“There is nothing in Italy more beautiful to me than the coast-road between Genoa and Spezzia”
As a Ligurian, I know this is no exaggeration.
The eastern end of the Ligurian Riviera conjures idyllic images of sunshine and a shimmering blue sea hugging a steep and rugged coastline with olive trees and bright blooms of red and purple bougainvillea. Palms and citrus trees line the streets and gardens of Liguria’s charming villages and towns, while magnificent villas, hotels and extravagant yachts play host to European royals, film stars and writers.
Photograph by Aaron Peterson
This romantic image of the Riviera was magnificently captured in the movie “Enchanted April” in which four bored and eccentric English women rent a castle on the Ligurian Riviera in the 1920s to escape the misery of a gloomy London and their everyday troubles with husbands and lovers.
The castle in the film truly exists! Castello Brown rises above the world-famous resort town of Portofino where the movie was made. However, that special feeling of being off on your own enjoying total freedom and a splendid adventure, can prove hard to find if you are not a local.
Mass tourism and a travel media that pumps out images of picture-perfect destinations with the promise of the “once-in-a-lifetime” holiday, foster the smothering of some places under the weight of too many people on the wrong budget and with unrealistic expectations. The damage that this kind of indiscriminate commercialisation causes physically and to the atmosphere of a location, could be immeasurable if left unharnessed.
Along with Capri, the Amalfi Coast and Venice, the Ligurian Riviera is in danger of losing the very charm it has become famous for.
As a travel designer and as Ligurian, I think it is really important that travellers get to explore this very special region (and indeed Italy) in a way that provides the sense of place, authenticity and a high quality not experienced by the tourist throng.
Let’s not forget that this this part of the world has attracted sophisticated and discerning visitors, like Winston Churchill, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Agnelli family, Dolce e Gabbana, Princess Diana and Bill Gates, as well as many well known singers and actors like Rex Harrison, Rita Hayworth, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli, Alain Delon, George Clooney, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Denzel Washington, Ringo Starr, Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart and many others.
“A small village, Portofino unfolds like a crescent moon around this calm basin.”
Guy de Maupassant
Why is the Ligurian Riviera special?
Liguria has become the playground of the rich and famous not just for its natural beauty. It has a rich history and local culture that have forged its unique identity.
Ligurians are typically solitary and reserved. Their tough character is a result of their beautiful, but difficult environment.
The proximity of the sea turned them into excellent fishermen and sailors. Menfolk spent long periods away from home like Christopher Columbus who eventually left the area to seek patronage from the Spanish crown. Their wives grew accustomed to fend for themselves and for their children. To pass the time after the day’s work, they made fine lace, velvet, and embroidered cloths to adorn their homes, fill their daughter’s dowry chests and clothe their family. Their skills have been passed down from generation to generation and local women still make wonderfully embroidered items by hand using complex implements and techniques that are typical of this region.
On land, those who did not embrace life at sea, toiled very hard to terrace the mountainous coastline to increase the area they could cultivate. Beyond growing what was needed to feed their families, they planted grape vines and olive trees to make wine and oil, grew roses, carnations and lemons to sell and make a living.
The Ligurians’ capacity for skilful had work and innovation was first discovered by the Romans then by the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Spanish, and the French. Goethe and Byron, Keats, and Shelley were mesmerised by the beauty of the area and learned about local customs. In their writings, they exalted the qualities of the natural and man-made landscapes, the climate, the weather, the architecture and the local people.
Their admiration gave Liguria international notoriety. Towards the end of the 19th century, the first international visitors started building the sumptuous mansions. Their holiday homes overlooked the fishing villages described by the famous writers in their search for betterment and transformation through travel.
By the beginning of the 20th century, local and European nobles flocked to the Ligurian coastline. Lord Carnarvon and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany helped cement the area’s burgeoning reputation further within the European aristocracy.
Then came the American socialites and industrialists from Newport in search for places to buy. From the privacy of their homes and luxurious yachts moored close by, these beautiful people enjoyed the delights of the Ligurian Riviera and the friendship of their blue-blooded neighbours.
Today the stories of those days, the beautiful buildings and villages, the trees and sparkling blue sea are still there, so are the yachts and the hotels. It is still therefore possible to experience the Italian Riviera in the style of those halcyon days. All you need is an adequate budget, intimate planning and time to enjoy it.
This is why we travel.
If you are considering exploring this area and its history to truly appreciate its beauty and charm, please contact Nomads Secrets and I will personally craft an exclusive journey just for you.