The Italian Riviera’s Best Kept Secret
The Italian Riviera has long been the playground of the rich and famous. It boasts a host of stunning resort towns. Many tourists and celebrities have lived or holidayed in this beautiful stretch of Italy. But perhaps one of the best kept secrets along this coastline is the glorious harbour village of Santa Margherita Ligure.
Why wasn’t I aware of this place before?
Its natural beauty is just exquisite. From blue sea and flat beach, to hilly landscapes and mountainous backdrop, the scenery is pure perfection. It is the quintessential holiday resort destination.
This picturesque old seaside village is walking distance, or a short bus ride, about 5 km, from the famous Portofino, which is the more expensive and flashy cousin of Santa Margherita, with upmarket shops and fancy restaurants. It has featured in many movies and songs over the decades and that is no doubt why it is more well-known than Santa.
But this magnificent seafaring town has a much bigger harbour than the tiny inlet of Portofino, and can cater for more boats and tourists. It is also less expensive to stay here, and is generally more casual and lay back. Surprisingly, it’s a little less crowded too. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
As with all the locations along this splendid stretch of Mediterranean coastline, SML is very popular with Europeans. Many arrive by boats and yachts, particularly as it is so close to the French Riviera.
But the easiest way to get here is by train. The closest big city is Genoa, which is where I hailed from, about 24km away. Perfect for a day trip, if that’s all the time you have. Cinqueterre (Five Towns) is also along this marvellous coast.
Once you step out of the train station here, you will be mesmerised. Immediately you are welcomed by spectacular panoramic views.
I’ve noted that many train stations in Italy have great views!
The landscape is simply gorgeous. You have the colourfully painted facades of the village buildings, which are the signature look of most Italian port cities; the mountainous backdrop; the palm-treed promenade; the pebbled beach, and of course, the shimmering blue water, making it the idyllic holiday location. You will not want to leave.
Even on this winter’s day when I was here, it was a delightful 18°celsius. Can you believe it? It really is fabulous all year round.
The harbour is filled with boats and yachts of all sizes moored in the water. For the ultimate in luxury holiday experiences you can charter one of these beauties to cruise around and visit the many ports of the riviera, stopping at the various inlets and beaches.
Cost depends on size of the boat, number of people, how many hours, or days, you require it for and whether you want a skipper or self-drive. Surprisingly, some don’t require you to have a license.
Please note: if you are boating during the busy August period, be warned it does get very crowded in the ports. If you aren’t an experienced sailor, best to avoid it.
Ferries are also available in the summer season to the other towns on the riviera, as an easier option.
Here you will find plenty of fabulous restaurants, bars and cafes. Seafood is of course a specialty, especially prawns. The region is also well-known for its Pinot Grigio wine produced right here. Gelati shops, as you can imagine, do a roaring trade all year round.
However, restaurants right on the water are quite pricey. When I was here in early 2018, my family and I ate at a lovely restaurant right on the water’s edge, on Calata del Porto, and we paid a small fortune for a simple meal. So be aware; you are paying for the view.
If you wish to explore a little, there is:
- the Castle of Santa Margherita Ligure open to the public, dating from the 16th century, which was built to protect the area against pirates;
- the baroque Basilica of Santa Margherita of Antioch of 1568, and
- the lovely Villa Durazzo from the 17th century displaying artwork, gardens, statues and fountains, open for viewing also.
As you wander inland, you discover the charming streets and alley-ways that are typical of Italy everywhere. I love roaming around and losing myself amongst them, and trying to lose my family. Nooo, I’m only kidding (sort of).
Don’t miss out on this well-kept secret.
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