Northern Coast, Italy

Driving in Italy is an adventure, especially along narrow and winding coastal roads. But that challenge is worthwhile in order to visit the seaside towns of the Italian Riviera. This travel guide recommends five of my favorites.

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1 Harbor, Houses and Hills in Recco, Italy

This circular harbor on the Gulf Paradiso belongs to the resort town of Ricco, Italy. Its colorful houses are dotted along the lush, green cliffs overhanging the Ligurian Sea. Tragically, it was almost completely destroyed during bombing in World War II. It is most famous for Focaccia col formaggio. It consists of Stracchino, a local cream cheese, sandwiched between thin dough and baked for about eight minutes. Manuelina’s family restaurant still serves it since the 19th century.

Via Filippo da Recco, 24 16036 Recco GE, Italy
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2 Italian Riviera Fishing Village of Camogli, Italy

In life, there is always a hard way and an easy way. But when driving along the Italian Riviera, skip the Autostrade (freeway) in favor of the winding roads along the upper west coast of Italy. You’ll be delighted to discover all of the small fishing and resort villages. Most are tucked into bays, built precariously on cliffs or accessible on shore only by winding, treacherous roads. But once you stop hyperventilating, you’ll love exploring towns like Camogli, whose name aptly means “houses close together.”

Via Nicolò Cuneo, 34 16032 Camogli GE, Italy
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3 Santa Maria Assunta and Castello del Dragone in Camogli, Italy

This delightful complex along the shore of the Italian Rivera in Camogli, Italy, has a significant history as well as beauty. On the left is the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta whose origin dates back to the 12th century. On the right is Castello del Dragone, which was constructed as a fort in the 13th century. It was frequently attacked but continuously rebuilt and enlarged each time.

Via Isola, 27 16032 Camogli GE, Italy
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4 Pastel Colored Houses on Hillside in Camogli, Italy

Folklore says that Camogli, Italy, derived its name from Ca’mogli meaning “house of the wives” which dates back to when most of their husbands worked as fisherman every day. The colorful pastel buildings built into layers of rock along the coastline are beautiful. They also had a practical purpose: the bright colors helped the fisherman see their town while at sea during inclement weather. Interestingly, many of the window frames are not real. Instead, they are paintings called trompe l’oeil.

Via Enrico Figari, 86 16032 Camogli GE, Italy
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5 Aerial View of Seaport and Hills in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

Santa Margherita Ligure is a picturesque town of less than 10,000 residents along the Italian Riviera neighboring Camogli, Recco and Rapallo. Although the seaport still harbors a fleet of fishing boats, you will also see plenty of yachts and pleasure boats as you stroll along the waterfront promenade. Among its historic highlights are a 13th century church and a mid-16th century castle. Santa Margherita is a charming place to stretch your legs, have a lunch or dinner of fresh fish or relax for days in its quaint splendor.

Corso Nicolò Cuneo & Via S. Lorenzo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Metropolitan City of Genoa, Italy
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6 Fisherman Along Harbor in Rapallo, Italy

Rapallo is a lovely northern Italian resort town along the Ligurian Sea and a short drive from Genoa. It is blessed with moderate, year-round weather, a picturesque harbor, historic sites, excellent shopping and seafood restaurants plus one of Italy’s oldest golf courses. Or you can just sit along the rocks, cast out your fishing line and enjoy the view.

Lungomare Vittorio Veneto 1, 16035 Rapallo GE, Italy
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7 Castle on the Sea in Rapallo, Italy

Since the first settlers arrived around the 8th century B.C., Rapallo, Italy has been plagued by battles with the Lombards, Aragonese, Ottomans, French and Germans. The Castello sul Mare, which translates to Castle on the Sea, was built in the mid-16th century to defend against the Barbary pirates who looted the town and kidnapped young women. Since then, it has been used by the Captaincy of Rapallo, a prison, the Palace of Justice and now a major art exhibition. Attached to the castle is the St. Cajetan chapel which was built in 1688.

Lungomare Vittorio Veneto 1, 16035 Rapallo GE, Italy
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8 Colorful Houses along Palazzata in Portovenere, Italy

Portovenere, Italy, is one of several charming maritime villages in Cinque Terre. Called Portus Veneris during the first century B.C., it was named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Enjoy your stroll along Palazzata where these pastel houses hug the shores of a peninsula. Then take an excursion boat past the three, nearby islands that are filled with caves. They inspired the scandalous romantic Lord Byron to write his poetry which is why the area is nicknamed the Gulf of Poets.

P. Marina, 6 19025 Portovenere SP, Italy
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9 Andrea Doria Castle and Fishing Boat in Portovenere, Italy

Perched high above the colorful buildings and fishing boats that line the shore in Portovenere, Italy, is the Andrea Doria Castle. Built by a wealthy Genoese family in 1161 and named after an admiral, the pentagonal shape is now in partial ruins but it provides a spectacular, panoramic view of the Gulf of La Spezia. This Cinque Terre town makes a perfect, one-day visit.

Via Olivo, 17 19025 Portovenere SP, Italy
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10 Harbor View of Le Grazie, Italy

Driving down a coastal road which winds along a peninsula in La Spezia Province is one of three towns that comprise Comune di Porto Venere: Le Grazie. It does not draw as many tourists as other famous villages in Cinque Terre. Nevertheless, it is charming, has wonderful beaches with calm waters plus a walking path called Codevalle. It deserves at least a couple hours of exploration. In Italian, “grazie” means “thank you” and that gratitude exudes from the local residents.

Via Porto Venere 26, 19025 Le Grazie, Italy
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11 Old Crooked Wooden Storage Door in Le Grazie, Italy

Driving through Italy’s northern coast is an adventure to say the least. You are either speeding along the motorways as they plunge in and out of tunnels, or you are slowly trying to navigate the twisting, narrow roads that hug the hilly shores. Either way, it is hard to drink in the beautiful scenery when you are concentrating on every turn. But every once in a while you spot something that’s charming in its simplicity. An example is this old, crooked door that appears to lead to abandoned roadside storage.

Via Porto Venere 26, 19025 Le Grazie, Italy
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12 Our Lady of Graces Church in Le Grazie, Italy

In the 15th century, the Olivetan Monks built the Monastery of Nosta Signoria delle Grazie along the Gulf of La Spezia nestled between the Castellana and Muzzerone Hills. Inside are paintings and frescos, some of which date back to 15th century. It became a parish church in the early 19th century. On September 8 of each year, it hosts a festival that attracts thousands of visitors.

Via Libertà, 31, 19025 Le Grazie, Italy
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