The region of Liguria is also known as the Italian Riviera and is well marked as a major tourist spot with famous resort towns sprinkled among the fishing villages and rocky coastline. Liguria occupies a thin stretch of coastline from Italy's western border with France, following the Mediterranean coastline south and east to its border with Tuscany. To the north and east, coastal mountains separate Liguria from Piedmonte and Emilia-Romagna.
This unique geography of mountains and sea has produced a climate and landscape that you would expect much further south in Italy. Palm trees, citrus fruits and olives share the terraced growing space with Liguria's famous flower industry and more common northern species like chestnuts. Liguria is separated into two "Rivieras", the Riviera di Ponente to the east and the Riviera di Levante to the west with the Ligurian capital of Genoa separating the two. In the past the Riviera di Ponente was the more famous side, with famous resort towns like San Remo, however writers, artists and tourists alike have discovered the jewels of the Riviera di Levante such as Portofino and the Cinque Terre.
Liguria's isolated coastline has been occupied since the 5th century BC, first by the fiercely independent Ligurian peoples. These people did not take to Romanization for many centuries, with small enclaves like the Cinque Terre, never really conquered by Rome. After the fall of the Empire the region was ruled by Byzantine and Lombard factions, however Liguria's inaccessibility by land led to a level of autonomy that was always at risk from invasion by Saracens, Normans or Pirates. By the Middle Ages Genoa ruled the entire Liguria and was a powerful maritime republic, in many ways more powerful than its rivals in Pisa and Venice. It was in these wars with Venice that Marco Polo was captured, and dictated his adventures while in a Genoese prison. Eventually Genoa would falter and lose most of its power but not before a brief revival under the rulership of Admiral Andrea Doria. Liguria was later annexed by Napoleon and given to the House of Savoy after his final defeat. This loss of independence led to Ligurian patriots like Mazzini and Garibaldi (from the Savoy city of Nice), helping to start the Italian Risorgimento and their final goal of the modern nation of Italy.
Liguria: Food and Wine
The food of Liguria is representative of the areas unique climate, using many ingredients that would otherwise be considered "southern". The abundant use of garlic, olive oil instead of butter or lard and tomatoes are all reminiscent of cooking from south of Rome rather than Liguria's location closer to France than Naples. The most famous of all culinary masterpieces from Liguria is its basil Pesto sauce, served with either Trofie (favored in Cinque Terre) or Trenette (favored in Genoa) pasta. Wheat, chickpeas and chestnuts are all used to make flour for both breads and pastas. The olive oil of the region is known as Riviera Ligure and is protected by a PDO designation. Seafood plays a large role in the local diet with fresh caught anchovies being a favorite antipasti or main dish. Swordfish, Tuna, Sardines and Sea Bass are also popular fish. Rabbit, and Veal are found in popular meat dishes including Tomaxelle (Veal rolls), Coniglio in Umbido (Rabbit stew). The rocky coastline of Liguria is does not give much room for cheese production, but imports from other regions of Italy have been incorporated, most notably the use of Parmigiano-Reggiano for the making of Pesto. Sheep's milk Pecorino and also Ricotta is also used. Ligurian desserts include Pandolce Genovese, a sweet bread made with candied fruit, raisins and nuts, and sweet pizzas made with walnuts, chestnuts and candied fruit.
The wines of Liguria are tailor made to the suit the region's cuisine, some grown within spray-shot of the crashing waves. Reds include the fruity Rossese di Dolceacqua (DOC), a Dolcetto known as Ormeasco, and the dessert wine Sciacchetra Rosso. The white wines of Liguria are rightly praised as some of the most unique, with the dry Cinque Terre and sweeter Sciacchetra (both DOC) being very popular and excellent with any seafood. The straw-yellow and very aromatic Colline di Levanto (DOC) is just being discovered by wine lovers outside of Liguria. Sprits range from the citrus based Limoncello Ligure to walnut-infused Nocino and the ever-popular Grappa, still made at home in many areas of Liguria.
Liguria: Regional Highlights
The city of Genoa (Genova) is often overlooked by travelers to Liguria due to its reputation as a busy commercial port and nothing else. This view is mistaken as Genoa is rich with history, art and wonderful sights and excellent restaurants that make it worth a daytrip, or a base for exploring the Italian Riviera. Genoa's sea prowess is well documented with vestiges of its maritime past such as the house of Christopher Columbus, as well as numerous decorated palazzi and merchant homes along via Indoratori and via Orefici. Genoa's striped Duomo is home to numerous saintly relics, another testament to its trading empire. Today the harbor has been rebuilt after World War II and is still busy, attesting to the Genoa's continued mercantile success. The harbor is also home to Europe's largest and most popular aquarium, which continues to expand long after it's creation for the World Expo of 1992. From the harbor there are numerous cruises of the coast available, offering views that will make travelers rethink their opinions of Genoa. See also Genova
La Riviera di Ponente
The area of Liguria stretching from the French border to Genoa is known as the Riviera di Ponente. It is this area that is known for its vast production of flowers especially roses. A modern road that follows the ancient via Aurelia hugs the beautiful coastline and connects many of the small fishing villages and resort towns that are must-visits. San Remo is the most famous of the resort towns along the Riviera and is home to a famous Casino, a charming medieval center, elegant old hotels and a popular music festival. Imperia is actually two separate towns: the touristy but very charming Porto Maurizio and the more industrial (but still worth visiting) Oneglia. Savona is a well known port that also contains some worthwhile stops including a well known art museum. Away from the coast are many hill towns stretching from San Remo east to Albenga that may demand an extended stay or a revisit.
La Riviera di Levante
The coast of Liguria from Genoa to the La Spezia is the more and less developed and more dramatic Riviera di Levante. Home to sheltered coves, cliff hanging terraces, natural harbors and a few beaches, the Riviera di Levante is no longer as isolated as it once was and is now well known to travelers. The area holds a little of everything: Quaint fishing towns like Bonassola, medieval hill towns like San Salvatore, artist and celebrity Meccas like Portofino, pleasant resort towns like Rapallo, even the major port of La Spezia has a beautiful harbor and sights worth visiting. The gem of the Riviera di Levante is the no longer secret Cinque Terre - five formerly isolated villages, four of them perched upon the rocky coast. The coastal path connecting the villages, once the only way to reach the Cinque Terre takes hikers through steep terraced cliffs full of vines and olive trees on the way to breathtaking vistas of the Ligurian coast. In the summer, the entire Riviera di Levante is packed with tourists, however a visit in late September rewards the traveler with warm weather, cheaper prices, and villages full of locals - not tourists. See also Cinque Terre
Liguria: Regional Festivals
Portofino - St. George Bonfire in April
Riomaggiore - Feast of San Giovanni in June
Casella - Historical Festival and Palio in August
Levanto - Maritime Festival in July
Pontinvrea - Cherry Festival in June
Castiglione Chiavare - Eggplant Festival in August
Bogliasco - Olive Oil Festival in August
By Justin Demetri