Mike Yardley’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show, Sept 28.
What part of Italy does the Riviera encompass?
The Riviera is essentially another name for the coastal region of Liguria. 2 hundred miles in length, this narrow, crescent-shaped region, hemmed in by the Maritime Alps, stretches from the French border at Ventimiglia , glides past Genoa and curves down the west coast, via the Cinque Terre, to the top of Tuscany at La Spezia. Its beaches border the Mediterranean, the seaside towns exude an atmosphere of old-world ritziness and the myriad cliff villages are gravity-defying works of art.
How does it differ from the French Riviera?
The French pulled off quite a sly marketing a coup in the 19th century, by dubbing the Cote D’Azur the French Riviera. The nickname has been spectacularly enduring, in fact its a victim of its own success. Because what sets the Italian Riviera apart, is its far less crowded. You’re not competing for a square metre of space on the beaches, or fighting like fishwives for a café table, and the regional architecture is unrivalled. Every coastal villa looks like a Renaissance palace.
Would Portofino be the most famous Riviera destination?
Yes, and you can thank Hollywood for that. It’s been considered the jewel of the Italian Riviera since the sixties, when the likes Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra rocked into town. Portofino sits on a rocky promontory, flanked by clusters of ochre and peach buildings and backed by lush, forested hills. It’s a hot spot with the fashion mafia. All the designer fashion labels have a retail presence in town. And it’s a popular haunt of the super-yacht set. You won’t be surprised to know that, Larry Ellison is a regular holiday-maker here.
What are some of the top sights?
Take the brick-lined path above Portofino’s harbour. for the ultimate helicopter view of the town. The path leads you up flower-filled slopes to the charming old lighthouse, stone church, and Castello Brown, a medieval fortress, that is in feverish demand for English society weddings. But it’s the 360 birdseye view of Portofino that will knock your socks off. It looks too perfect, to be real.
Also worth a nosey, is the hill-top open-air sculpture park (Museo del Parco) with over one hundred artworks, created by Italy’s best contemporary sculptural artists.
What about the coastal walking trail?
Portofino Regional Park wraps its way around the coastal cliffs, with a slew of walking trails for all grades of difficulty.
Liguria is rich in natural reserves, the landscape bristling with palm trees, parasol pines, vineyards, olive groves and lemon orchards. Amongst the verdant vegetation, savour the wondrous ocean views.
You like the neighbouring town of Santa Margarita, right?
It’s an excellent base for the Rivera. A very elegant, very relaxed seaside town, with a sweeping waterfront promenade. Unlike pricey Portofino, there’s a full range of accommodation choices in Santa Margherita, to suit all budgets. The basilica is a gilt and marble masterpiece.
You can walk to Portofino within an hour, or take the bus for the ten minute ride.
And take the 20-minute boat trip to the tiny island of San Fruttuoso, which features a secluded village, stunning beach and a Benedictine abbey. And just off shore, 55 feet below the waterline, you can see the outstretched arms of the 3 metre long bronze statue, Christ of the Abyss, which was plonked in the ocean for scuba divers.
What are the signature tastes of the Riviera?
Liguria has been a huge contributor to Italian cuisine. In fact, the locals will tell you that two signature Italian staples originate from Liguria. Focaccia bread and pesto sauce. And the region’s olive oil is widely considered Italy’s best. Olio Carli is a big export earner, and a tailormade gift for family back home.
Be sure to try the region’s signature cocktail, Tintoretto, which is a mix of spumante and pomegranate. Very zesty.
And it is home to one of Italy’s great regional cuisines. Perhaps you’ve heard of pesto?
Pesto sauce. Famous all over the world, it’s made with DOP (protected designation of origin) basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, grana and pecorino cheeses. It should be eaten with trenette or tropie, a typical Ligurian pasta.
Focaccia. It comes soft or crunchy, plain or flavored with onions, olives, rosemary or sage. A great variation is the Focaccia di Recco (a town on the eastern side of the Riviera), with melted cheese inside.
Best way to get around?
The Italian Riviera is superbly connected by the Italian train network. And it boasts some of Italy’s most spectacular scenery. So, if you’re tripping Italy independently, definitely travel by train. www.trenitalia.com
For further travel tips, insights and advice, check out For the Love of Travel’s website. http://www.fortheloveoftravel.net.nz