The Ligurian Coast, stretching crescent-like between the Côte d'Azur and Tuscany, is one of the most beguiling destinations in Europe — the Italian Riviera. Thyme-scented hillsides and terraced vineyards fall away into a sparkling shoreline, peppered with fishing villages and multi-coloured palazzos. While the Cinque Terre and Portofino are well-known slices of la dolce vita, there is a hidden, quieter side of the Ligurian Coast that remains one of the Italians’ best-kept secrets: the Riviera di Ponente, which runs from Genoa to the border with France. Low-key and unassuming, it’s a favorite of those living in Milan and Turin.
While you can fly into Genoa and start your Italian Riviera odyssey from there, I like to start in Nice — it’s only half an hour to the border — and take a road trip from there, it’s one of the most beautiful drives in the world. While most people are headed beyond Genoa, this lesser-known part of the Riviera is a real gem. It was very famous in the 1960s, when San Remo was the place to be — and before that, British aristocrats, artists and writers used to winter on the coastline at the end of the 19th century. In July and August, it gets very busy with locals, but the end of June and beginning of September are perfect if you want to avoid the crowds but keep the heat.
First, I like to stop off in Menton, which is just 300m from the French/Italian border and such a beautiful town with a wonderful John Cocteau museum. Then, my main destination is the charming village of Alassio, one of the prettiest towns on the Italian Riviera. It has a long, sandy beach and an illustrious past — Ernest Hemingway was bewitched by its beauty, and together with the owner of Caffee Roma, created a version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I always stay at Villa della Pergola, which is easily the chicest address in Alassio. Perched up in the hills above the town, it’s a ten minute stroll to the beach but it feels very secluded. The drive to get there might be a little hairy, but the peacefulness you’re greeted with when you arrive is more than worth it. Transformed from three Byzantine villas that used to be owned by British aristocrats, it was restored to its former glory by the local Ricci family. The result is a sublime oasis: all its rooms look over the endless blue of the Ligurian sea and Moorish domes, while being set among acres of beautiful Mediterranean gardens, dripping in wisteria and agapanthus, as well as olive, carob and cypress trees. Its interiors are hallmarked by family heirlooms and pre-Raphaelite art, which all serves to make you feel as if you are staying with friends rather than in a hotel.
This is a place to really drink in the scenery and the quiet — and taste the local delicacies, of course. The Ligurian Coast is well known for a number of specialties, including focaccia, pesto, red prawns (often eaten raw) and cuculi Genovisi — a kind of dumpling made with potatoes, pine nuts and parmesan, as well as marinated anchovies and octopus salad. When it comes to wine, you are spoilt for choice as this is one of the most famous winemaking regions of Italy. The local white is Vermentino, but if you travel just a little north to Piedmont, you will be sip your way through some of Italy’s biggest hitters including Barolo and Barbaresco.
From Alassio, continue your road trip and make a pitstop in Genoa, which is fast becoming a destination in its own right, not just a jumping off point for the Italian Riviera. An ancient port town with a labyrinthine medieval quarter, it is gaining a dynamic new energy that makes it well worth a look. You can either end your journey here and fly home from Genova, or, if you have more time, continue down the better known stretch of the Riviera to the east of the city. I like to bypass Portofino and stay instead in the neighboring town of Santa Margherita Ligure. It is unbelievably charming and I love to check into the Grand Hotel Miramare. For my last and final stop, I will drive down Tuscany, which is eternally magical, whatever season you choose to visit, staying at one of our 84 Rooms Properties.
84 Rooms recommends: The Italian Hotels To Book This Summer, and Meet The Hotelier Behind Castello Di Vicarello In Maremma In Italy.