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The Italian Riviera


In Albenga, one can still find the remnant of a Roman bath, an aqueduct, a Roman burial ground, and the ruins of a second century amphitheater.

While undoubtedly the wilder and more rugged of the two sections, the Riviera di Levante, located east of Genoa, nevertheless is home to two of the region's most classic and elegant towns — the breathtakingly lovely and exclusive Portofino and the large and stylish Rapallo with its numerous modern and high-quality hotels.

A ferry-ride away from Portofino and situated close to the elegant city of Rapallo lies Santa Margherita Ligure, one of the main resorts in the Italian Riviera well known for its crowded beaches, fast-food stalls, Edwardian-style homes and traffic at every turn. Though busy during the summer months, this resort is hardly visited during the winter months and thus is closed down.

Other prominent towns situated in the eastern part of the Italian Riviera include Chiavari, formerly the hub of the eastern Riviera that is now one of the favourite international destinations of well-known personalities.

The village of Lavagna got its name from the slate rock 'lavagna' that formed in this area at the same time the Alps was formed 70 million years ago. Founded during the 10th century, this village was able to develop itself via earnings obtained from exporting its slate. Now, the village of Lavagna is one of the busiest tourist ports in Italy, inviting visits from boaters and other tourists interested to enjoy the excitement and warmth of Lavagna's beaches and gorges.

Another village, Levanto, is separated from the Cinque Terre by the Mesco promontory. A typical maritime village, Levanto is stands facing the sea and yet is surrounded by lush scrub and green hills. Like Lavagna, Levanto is now popular among tourists for its warm and sunny beaches and rocky coast.

Finally, from Levanto, one reaches Cinque Terre, the region of Five Lands as it has been known since the 15th century. Now fast becoming the most popular and most frequently visited by tourists among the towns in the Italian Riviera east of Genoa, the Cinque Terre is made up of five tiny villages — the Corniglia, Manarola, Monterossa al Mare, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza — all perched on the mountainside above the Mediterranean Sea. These tiny villages, which are accessible mainly by foot or train, are recognisable by the colourful houses that dot their landscape and the various historical remnants of the Roman times.

The Cinque Terre is known for its least crowded beaches, charming village squares, spectacular views, and the beautiful 18km stretch along the Mediterranean between Levanto and Portovenere. Popular among backpacking tourists, the best way to appreciate the beauty of this region and the five tiny villages is to travel on foot. From east to west, each village possesses a charm and personality all its own. Awash with bright colors, the Cliffside setting of these villages are overwhelmingly beautiful and extremely romantic.

Although by train, the total distance between these villages is only 9 kilometers, by trail, on foot, it takes around 30 minutes to go from Manarola to Riomaggiore.

Hiking in Cinque Terre is divine and can take anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours when the trek is from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare and vice-versa. A scenic and winding walking path that wraps around the mountains links all these five tiny villages together. The beauty of the paths makes the hike extremely gratifying. Despite the distance, the experience is exhilarating.

Accommodations in the Cinque Terre are quite limited though. The best thing to do would be to make one of the five villages your base or, better still, to just enjoy the world-class comforts of the exquisitely elegant hotels in the more developed parts of the Riviera and then come back to this region by train. The whole length of the Riviera is accessible by train.

Whatever your choice may be, driving, sailing or taking a train through the coastline of the Italian Riviera is like stepping back in history to a time when the world was more tranquil and beautiful, where no one rushed around or hurried about, when the world was simply one colourful paradise.

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