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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 that 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.

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; (tel) 0187-790-691) and Lerici (tourist office: (tel) 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; (tel) 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: (tel) 0187-813-500), Moneglia (tourist office: (tel) 0185-490-576), and even Sestri Levanto (tourist info: www.sestri-levante.net; (tel) 0185-459-575) and its breathtaking “Bay of Silence”; any of these towns offer nice beaches and colorful town centers.