour after that. In Stazione Brignole the storage office is on the ground floor (same hours and rates as Principe), but was closed at press time while the station is under construction.

Post Office    Genoa’s main post office is at Piazza Dante 4 (Black-Phone_bphone 010-591-762). This office is open Monday through Saturday 8:10am to 7:40pm, while the other offices around town—including those at the two train stations and the airport—have shorter hours.

Telephone    The area code for Genoa is Black-Phone_bphone 010.

Travel Services    CTS, Via Colombo 21R (Black-Phone_bphone 010-564-366), specializes in budget travel. It’s open Monday to Friday 9:30am to 6:30pm.

Where to Stay

Despite the draw of the aquarium and its intriguing Old Town, Genoa is still geared more to business travelers. There has been a pleasant boom of new quality accommodations sprouting up as the city starts to make a slight turn toward becoming more tourist-friendly. Keep in mind, the city books up solid during its annual boat show, the world’s largest, in October. It is best to avoid hotels in the heart of the Old Town, especially around the harbor, as many are a little sketchy. The upper end of the price range given in most cases is applied only the week of the boat show and the maximum the rest of the year is considerably lower, sometimes as much as 25%.

EXPENSIVE

Hotel Bristol Palace Red-Star1_redstar1    This 19th-century palazzo is one of Genoa’s most regal and popular hotels with its opulent oval staircase and beautiful stained-glass dome. Located in the middle of the city’s shopping district, it is surprisingly quiet (with soundproof windows) and perfectly located for exploring the sites and doing a little damage to the wallet. The rooms and bathrooms have all been renovated in classic taste, and the latest addition of the outdoor dining terrace adds even more appeal to this oasis-like lodging in the city center. Although the rack rates are high, you can almost always find a deal online and for weekends.

Via XX Settembre 35. www.hotelbristolpalace.com. Red-Phone_redphone 010-592-541. 33 units. 119€–470€ double; 249€–699€ junior suite. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking in garage 25€. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; bikes; concierge; room service; smoke-free rooms, Wi-Fi (free).

MODERATE

Best Western Hotel Metropoli Red-Star2_redstar2    Located on the corner of a lovely square and a pedestrian-only street entering in the historical center, Hotel Metropoli offers very good lodging with modern amenities, a robust breakfast, and good service. Guest rooms can be basic and a bit business-like but they are soundproof, clean, and comfortable, with refurbished bathrooms. The staff can help you plan a day of exploring.

Piazza delle Fontane Marose. www.hotelmetropoli.it. Red-Phone_redphone 010-246-8888. 48 units. 93€–246€ double; 99€–260€ triple. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 20€ in nearby garage. Amenities: Bar; room service; smoke-free rooms, Wi-Fi (free).

INEXPENSIVE

Agnello d’Oro Red-Star1_redstar1    It’s all about location at this converted convent turned low-cost locanda. It is just a few blocks away from Stazione Principe and on the edge of the Old Town, which can be viewed from the hotel terrace. Most of the rooms are very basic (think modular, modern furniture without much personality), but some still retain the building’s original 16th-century character, with high ceilings (rooms numbered in teens) or vaulted ones (rooms numbered under 10). Some top-floor rooms come with the added charm of balconies and views over the Old Town and harbor (best from no. 56). There’s an apartment (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms) that sleeps six, perfect for those traveling with a few kids or on a tight budget. The owner is friendly, helpful with sightseeing tips, and offers the occasional free aperitivo for guests.

Via Monachette 6, off Via Balbi. www.hotelagnellodoro.it. Red-Phone_redphone 010-246-2084. 17 units. 70€–100€ double; 160€ for 4 people in 3-bedroom apt., 2 more people can be added for 20€ each. Rates include breakfast. Private parking 15€–25€. Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; smoke-free rooms, Wi-Fi (free).

Where to Eat

La Berlocca Red-Star1_redstar1 GENOVESE    Once a simple farinata (chickpea pancake) shop is now a cozy trattoria serving good food and wine at decent prices, and located in the historical center just a few steps from the port. Dishes are typically Ligurian and include choices from both the sea and garden, all thoughtfully prepared. Try the signature buridda, a traditional dish of salted cod, tomatoes, and herbs. There’s also a variety of homemade pasta dishes.

Via dei Macelli di Soziglia 47r. Red-Phone_redphone 010-247-4162. Main courses 12€–18€. Tues–Sat noon–3pm and 7–11pm; Sun lunch only, with reservation. Closed last week of July to 3rd week of Aug.

Maxelâ Red-Star1_redstar1 MEAT/LIGURIAN    This butcher shop/restaurant is located in the historical center in what is called Soziglia, the “old via of butcher shops”; the locale itself oozes with old-world charm. Enter through the butcher shop where diners are invited to choose their cut; you have the choice of having your meat served raw (tartar), grilled, or pan-fried. Next door, the dining room features stone and brick arches, light green tiles irregularly arranged on the walls, and dark wood tables topped with slabs of white marble. Price-fixed meals (ranging from 12€–30€) are available at lunch and dinner, and there’s a decent wine list to complement your meal.

Vico inferiore del ferro 9. Red-Phone_redphone 010-247-4209. Main courses 15€–20€. Mon–Sat noon–2:30pm and 7:30–10:30pm.

Trattoria da Maria Red-Star2_redstar2 LIGURIAN    One of the simplest trattorias also happens to be one of Genoa’s most famous eateries. Sit side by side with lawyers, construction workers, students, and tourists, ignore the unattractive decor, and concentrate on the great mix of dishes this Genovese institution has to offer on its menu that changes daily. Enjoy flavorful, no-nonsense dishes such as the near-perfect pesto, stuffed anchovies, and even simple fish sautéed in white wine. Note: Maria has finally retired and the kitchen is in new hands. Although still a good choice, those who ate there under the former cook may be slightly disappointed.

Vico Testadoro 14r (just off Via XXV Aprile). Red-Phone_redphone 010-581-080. Primi and main courses 5€–9€. Sun and Tues–Fri 11:45am–2:15pm and 7–9:15pm; Mon 11:45am–2:45pm.

Exploring Genoa

Acquario di Genova (Aquarium of Genoa) Red-Star3_redstar3 AQUARIUM    Europe’s largest aquarium is Genoa’s biggest draw and a must-see for travelers with children. The structure alone is remarkable, resembling a ship and built alongside a pier in the old harbor; it’s about a 15-minute walk from Stazione Principe and 10 minutes from Via Garibaldi. Inside, more than 50 aquatic displays re-create Red Sea coral reefs, pools in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon River basin, and other marine ecosystems that provide a pleasant home for sharks, seals, dolphins, penguins, piranhas, and just about every other known kind of creature that has lived in the sea, lakes, or near a major river. Look out for the tiny orange frogs from Madagascar the size of a thumbnail. During the day, playful seals and dolphins blow trick bubbles. Descriptions are posted in English, and there’s a 3-D film on ocean life (ask for printed English narration).

Ponte Spinola (at the port). www.acquariodigenova.it. Red-Phone_redphone 010-23451. Admission 18€ adults, 16€ for seniors 65 and over, 12€ children 4–12. Mon–Fri 9:30am–7:30pm; Sat–Sun 9:30am–8:30pm (July–Aug daily until 10:30pm). Bus: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, or 15. Metro: Darsena.

The black-and-white marble facade of Cattedrale di San Lorenzo.

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo Red-Star1_redstar1 CATHEDRAL    The austerity of this black-and-white-striped 12th-century structure is enlivened ever so slightly by the fanciful French Gothic carvings around the portal and the presence of two stone lions. A later addition is the bell tower, completed in the 16th century. In the frescoed interior, chapels house two of Genoa’s most notable curiosities: Beyond the first pilaster on the right is a shell fired through the roof from a British ship offshore during World War II that never exploded, and in the Cappella di San Giovanni (left aisle), a 13th-century crypt contains what crusaders returning from the Holy Land claimed to be relics of John the Baptist. Fabled tableware of doubtful provenance appears to be a quirk of the adjoining treasury: the plate upon which Saint John’s head was supposedly served to Salome, a bowl allegedly used at the Last Supper, and a bowl thought at one time to be the Holy Grail. The less fabled but nonetheless magnificent gold and bejeweled objects here reflect Genoa’s medieval prominence as a maritime power. Entrance to the treasury is only by guided tour and though they are in Italian, it’s interesting to see what is inside even if the extent of your Italian is gelato and pizza.

Piazza San Lorenzo. Red-Phone_redphone 010-254-1250. Cathedral admission free; treasury 5.50€ adults, 4.50€ seniors and students. Cathedral: Mon–Sat 9am–noon and 3–6pm. Treasury: By half-hour guided tour only (ask when you get there) Mon–Sat 9am–noon and 3–6pm. Bus: 1, 7, 8, 17, 18, 19, or 20.

Galata Museo del Mare (Museum of the Seas) Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM     Genoa’s livelihood has always been linked to the sea, and you can wander the port to see boats of every size and facet, but to truly learn about and appreciate the maritime history of Genoa, a visit to the Galata is a must. The building itself is the oldest surviving construction of the dockyard from the old Republic, where the Genovese galleys were built during the 17th century. You enter into the gallery dedicated to the old port with paintings and artifacts of the period, and then it’s on to the fantastic, full-scale reproduction of a Genovese “attack ship” (known as a galley), with fun artifacts and props, and good English translation that will engage all ages.

   Fast . . . and, Oh, So Good

All over Genoa you’ll find shops selling focaccia, Liguria’s answer to pizza, a sort of thick flatbread often stuffed or topped with cheese, herbs, olives, onions, vegetables, or prosciutto. Many of these focaccerie also sell farinata, a chickpea pancake that usually emerges from the oven in the shape of a big round pizza. Just point and make a hand gesture to show how much you want. Prices are by weight and in most cases a piece of either will cost about 1.50€ to 3€. Most focaccia, especially if it has cheese, and all farinata are better warm so if the piece you are getting looks like it has been there a while ask for it to be warmed up.

 A favorite spot for both snacks, and right near Stazione Principe, is La Focacceria di Teobaldo Black-Star1_bstar1, Via Balbi 115r (daily 8am–8pm). Focacceria di Via Lomellini Black-Star1_bstar1, on Via Lomellini 57/59 in the heart of the Old Town (Mon–Sat 8am–7:30pm), has great focaccia di Recco (also called focaccia al formaggio), a super-thin focaccia filled with cheese that is the specialty of the nearby town of Recco. Focaccia & Co., Piazza Macelli di Soziglia 91r (Mon–Sat 7am–7:30pm), is right across from Fratelli Klainguti, Piazza Macelli di Soziglia 98; Black-Phone_bphone 010-860-2628, so you can follow up your focaccia with something sweet. Down at Porto Antico, get your focaccia fix (you will be addicted after your first taste) at Il Localino, Via Turati 8r (Mon–Sat 9am–7pm).

Ponte Parodi (at the port). www.galatamuseodelmare.it. Red-Phone_redphone 010-234-5655. Admission 11€ adults, 9€ seniors 65 and over, 6€ children 4–12. Mar–Oct daily 10am–7pm; Nov–Feb Tues–Fri 10am–6pm, Sat–Sun 10am–7:30pm (last entry 90 min. before closing). Bus: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, or 15. Metro: Darsena (a 10-min. walk to the aquarium or hop on the 1€ shuttle).

Galleria di Palazzo Bianco (White Palace) Red-Star2_redstar2 MUSEUM     Palazzo Bianco (the White Palace) can be considered the oldest and, at the same time, the most recent of the magnificent buildings fronting the “Strada Nuova.” It was built during the mid-16th century by Luca Grimaldi, a member of one of the most important Genovese families. Yet the gorgeoous white facade one sees today was actually reconstructed in the 18th century. Maria Durazzo Brignole-Sale de Ferrari donated both the palace and her art collection to the city in 1884. Her preference for painters of Spanish and Flemish schools is obvious. Van Dyck, Rubens, Filippino Lippi, Veronese, and Caravaggio all are represented here but the museum’s most notable holding is “Portrait of a Lady,” by Lucas Cranach the Elder. A small rooftop terrace offers (for a fee of 3€) panoramic views of the city.

Via Garibaldi 11. www.palazzobianco.museidigenova.it. Red-Phone_redphone 010-557-2193. Admission 12€ adults, free for EU citizens 18 and under; includes entrance to Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi. Tues–Fri 9am–7pm; Sat–Sun 10am–7pm. Bus: 18, 19, 20, 30, 35, 37, 39, 40, 41, or 42.

Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola Red-Star1_redstar1 MUSEUM    Another prominent Genovese family, the Spinolas, donated their palace and magnificent art collection to the city only recently, in 1958. One of the pleasures of viewing these works is seeing them amid the frescoed splendor in which the city’s merchant/banking families once lived. As in Genoa’s other art collections, you will find masterworks that range far beyond native artists like Strozzi, da Messina, Reni, Giordano, and De Ferrari, plus van Dyck and other painters of the Dutch and Flemish schools, whom Genoa’s wealthy were so fond of importing to paint their portraits.

Piazza Pellicceria 1. Red-Phone_redphone 010-270-5300. Admission 4€ adults, 2€ for ages 18–25, free for those under 18 or 65 and over, or pay 12€ for a Card Musei cumulative ticket (see box below). Tues–Sat 8:30am–7:30pm; Sun 1:30–7:30pm. Bus: 1, 3, 7, 8, 18, 20, or 34.

Piazza Dante    Though most of this square just south of Piazza de Ferrari is made of 1930s office buildings, one end is bounded by the twin round towers of the reconstructed Porta Soprana Black-Star2_bstar2, a town gate built in 1155. The main draw, though, is the small house (rebuilt in the 18th c.), still standing a bit incongruously in a tidy little park below the gate, said to have belonged to Christopher Columbus’s father, who was a weaver and gatekeeper (whether young Christopher lived here is open to debate).

Bus: 14, 35, 42, 44, or 46.

Via Garibaldi Red-Star2_redstar2    Many of Genoa’s museums and other sights are clustered on and around this street, also known as Strada Nuova, one of the most beautiful in Italy, where Genoa’s wealthy families built palaces in the 16th and 17th centuries. Aside from the art collections housed in the Galleria di Palazzo Bianco and Galleria di Palazzo Rosso (see above), the street contains a wealth of other treasures. The Palazzo Podesta, at no. 7, hides one of the city’s most beautiful fountains in its courtyard, and the Palazzo Tursi, at no. 9, now housing municipal offices, proudly displays artifacts of famous locals: letters written by Christopher Columbus and the violin of Nicolo Paganini (which is still played on special occasions).

Admission free when the offices are open: Mon–Fri 8:30am–noon and 1–4pm. Bus: 19, 20, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 41, or 42.

Genoa’s twisting alleyways.

Entertainment & Nightlife

The Old Town, some parts of which are sketchy in broad daylight, is especially unseemly at night. Confine late-hour prowls in this area to the well-trafficked streets such as Via San Lorenzo and Via Garibaldi. On the edges of the Old Town, good places to walk at night are around the waterfront, Piazza Fontane Marose, Piazza de Ferrari, and Piazza delle Erbe, where many bars and clubs are located.

PERFORMING ARTS    Genoa has two major venues for culture: the restored Teatro Carlo Felice, Piazza de Ferrari (www.carlofelice.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-589-329), which is home to Genoa’s opera company, and the modern Teatro Stabile di Genova (www.teatrostabilegenova.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-53-421), on Piazza Borgo Pila near Stazione Brignole, which hosts concerts, dance, and other cultural programs.

BARS & CLUBS    New Yorkers will recognize the name and chic ambience in I Tre Merli Antica Cantina, at Vico Dietro il Coro della Maddalena 26r (www.itremerli.it; Black-Phone_bphone 010-247-4095), which does a brisk business in Manhattan with four restaurants. Here in Genoa, I Tre Merli operates a couple of enoteche (wine bars), and this one, located on a narrow street just off Via Garibaldi, is delightful, even if the surrounding alleyways are sometimes seedy. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday 7pm to 1am. I Tre Merli also has an enoteca and “affittacamere” (rooms for rent) in Camogli.

THE RIVIERA DI PONENTE: SAN REMO

140km (87 miles) W of Genoa, 56km (35 miles) E of Nice

Gone are the days when Tchaikovsky and the Russian empress Maria Alexandrovna joined a well-heeled mix of nobils strolling along San Remo’s palm-lined avenues. They left behind an onion-domed Orthodox church, a few grand hotels, and a casino, but San Remo is a different sort of town these days. It’s still the most cosmopolitan stop on the Riviera di Ponente, as the stretch of coast west of Genoa is called, and caters mostly to sun-seeking Italian families in the summer and Milanese who come down in the winter months to get away from the fog and chilly temperatures of their city.

San Remo is an excellent base from which to explore the rocky coast and Ligurian hills. So is charming Bordighera, a quieter resort just up the coast. With excellent train and bus connections, both are within easy reach of a full itinerary of fascinating stops, including Giardini Hanbury, one of Europe’s most exquisite gardens; the fascinating prehistoric remains at Balzi Rossi; and Dolceacqua, perhaps the most enticing of all the inland Ligurian villages.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    There are trains hourly in both directions between San Remo and Genoa (2–3 hr.); trains from Genoa continue west for another 20 minutes to Ventimiglia on the French border. Some trains continue on into France, otherwise you can cross the border on one of the twice-hourly trains to Nice, 50 minutes west.

Riviera Trasporti buses (www.rivieratrasporti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0183-7001) run every 15 minutes between San Remo and Bordighera (20 min.) and many of them continue on to Ventimiglia (40 min. from San Remo).

The fastest driving route in and out of San Remo is Autostrada A10, which follows the coast from the French border (20 min. away) to Genoa (about 45 min. away). The slower coast road, SS1, cuts right through the center of town and is the best option if you are not going very far (Bordighera and Ventimiglia are reached more quickly on the SS1, traffic permitting).

VISITOR INFORMATION    The APT tourist board is at Largo Nuvoloni 1 (www.turismoinliguria.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0184-590-523; Mon–Sat 8am–7pm, Sun 9am–1pm), at the corner with Corso Imperatrice/Corso Matteotti (cross the street from the old train station and go to the left a few hundred ft.).

   A Day at the Beach

The pebbly beach below the Passeggiata dell’Imperatrice is lined with beach stations, where many visitors choose to spend their days: easy to do, because most provide showers, snack bars, and beach chairs, lounges, and umbrellas. Expect to spend up to 15€ for a basic lounge, but more like 20€ for a more elaborate sun-bed arrangement with umbrella. Note: As is standard at most European resort towns without “public” sections of beach (which are usually not very nice anyway), you cannot go onto the beach without paying for at least a lounge chair.

FESTIVALS    Since the 1950s, the Sanremo Festival (mid- to late February; www.sanremo.rai.it) has been Italy’s premier music fest, sort of an Italian Grammy Awards, only spread out over several days with far more live performances—by Italian pop stars, international headliners, and plenty of up-and-coming performers. Hotels book up and down the coast (and into France) months in advance. Call the tourist office if you want to try to score tickets.

Where to Eat & Stay

Ristorante L’Airone Red-Star1_redstar1 LIGURIAN/PIZZA    This is a cute and always happening restaurant/pizzeria on a pedestrian-only street in the town center that serves consistently good food at decent prices. The extensive menu features mostly traditional Ligurian dishes, such as spaghetti alla vongole (with clams) and trofiette al pesto, but the thin-crust pizza is also excellent. While the decor is cozy and inviting inside, you can also dine in their small garden or in the piazza that fronts the restaurant. Note that pizza is served only in the evening except for Tuesday and on Saturdays, also at lunchtime. The place fills up fast, so reservations are recommended for dinner.

Piazza Eroi Sanremesi 12. www.ristorantelairone.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0184-541-055. Main courses 7€–17€. Sat–Wed noon–2:30pm; Fri–Wed 7:30–11:30pm.

Hotel Villa Maria Red-Star2_redstar2    Located on the hillside just above the casino and a quick stroll to the beach, Villa Maria offers comfort and quality in a lovely setting. The hotel’s atttributes and reasonable rates make the somewhat outdated style of the guest rooms forgivable. Originally three separate villas, the hotel is spacious and almost regal with its many salons decorated in tasteful fashion from the heydays of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Many of these public rooms open to a nicely planted terrace. Pleasant gardens are filled with beautiful roses that flourish all year in the mild winter of the Italian Riviera. Several rooms have balconies facing the sea, and because room sizes vary considerably, ask specifically about what’s available when booking or ask to see a few upon arrival.

Corso Nuvoloni 30. www.villamariahotel.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0184-531-422. 38 units, 36 with private bathroom. 70€–140€ double. For half-board (required Easter, Christmas, and Aug 1–15), add 30€ per person. Rates include continental breakfast. Free parking. Amenities: Restaurant; concierge; room service; smoke-free rooms.

The city of San Remo.

Royal Hotel Red-Star3_redstar3    Thanks to a much-needed restoration, old-world charm and luxury can still be found at this sprawling resort that’s within walking distance of the old town and directly across from the sea. The majority of rooms have sea views and are tastefully decorated. The gardens and sea water pool are spectacular and allow some reprieve from the sun and heat during the summer months. Of course, with any 5-star luxury property comes jaw-dropping prices—even in the off season.

Corso Imepratrice 80. www.royalhotelsanremo.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0184-5391. 126 units. 279€–663€ double. Rates include abundant buffet breakfast. Free parking. Amenities: 3 Restaurants; bar; 24-hour room service; babysitting; kid’s club; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

Exploring San Remo

San Remo’s underground railway station, buried into the coastal hills much like its counterpart in nearby Monaco, is sleek and clean, but there are a few disadvantages. For one thing, the walk from the tracks to the exit is formidable (Note: Leave plenty of time to catch a train), and the walk from there to the center of town is also considerably longer than from the old station in centro. This leads to the final problem: More than a decade after the inauguration of the new station, some locals might give you directions to a hotel, restaurant, and such, referring to the “train station,” when, in fact, they mean the former station.

To get downtown from the new train station, walk straight out of the exit, cross Corso Cavallotti, and continue downhill until you reach Corso Trento e Trieste. Take a right on that road, which hugs the shore and leads to the old port.

To the right of the old station are the beginnings of Via Roma and Corso Matteotti, San Remo’s two main thoroughfares. Corso Matteotti will lead you past the casino and into the heart of the lively business district. Continue on that until it runs into Piazza Colombo and the flower market. If, instead, you turn left (north) on Via Feraldi about midway down Corso Matteotti, you will find yourself in the charming older precincts of town. Continue through Piazza degli Eroi Sanremesi to Piazza Mercato, where Via Montà leads into the old medieval quarter, La Pigna. The hill on which this fascinating district is located resembles a pine cone in its shape, hence the name. Aside from a few restaurants, La Pigna is a residential quarter, with tall old houses that overshadow the narrow lanes that twist and turn up the hillside to the park-enclosed ruins of a castle at the top.

VISITING THE CASINO

San Remo’s white palace of a casino (www.casinosanremo.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0184-5951), set intimidatingly atop a long flight of steps across from the old train station and enclosed on three sides by Corso degli Inglesi, is the hub of the local nightlife scene. You can’t step foot inside without being properly attired (jacket for gents Oct–June) and showing your passport. You must be 18 or older to enter. There are poker tables starting at 2€ games, but there are more serious tables that attract high rollers from the length of the Riviera. Gaming rooms are open daily 2:30pm to 2:30am. Things are more relaxed in the rooms set aside for slot machines, where there is no dress code. They are open Sunday to Friday 10am to 2:30am.

THE RIVIERA DI LEVANTE Red-Star2_redstar2: CAMOGLI, SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE & PORTOFINO

Camogli: 26km (16 miles) E of Genoa; Santa Margherita Ligure: 31km (19 miles) E of Genoa; Portofino: 38km (24 miles) E of Genoa; Rapallo: 37km (23 miles) E of Genoa

The coast east of Genoa, the Riviera di Levante (Shore of the Rising Sun), is more ruggedly beautiful than the Riviera Ponente, less developed, and hugged by mountains that plunge into the sapphire-colored sea. Three of the coast’s most appealing towns are within a few kilometers of one another, clinging to the shores of the Monte Portofino Promontory just east of Genoa: Camogli, Santa Margherita Ligure, and little Portofino.

Camogli

Camogli remains delightfully unspoiled, an authentic Ligurian fishing port with tall houses in pastel colors facing the harbor and a nice swath of beach. Given also its excellent accommodations and eateries, Camogli is a lovely place to base yourself while exploring the Riviera Levante. It’s also a restful retreat from which you can explore Genoa, which is only about 30 minutes away. One interpretation of Camogli’s name is that it derived from “Ca de Mogge,” or “House of the Wives” in the local dialect, so named for the women who held down the fort while their husbands went to sea. Another possibility is that it comes from “Ca a Muggi,” or “clustered houses,” which will seem apt when you are out swimming in the sea and turn to look up at the town’s wonderful agglomeration of colorful buildings. Other interpretations of the name abound.

ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE    One to three trains per hour ply the coastline, connecting Camogli with Genoa (30–45 min.), Santa Margherita (5 min.), Monterosso (50–60 min.), and other Cinque Terre towns.

There is at least one Tigullio (www.tigulliotrasporti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-373-239bus an hour, often more, from Santa Margherita; because the bus must go around and not under the Monte Portofino Promontory, the trip takes quite a bit longer (about 30 min.) than the train.

In summer, boats operated by Golfo Paradiso (www.golfoparadiso.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-772-091) sail from Camogli to Portofino.

The fastest car route into the region is Autostrada A12 from Genoa; exit at Recco for Camogli (the trip takes about 15 min.). Route SS1 along the coast from Genoa is much slower but more scenic. In the summer months, parking in Camogli can be a challenge.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office is across from the train station at Via XX Settembre 33 (www.prolococamogli.it or www.portofinocoast.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-771-066). It’s open Monday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 3 to 7pm (Mar–Oct 9am–noon and 3–6:30pm), Sunday 9am to 12:30pm.

FESTIVALS & MARKETS    Camogli throws a well-attended annual party, the Sagra del Pesce Black-Star2_bstar2, on the second Sunday of May, where the town fries up thousands of sardines in a 3.6m-diameter (12-ft.) pan and passes them around for free—a practice that is accompanied by an annual outcry in the press about health concerns and even accusations that frozen fish is used.

The first Sunday of August, Camogli stages the lovely Festa della Stella Maris, during which a procession of boats sails to Punta Chiappa, a spot of land about 1.5km (1 mile) down the coast, and releases 10,000 burning candles. Meanwhile, the same number of candles is set afloat from the Camogli beach. If currents are favorable, the burning candles will come together at sea, signifying a year of unity for couples who watch the spectacle.

WHERE TO EAT & STAY

Bar Primula Red-Star1_redstar1 CAFE/LIGHT FARE    This is considered the “main bar” of Camogli with a prime position along the lungomare (promenade). A limited menu of pasta and main courses is served at either lunch or dinner, but Primula is mostly a good spot for simple foods like panini, salads, and the early-evening aperitivo.

Via Garibaldi 140. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-770-351. Pizzas/main courses 9€–15€. Daily 9am–1am.

Vento Ariel Red-Star2_redstar2 SEAFOOD    We love the old port setting of this popular restaurant almost as much we love its food. Make your way through the medieval archway connecting the lungomare to the old port and you’ll find the restaurant nestled in the corner facing the gozzi (fishing boats of the old harbor). Seafood is done right, with such succulent dishes as patè di seppie (cuttlefish mousse), acchiuge ripiene (stuffed anchovies) and oven-baked (under a blanket of salt) fresh fish from the gulf (the salt is removed before serving). The wine list is extensive and contains some local, hard-to-find bottles of Vermentino and Pigato, plus the wonderful whites of Liguria. If you can, grab a table outside to drink in the local ambience as well. Reservations are highly recommended.

Calata Porto. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-577-1080. Main courses 15€–25€. Sun 12:30–2:30pm and Wed–Sun 5:30–10pm.

Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi Red-Star2_redstar2    The spectacular position of this resort, combined with the beautifully manicured grounds and old-world charm of the main building, make this Camogli’s most popular (and most expensive) hotel. The rooms come in various shapes and sizes, and for the most part, are tastefully decorated with a mix of tradition and island flair. (Note: There is a big difference in size and style between the standard and classic rooms.) The large pool area and private beach—one part terraced stone, one part pebbles—are gorgeous and inviting, making up for the somewhat aloof attitude of the staff.

Via Cuneo 34. www.cenobio.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-7241. 108 units. 200€–240€ standard double with garden view; 240€–330€ standard double with sea view; 240€–290€ classic double with garden view; 370€–450€ classic double with sea view. Rates include buffet breakfast and beach facilities. Free parking. Amenities: 2 restaurants, 2 bars; babysitting; concierge; nearby golf course; outdoor saltwater pool; outdoor lighted tennis courts; watersports equipment/rentals; Wi-Fi (free).

La Camogliese Red-Star2_redstar2    This hotel is super basic, but it’s affordable and perfectly located at the entrance of the old village. The large, bright rooms have simple modular furniture and comfortable beds; a few have balconies that require a slight twist of the head to take in the sea view (best from rooms 3 and 16B). Bathrooms are small even by Italian standards, but adequate. Don’t stay here to lounge in your room or the hotel’s communal areas; but do come for the price and location (which make the hotel fill up fast, especially on weekends and in the summer—book early).

Via Garibaldi 55. www.lacamogliese.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-771-402. 21 units. 80€–115€ double. 2- to 4-night required minimum stay. Rates include breakfast. Parking 15€ (reserve in advance). Amenities: Babysitting; concierge; exercise room; outdoor pool; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

Locanda I Tre Merli Red-Star1_redstar1    This delightful little locanda is right on Camogli’s charming harbor and each of the five cozy guest rooms has a lovely view of the harbor. Warm, fresh focaccia is served in the morning with a sublime cappuccino. When the weather is decent, breakfast is served outside—a real treat and a slice of true Italian seaside life, with boats arriving and departing, fisherman unloading the catch of the day, and families and small children playing football along the walkway. Be patient with the small staff, who speak barely passable English, and focus on what brought you here—the beautiful setting and ambience.

Via Scalo 5. www.locandaitremerli.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-770-592. 5 units. 180€–220€ double; 210€–250€ triple. Amenities: Bar; Wi-Fi (free).

EXPLORING CAMOGLI

Camogli is clustered around its delightful waterfront, from which the town ascends via steep, staircased lanes to Via XX Settembre, one of the few streets in the town proper to accommodate cars (this is where the train station, tourist office, and many shops and other businesses are located). Adding to the charm of this setting is the fact that the oldest part of Camogli juts into the harbor on a little point (once an island) where ancient houses cling to the little Castello Dragone (now closed to the public) and the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-770-130), an originally 12th-century structure that has been much altered through the ages and now has an overwhelming baroque interior that’s open daily 7:30am to noon and 3:30 to 7pm. Most visitors, though, are drawn to the pleasant seaside promenade Black-Star1_bstar1 that runs the length of the town. You can swim from the pebbly beach below, and should you feel your towel doesn’t provide enough comfort, rent a lounge chair from one of the few beach stations for about 15€, highly recommended in the summer months when finding even a small piece of pebbly sand is nearly impossible.

   Focaccia by the Seaside

It might be the perfect seaside setting, or perhaps there is something in the water, but no matter the reason, Camogli has some of the best focaccia in all of Liguria. Along Via Garibaldi, the promenade above the beach, there are many focaccerie to choose from, and though it is hard to go wrong with any of them, Revello, at no. 183 (closest to the church; (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-770-777), stands out. There, Tino carries on the tradition passed down by his uncle, who first began pulling focaccia out of the oven here in 1964. Revello is open Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 6pm (summer until 7pm). There are a few benches outside where you can enjoy your loot while watching the kids play soccer in the little square overlooking the beach. O’Becco next door also makes some mean focaccia—special mention goes to the one with fresh anchovies, parsley, garlic, and olive oil—and U Caruggiu at the other end of Via Garibaldi has kamut (a type of wheat) focaccia on the weekends.

Santa Margherita Ligure

Santa Margherita had one brief moment in the spotlight at the beginning of the 20th century when it was an internationally renowned retreat. Fortunately, the seaside town didn’t let fame spoil its charm, and now that it’s no longer as well-known as its glitzy neighbor Portofino, it could be the Mediterranean retreat of your dreams. A palm-lined harbor, a decent beach, and a friendly ambience make Santa Margherita a fine place to settle down for a few days of sun and relaxation.

ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE    One to three trains per hour connect Santa Margherita with Genoa (25–30 min.), Camogli (5 min.), Rapallo (3 min.), and Monterosso (40–55 min.) of the Cinque Terre.

There is at least one Tigullio bus (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-373-239) an hour to Camogli (30–35 min.) and to Rapallo (10 min.), leaving from Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Buses also follow the stunningly beautiful coastal road to Portofino, leaving every 20 minutes from the train station and Piazza Vittorio Veneto (25 min.).

Tigullio ferries (www.traghettiportofino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-284-670) make hourly trips to Portofino (15 min.) and Rapallo (15 min.). In summer, there is a boat several days a week to the Cinque Terre. Hours of service vary considerably with the season; schedules are posted on the docks at Piazza Martiri della Libertà.

By car, the fastest route into the region is A12 Autostrada from Genoa; the trip takes about half an hour. Route SS1 along the coast from Genoa is much slower but more scenic.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office is near the harbor at Via XXV Aprile 2B (www.turismoinliguria.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-287-485). Summer hours are daily 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 8pm; winter hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 5:30pm.

WHERE TO EAT & STAY

La Paranza Red-Star2_redstar2 GENOVESE/LIGURIAN    If locals say this is one of the best restaurants in town, believe them, but one sitting at this family-run trattoria will have you convinced. The menu is filled with delicious, innovative dishes, from the bianchetti fritti (fried baby sardines) to simply grilled-to-perfection fresh fish. The ambience is nothing special.

Via Jacopo Ruffini 46. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-283-686. Main courses 12€–30€. Sun–Sat 12:30–2:20pm and 7:30–10:30pm. Closed Nov.

Grand Hotel Miramare Red-Star3_redstar3    “Pure Riviera Elegance” can best describe this once private villa turned top-of-its-class hotel. Just a 10-minute walk from the town center along the road to Portofino, this hotel oozes class and money with carefully restored antique furniture and crystal chandeliers. The rooms are of a good size, mostly with parquets floors and charming stucco decorations on the walls and ceilings, although the fifth-floor suites are a bit more modern, larger, and have balconies overlooking the Bay of Tigullio. A lovely (but steep) park rises behind the hotel, from which one can take a pleasant hiking trail to Portofino and enjoy fantastic views of the land and sea. You can also relax at their small, private pebble beach/beach terrace across the busy road.

Via Milite Ignoto 30. www.grandhotelmiramare.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-287-013. 84 units. 255€–397€ double with park view; 305€–458€ double with sea view. Parking 25€. Amenities: 2 restaurants, 2 bars; babysitting; concierge; outdoor heated saltwater pool; room service; nearby sauna; nearby golf, tennis, and exercise room; watersports equipment/rentals, Wi-Fi (free).

Hotel Metropole Red-Star2_redstar2    This popular hotel is just above the port and a 5-minute stroll from the center. Accommodations are split between the main, modern building and the far-preferable Villa Porticciolo, a dusty red villa right on the beach; the rooms are smaller in the latter, but they’re graced with 19th-century stuccoes, and the sea laps practically up against the building. Six rooms on the far end of the garden have large terraces. All other guest rooms have large balconies. The fourth floor is made up of junior suites and one double with sloped ceilings. Two suites on the lower floor of the main building open onto small private gardens. Several rooms can be joined to make family suites, and there’s day care at the beach, with a separate area of sand just for the kiddies. The small private beach includes a curving sunbathing terrace and a private boat launch.

Via Pagana 2, Santa Margherita Ligure (GE). www.metropole.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-286-134. 58 units. 104€–290€ double; 154€–334€ double with half board; 178€–358€ double with full board. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 15€ outside or 18€ in private garage. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; babysitting; children’s center (in summer); nearby golf course; small exercise room; swimming pool; sauna; watersports equipment/rentals, Wi-Fi (free).

EXPLORING SANTA MARGHERITA

Life in Santa Margherita centers on its palm-fringed waterfront, a pleasant string of marinas, docks for pleasure and fishing boats, and pebbly beaches, in some spots with imported sand of passable quality. Landlubbers congregate in the cafes that spill out into the town’s two seaside squares, Piazza Martiri della Libertà and Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

The train station is on a hill above the waterfront, and a staircase in front of the entrance will lead you down into the heart of town. Santa Margherita’s one landmark of note is its namesake Basilica di Santa Margherita (open daily 7:30am–noon and 2:30–7pm), just off the seafront on Piazza Caprera and well worth a visit to view the extravagant, gilded, chandeliered interior.

AN EXCURSION TO SAN FRUTTUOSO

Much of the Monte Portofino Promontory can be approached only on foot or by boat (see below), making it a prime destination for hikers. If you want to combine some excellent exercise with the pleasure of glimpsing magnificent views of the sea through a lush forest, arm yourself with a map from the tourist offices in Camogli, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, or Rapallo and set out. You can explore the upper reaches of the promontory or aim for the Abbazia di San Fruttuoso (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-772-703), a medieval abbey that is surrounded by a tiny six-house hamlet and two pebbly beaches. It is about 21⁄2 hours away from Camogli and Portofino by a not-too-strenuous inland hike, or 31⁄2 hours away by a cliff-hugging, up-and-down trail. En route, you can clamor down well-posted paths to visit San Rocco, San Niccolò, and Punta Chiappa, a string of fishing hamlets on the shore of the promontory.

 Once you reach San Fruttuoso, you may well want to relax on the pebbly beach and enjoy a beverage or meal at one of the seaside bars. You can tour the stark interior of the abbey for 6€ (open June to mid-Sept daily 10am–5:45pm; May Tues–Sun 10am–5:45pm; Mar–Apr and Oct Tues–Sun 10am–3:30pm; and Nov–Feb Sat–Sun 10am–3:30pm). Note, though, that despite these official hours, the abbey tends to close whenever the last boat leaves). Should you have your scuba or snorkeling gear along, you can take the plunge to visit Christ of the Depths, a statue of Jesus erected 15m (49 ft.) beneath the surface to honor sailors lost at sea.

 You can also visit San Fruttuoso with one of the boats that run almost every hour during the summer months from Camogli. A round-trip costs 12€ (9€ one-way if you then plan to head southward from the abbey) and takes about 30 minutes. For more information, contact Golfo Paradiso (www.golfoparadiso.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-772-091). Note: You can also reach it by hourly (in summer) Tigullio boats (www.traghettiportofino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-284-670) from Portofino (20 min.; 8€–12€ round-trip), Santa Margherita (35 min.; 10€–16€ round-trip), and Rapallo (50 min.; 10.50€–17€ round-trip). Bear in mind that the seas are often too choppy to take passengers to San Fruttuoso, because docking there can be tricky. In that case, there are private boats you can take—smaller, rubber crafts capable of bad-weather landings—though they are expensive: From Portofino, you will likely be charged 100€ for up to 12 people.

One of the more interesting daily spectacles in town is the fish market on Lungomare Marconi from 8am to 12:30pm. On Friday, Corso Matteotti, Santa Margherita’s major street for food shopping, becomes an open-air food market.

Portofino Red-Star3_redstar3

Portofino is almost too beautiful for its own good—in almost any season, you’ll be rubbing elbows on Portofino’s harborside quays with day-tripping mobs who join Italian industrialists, international celebrities, and a lot of rich-but-not-so-famous folks who consider this little town to be the epicenter of the good life. If you make an appearance in the late afternoon when the crowds have thinned out a bit, you are sure to experience what remains so appealing about this enchanting place—its untouchable beauty.

ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE    Take the train in Santa Margherita (see p. 446) and catch the Tigullio bus (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-373-239), which departs the train station and Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Santa Margherita every 20 minutes and follows one of Italy’s most beautiful coastal roads (25 min.).

The best way to arrive in Portofino is on your private yacht, but if you’ve left it at home for this visit to Italy, the next best thing is to sail in on one of the Golfo Paradiso ferries (www.golfoparadiso.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-772-091) from Camogli, or aboard a Tigullio ferry (www.traghettiportofino.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-284-670) from Santa Margherita or Rapallo.

On a summer visit by car, you may encounter crowds even before you get into town, because traffic on the tiny road from Santa Margherita, just a few kilometers down the coast of the promontory, can move at a snail’s pace. In fact, given the limited parking space in Portofino, visitors must pay obscene rates to use the town garage, you would do well to leave your car in Santa Margherita and take the bus or boat.

VISITOR INFORMATION    Portofino’s tourist office is at Via Roma 35 (www.turismoinliguria.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-269-024). Summer hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm, Sunday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 3:30 to 6:30pm; winter hours are Tuesday to Saturday 9:30am to 1:30pm and 2 to 5pm.

WHERE TO EAT & STAY

Portofino’s charms come at a price. Its few hotels are expensive enough to put them in the “trip of a lifetime” category, and the harborside restaurants can take a serious chunk out of a vacation budget as well. An alternative is to enjoy a light snack at a bar or one of the many shops selling focaccia, and wait to dine in Santa Margherita or one of the other nearby towns.

Ristorante Puny Red-Star2_redstar2 LIGURIAN    Right on the piazzetta in front of the harbor, this colorful restaurant is smack in the middle of it all, so book well in advance. The lengthy menu offers tasty Ligurian dishes including pappardelle al portofino (large flat noodles with a mix of tomato and pesto sauce), which may be topped with shrimp, or the heavenly pesce al forno baked in bay leaves, or the famed risotto al curry e gamberi (curried rice embedded with tiny shrimp). Just be prepared to pay a small fortune for the location, view, food, and being part of the scene.

Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta 5. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-269-037. Main courses 16€–30€. Mon–Wed and Fri–Sun 12:30–3:30pm and 7:30–11pm. Closed Jan–Feb.

Hotel Nazionale Red-Star2_redstar2    Two reasons to choose this hotel for your stay in Portofino: location and price. Rooms are fairly basic with minimal decoration, but you are right on the harbor and paying about a third of what you would at any other hotel in the village or nearby. Several of the rooms are lofted suites with bedroom upstairs. We highly recommend splurging for one of the five junior suites which enjoy views of the harbor.

Via Roma. www.nazionaleportofino.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-269-575. 12 units. 200€–275€ double without sea view; 300€–375€ junior suite with sea view. Rates include breakfast. Parking 25€ in nearby lot. Closed mid-Dec to Mar. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; room service, Wi-Fi (free).

Hotel Splendido Red-Star3_redstar3    Splendido has been the Italian Riviera’s #1 resort for over 100 years, hosting the likes of Bogart and Bacall, Taylor and Burton, and many more members of rich and famous club. The former monastery turned 5-star luxury hotel is located on a lush hill of verdant gardens; the structure and grounds are spectacular with 64 guest rooms, including 35 suites, nearly all of which have balconies with spectacular views across and beyond the picturesque harbor. The prices will make your heart stop momentarily.

Salita Baratta. www.hotelsplendido.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0185-267-801. 64 units. 680€–1,000€ double without sea view; 780€–1,560€ double with sea view. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Closed mid-Dec to Mar. Amenities: 3 restaurants; bar; concierge; room service; wellness center; saltwater infinity pool; tennis court; access to hotel’s motor boat; Wi-Fi (free).

Portofino harbor in summertime.

EXPLORING PORTOFINO

The one thing that won’t break the bank in Portofino is the spectacular scenery. Begin with a stroll around the stunning harbor, lined with expensive boutiques, eateries, and colorful houses set along the quay and steep green hills rising behind them. One of the most scenic walks takes you uphill for about 10 minutes along a well-signposted path from the west side of town just behind the harbor to the Chiesa di San Giorgio (Black-Phone_bphone 0185-269-337), built on the site of a sanctuary Roman soldiers dedicated to the Persian god Mithras. It’s open daily 9am to 7pm.

From there, continue uphill for a few minutes more to Portofino’s 15th-century Castello Brown (www.castellobrown.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-267-101), which has a lush garden and offers great views of the town and harbor below. It costs 5€ (includes access to special exhibitions when they are going on) and is open daily 10am to 7pm from March to October, and the rest of the year on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

For more lovely views on this stretch of coast and plenty of open sea, go even higher up through lovely pine forests to the faro (lighthouse).

From Portofino, you can also set out for a longer hike on the paths that cross the Monte Portofino Promontory to the Abbazia di San Fruttuoso (see the box “An Excursion to San Fruttuoso,” p. 448), a walk of about 21⁄2 hours from Portofino. The tourist office provides maps.

THE CINQUE TERRE Red-Star3_redstar3

Monterosso, the northernmost town of the Cinque Terre: 93km (58 miles) E of Genoa

Rocky coves, dramatic cliffs, and Apennine ridges are the spectacular backdrop to the Cinque Terre (Five Lands), which consists of five fishing and wine-making villages dramatically perched along a 11-mile stretch of Italy’s Ligurian coast. Terraced vineyards and olive groves climb slopes that are largely inaccessible by road, but have become a hiker’s haven stretching southeast from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Not too surprisingly, these charms have not gone unnoticed, and American tourists especially have been coming here in increasing numbers. From May to October (weekends are worst), you are likely to find yourself in a long procession of like-minded, English-speaking trekkers making their way down the coast or elbow to elbow with day-trippers from cruise ships. Even so, the Cinque Terre manages to escape the hubbub that afflicts so many coastlines, and even a short stay here is likely to reward you with one of the most memorable seaside visits of a lifetime.

Essentials

GETTING THERE    Cinque Terre towns are served only by local train runs. Coming from Florence or Rome, you will likely have to change trains in nearby La Spezia (one or two per hour; 6–8 min.) at the coast’s south tip or in Pisa (about six daily; 11⁄4 hr.). There are one or two direct trains per hour from Genoa to La Spezia that stop in Monterosso (1 hr., 40 min.) and sometimes Riomaggiore (15 min. further south).

The fastest driving route is via Autostrada A12 from Genoa; get off at the Corrodano exit for Monterosso. The trip from Genoa to Corrodano takes less than an hour, while the much shorter 15km (91⁄4-mile) trip from Corrodano to Monterosso (via Levanto) is made along a narrow road and can take about half that amount of time. Coming from the south or Florence, get off Autostrada A12 at La Spezia and follow cinque terre signs.

Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti (www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0187-732-987) runs ferry service from the Riviera Levante towns, April to November, though these tend to be day cruises stopping for anywhere from 1 to 3 hours in Vernazza (see description below) before returning (though you can usually talk them into not picking you up again for a day or three).

GETTING AROUND    The best way to see the Cinque Terre is to devote a whole day and hoof it along the trails. See “Exploring the Cinque Terre,” below, for details.

Local trains make frequent runs (2–3 per hr.) between the five towns; some stop only in Monterosso and Riomaggiore, so check the posted partenze schedule at the station first to be sure you’re catching a local. One-way tickets between any two towns are available, including one version that is good for 6 hours of travel in one direction, meaning you can use it to town-hop—or you can buy a day ticket good for unlimited trips.

A narrow, one-lane coast road hugs the mountainside above the towns, but all the centers are closed to cars. Parking is difficult and, where available, expensive.

Riomaggiore and Manarola both have small public parking facilities just above their towns and minibuses to carry you and your luggage down. The cheapest option is the big open dirt lot right on the seafront in Monterosso. The priciest is the garage in Riomaggiore.

From the port in Monterosso, Navigazione Golfo dei Poeti (www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0187-732-987) makes 8 to 10 trips a day between Monterosso and Riomaggiore (25-min. trip), all stopping in Vernazza and half of them stopping in Manarola as well.

VISITOR INFORMATION    The tourist office for the Cinque Terre is underneath the train station of Monterosso, Via Fegina 38 (www.turismoinliguria.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0187-817-506). It’s open Easter through September daily 9am to 5pm; hours are reduced the rest of the year. Even when it’s closed, you will usually find posted outside the office a display of phone numbers and other useful info, from hotels to ferries.

RIVIERA RUNNERS UP

While Portofino and the Cinque Terre get their just accolades, it would be a shame to overlook some other lovely seaside destinations that also make a great base for exploring the area. When the Cinque Terre is drowning in tourists (a common occurrence May–Sept), these alternatives offer as much beauty, a bit more breathing room, and more options in terms of accommodations—some better in fact!

 Set on opposites sides of the stunning Gulf of Poets lie the quintessential seaside medieval villages of Portovenere (tourist info: www.portovenere.it; Black-Phone_bphone 0187-790-691) and Lerici (tourist office: Black-Phone_bphone 0187-967-164). Once arch rivals, Portovenere belonging to Genoa and Lerici to Pisa, both built imposing fortresses to protect themselves from the enemy (and pirates!). These incredible edifices still remain along with charming colorful homes backing up to olive tree–covered hills. Their beautiful harbors hold local fishing boats and yachts alike. One can easily take the spectacular ferry ride up to the Cinque Terre in less than an hour.

 To the north of of the Cinque Terre and only a 5-minute train ride from Monterosso is the sunny seaside town of Levanto (tourist info: www.levanto.com; Black-Phone_bphone 0187-808-125) with its large sand beach, lovely historical center, and lodging options ranging from campsites to 4-star hotels.

 A few train stops more, you arrive at Bonassola (tourist office: Black-Phone_bphone 0187-813-500), Moneglia (tourist office: Black-Phone_bphone 0185-490-576), and even Sestri Levanto (tourist info: www.sestri-levante.net; Black-Phone_bphone 0185-459-575) and its breathtaking “Bay of Silence”; any of these towns offer nice beaches and colorful town centers.

Additional useful websites for the region include www.cinqueterre.it and www.parconazionale5terre.it.

Exploring the Cinque Terre

Aside from swimming and soaking in the atmosphere of unspoiled fishing villages, the most popular activity in the Cinque Terre is hiking from one village to the next Black-Star3_bstar3 along centuries-old goat paths. Trails plunge through vineyards and groves of olive and lemon trees and hug seaside cliffs, affording heart-stopping views of the coast and the romantic little villages looming ahead in the distance. The well-signposted walks from village to village range in difficulty and length, but as a loose rule, they get longer and steeper—and more rewarding—the farther north you go. Depending on your pace, and not including eventual stops for focaccia and sciacchetrà, the local sweet wine, you can make the trip between Monterosso, at the northern end of the Cinque Terre, and Riomaggiore, at the southern end, in about 41⁄2 hours. You should decide whether you want to walk north to south or south to north. Walking south means tackling the hardest trail first, which you may prefer, because you’ll get it out of the way and things will get easier as the day goes on and you start to tire. Heading north, the trail gets progressively harder between towns, so you might like this if you want to walk just until you tire and then hop on the train.

The walk from Monterosso to Vernazza is the most arduous and takes 11⁄2 hours, on a trail that makes several steep ascents and descents (on the portion outside Monterosso, you’ll pass beneath funicular-like cars that transport grapes down the steep hillsides). The leg from Vernazza to Corniglia is also demanding and takes another 11⁄2 hours, plunging into some dense forests and involving some lengthy ascents, but is probably the prettiest and most rewarding stretch. Part of the path between Corniglia and Manarola, about 45 minutes apart, follows a level grade above a long stretch of beach, tempting you to break stride and take a dip. From Manarola to Riomaggiore, it’s easy going for about half an hour along a partially paved path known as the Via dell’Amore, so named for its romantic vistas (great to do at sunset).

Because all the villages are linked by rail, you can hike as many portions of the itinerary as you wish and take the train to your next destination. Trails also cut through the forested, hilly terrain inland from the coast, much of which is protected as a nature preserve. The tourist office in Monterosso can provide maps. Note: At press time, the section between Corniglia and Manarola, and Via dell’Amore were closed indefinitely due to landslides. For updates, visit the Cinque Terre National Park website, www.parconazionale5terre.it.

MONTEROSSO

The Cinque Terre’s largest village seems incredibly busy compared to its sleepier neighbors, but it’s not without its charms. Monterosso is actually two towns—a bustling, character-filled Old Town built behind the harbor, as well as a relaxed resort that stretches along the Cinque Terre’s only sand beach and is home to the train station and the tiny regional tourist office (upon exiting the station, turn left and head through the tunnel for the Old Town; turn right for the newer town).

The region’s most famous art treasure is here: Housed in the Convento dei Cappuccini, perched on a hillock in the center of the Old Town, is a “Crucifixion” by Anthony van Dyck, the Flemish master who worked for a time in nearby Genoa (you can visit the convent daily 9am–noon and 4–7pm). While you will find the most conveniences in Monterosso, you’ll have a more “rustic” experience if you stay in one of the other four villages.

VERNAZZA

Vernazza may just be the quintessential, postcard-perfect seaside village. Tall, colorful houses (known as terratetto) cluster around a natural harbor (where you can swim among the fishing boats) and beneath a castle built high atop a rocky promontory that juts into the sea (the castle, which is nothing special, is open Mar–Oct daily 10am–6:30pm; admission 2€). The center of town is waterside Piazza Marconi, itself a sea of cafe tables. The only Vernazza drawback is that too much good press has turned it into the Cinque Terre’s mecca for American tourists.

CORNIGLIA

The quietest village in the Cinque Terre is isolated by its position midway down the coast, its hilltop location high above the open sea, and its hard-to-access harbor. Whether you arrive by boat, train, or the trail from the south, you’ll have to climb more than 300 steps to reach the village proper (arriving by trail from the north is the only way to avoid these stairs), which is an enticing maze of little walkways overshadowed by tall houses.

Once there, though, the views over the surrounding vineyards and up and down the coastline are stupendous—for the best outlook, walk to the end of the narrow main street to a belvedere that is perched between the sea and sky. Corniglia is the village most likely to offer a glimpse into life in the Cinque Terre the way it was decades ago.

MANAROLA

Manarola is a near-vertical cluster of tall houses that seems to rise piggyback up the hills on either side of the harbor. In fact, in a region with no shortage of heart-stopping views, one of the most amazing sights is the descent into the town of Manarola on the path from Corniglia: From this perspective, the hill-climbing houses seem to merge into one another to form a row of skyscrapers. Despite these urban associations, Manarola is a delightfully rural village where fishing and winemaking are big business. The region’s major wine cooperative, Cooperativa Agricoltura di Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza e Monterosso, made up of 300 local producers, is here; call Black-Phone_bphone 0187-920-435 for information about tours of its modern (established 1982) facilities.

RIOMAGGIORE

Riomaggiore clings to the rustic ways of the Cinque Terre while making some (unfortunate) concessions to the modern world. The old fishing quarter has expanded in recent years, and Riomaggiore now has some sections of new houses and apartment blocks. This blend of the old and new is a bit of a shame as the village center stills seems like something of 50 years ago, bustling and prosperous in a charming setting, while the “new side” of town seems like a half-effort at maintaining the old mostly in color. A credit to both sides is that many of the lanes end in seaside belvederes.

From the parking garage, follow the main drag down; from the train station, exit and turn right to head through the tunnel for the main part of town (or, from the station, take off left up the brick stairs to walk the Via dell’Amore to Manarola). At press time, this walk, too, was closed indefinitely due to landslides.

That tunnel and the main drag meet at the base of an elevated terrace that holds the train tracks. From here, a staircase leads down to a tiny fishing harbor, off the left of which heads a rambling path that, after a few hundred meters, leads to a pleasant little beach of large pebbles.

Where to Eat

La Lanterna Red-Star1_redstar1 LIGURIAN/SEAFOOD    Arguably the best restaurant in the Cinque Terre (along with Miky, below). Chef Massimo is famous for his impeccable seafood dishes served in this small trattoria just above the charming harbor. From a table on the terrace here, you can hear the waves lap against the rocks and watch the local fishermen mend their nets. Seafood is king here, with many Ligurian dishes such as spaghetti allo scoglio (spaghetti with mussels and shrimp in a white-wine sauce) or spaghetti ai ricci di mare (with sea urchins). Try choosing something from the chalkboard menu, which features the day’s fresh delicacies.

Riomaggiore. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-920-589. Primi 9€–12€; secondi 10€–22€. Daily 11am–midnight. Closed Nov.

Osteria a Cantina de Mananan Red-Star2_redstar2 LIGURIAN    This tiny eatery in an old wine cellar carved into the stone of an ancient house is always packed with both locals and tourists—so call ahead (and bring cash; they don’t accept credit cards). The menu (written on a blackboard) focuses on fresh and local ingredients, like vegetables from the nearby terraced gardens and seafood from local fishermen. Preparations are simple but packed with flavor; consider grilled and rolled vegetables stuff with mozzarella, fresh anchovies stuffed with herbs, or the house speciality, coniglio (rabbit) roasted in a white sauce. Simply delicious!

Via Fieschi 117, Corniglia. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-821-166. Main courses 9€–15€. Wed–Mon 12:30–2:30pm and 7:30–9:30pm. Closed Nov, Mon–Fri in Dec, and part of Jan–Feb.

Ristorante Belforte Red-Star3_redstar3 LIGURIAN    Being perched on a medieval watch tower overlooking the Mediterranean makes for some pretty fantastic ambience. Eating well on traditional Ligurian dishes makes the experience at the upscale restaurant worth the wait (even if you reserve ahead of time) and the steep price. Notable dishes include the antipasto di mare, a selection of six to eight small bites of seafood (we love the cozze ripiene, stuffed mussels, when they are in season) and the mixed grilled fish platter. If you are able to nab the single table on a small balcony at sunset, you are in for a romantic treat!

Via Guidoni 42. www.ristorantebelforte.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-812-222. Main courses 16€–27€. Wed–Mon noon–3pm and 7–10:30pm. Closed Nov–Apr.

Ristorante Miky Red-Star1_redstar1 SEAFOOD    This family-run restaurant is considered one of the best in the Cinque Terre. In addition to the friendly service and the tasty, beautifully presented dishes, you can dine in a lovely garden with the smell of lemon and rosemary in the air. Most notable dishes include the grilled calamari, the monkfish ravioli, and pesce al sale, which is your choice of fresh fish covered in coarse salt and slowly cooked in a wood-burning oven (the salt is removed before the fish is served). Many dishes are served in large scallop-like dishes made of dough, and in fact all dishes are presented in some artful, creative manner, adding to the already charming ambience. It’s not cheap, but the food and setting make it worthwhile. The da Fina family has also opened a catina (cantina) just a few doors down that offers dining alfresco and seaside as well as a bit of nightlife.

Via Fegina 104. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-817-608. Main courses 12€–25€. Daily noon–3pm and 7:30pm–late. The Catina di Miky is located at Via Fegina 90. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-802-525. Closed Nov–Mar.

Where to Stay

Gianni Franzi Red-Star2_redstar2    The owner of a local trattoria has 23 rooms spread across two buildings; some come with a bathroom, some with excellent views up the coast, all with a steep climb up the streets of the town and then up the stairs within the building. Call Black-Phone_bphone 0187-821-003 to book, or when you arrive in town, stop by the trattoria’s harborside bar (if you arrive on a Wed when the trattoria is closed, there is usually somebody there in the afternoon to take care of new arrivals, or else call Black-Phone_bphone 393-900-8155).

Restaurant address: Piazza G. Marconi 5, Vernazza (SP). www.giannifranzi.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-821-003 or 393-900-8155. 23 units. 85€ double with shared bathroom, 100€ double with a shared bathroom and sea view, 120€–140€ double (170€ triple) private bathroom and sea view. Rates include continental breakfast. Closed Jan 10–Mar 10. Amenities: Communal sea-view garden/terrace.

Hotel Porto Roca Red-Star3_redstar3    Considered the Cinque Terre’s only resort, this 4-star hotel is spectacularly positioned upon the cliffside overlooking the village, cemetery, and blue sea below. The addition of a pool and spa have helped make it the most expensive accommodations in the area, too. Most of the rooms are small and in need of a revamp, but once you step out onto your private balcony suspended above the Mediterranean, you can easily forgive the hotel’s shortcomings. The pleasant restaurant serves typical Ligurian dishes, and in the warm weather you can have the best seat in town on their cliffside patio. Prices are high even for a “back, small non-seaview” room; we suggest splurging if you can to enjoy the full experience.

Via Corone 1, Monterosso al Mare (SP). www.portoroca.it. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-817-502. 42 units. 180€–670€ double; 255€–745€ triple. Rates include breakfast. Parking 12€ in nearby public lot. Closed Nov-Mar. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; spa/beauty center; pool; room service; Wi-Fi (free).

Il Giardino Incantato Red-Star2_redstar2    This charming and comfortable family-run B&B is in a converted 16th-century villa just off Via Roma in the old village. There are just three rooms and a junior suite, all of which are lovingly decorated with terracotta tiles, vaulted, wood-beam ceilings, and wrought-iron beds. Next to the villa is a lovely garden with lemon trees, lavender, and colorful flowers where breakfast is served, weather permitting. It is a tranquil and relaxing refuge in a town that can be quite busy in high season.

Via Mazzini 18, Monterosso al Mare (SP). www.ilgiardinoincantato.net. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-818-315. 4 units. 150€–200€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 12€ in nearby public lot. Closed early Nov to Apr.

La Mala Red-Star3_redstar3    A bit of “beach chic” has come to Vernazza with the stylish four-room locanda. The rooms are not large but they are well-designed and -equipped, sunny, and come with great views (sea, village, and/or harbor view). Bathrooms are clean and modern. Room 26 has a small living area and is ideal for families traveling with a child as it can comfortably accommodate a third bed. Guests can enjoy the communal seaside terrace, the perfect spot for a sunset aperitivo. There is no reception area so you will be expected to call (or find) the owner, Gian Battista, upon your arrival in the village (specific instructions are given when your reservation is confirmed). There’s no breakfast room; instead you are provided with a relatively basic cornetto and cappuccino at a local bar.

Via San Giovanni Battista, Vernazza. www.lamala.it. Red-Phone_redphone 334-287-5718. 4 units. 140€–220€ double with private bathroom. Rates include basic breakfast. Closed Jan 10 to Mar. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).

La Torretta Red-Star3_redstar3    Besides La Mala in Vernazza, this charming establishment is perhaps the only other “chic retreat” in the Cinque Terre. La Torretta offers lovely rooms and suites in varied sizes, several with sea views and balconies, and all with nice in-room amenities (like choice toiletries). Our favorite rooms are the Junior Design Suite in the main building and the Junior Panoramic Suite in the annex, just a short walk from the main building. The communal solarium is a great place for guests to enjoy an aperitivo, paired with beautiful views. Despite its fairly steep price (and position on the hill up from the train station as well!), rooms go quickly here during the season, so best to book way ahead of time.

Vico Volto 20, Manarola. www.torrettas.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-920-327. 11 units. 200€–350€ double. Rates include breakfast. Closed Nov. Amenities: Solarium; Wi-Fi (free).

Ostello Cinque Terre Red-Star1_redstar1    Don’t expect luxury here, but a good clean bed and bath at more than reasonable prices make this hostel sell out weeks before the high season. Located in the center of town near the church, it’s a pleasant welcome in an area that has few budget accommodations.

Via Riccobaldi 21, Manarola. www.hostel5terre.com. Red-Phone_redphone 0187-920-039. 21€–25€ for beds in six-bed dorm rooms, 55€–70€ for a room with 2 single beds and private bathroom, or 132€–162€ for 6-bed family room with private bathroom. 2-night minimum stay. Closed mid-Nov to mid-Mar. Amenties: Kayak, bike, and snorkel rental; pay laundry; Wi-Fi (free).