Ligurian Riviera & beyond
We’re just an hour’s drive from the Ligurian capital Genoa, with its famed carrugi (narrow alleyways), exhibitions, museums, shopping, art and wealth of tradition. The historic centre of Genoa is the largest in Europe, famed for its maze of narrow streets, majestic boulevards and seafront promenade. The streets of Via Orefici and Via Luccoli are home to many craft and antique shops, and the Palazzi dei Rolli are also worth visiting (a collection of 42 buildings dating from the 16th- and 17th-centuries declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and of course Genoa Aquarium, boasting the richest aquatic biodiversity in Europe.
Portofino can easily be reached from Genoa. It’s one of the most famous and iconic destinations in Liguria, which every year attracts tourists, artists and a whole host of internationally famous personalities. Nearby Camogli also offers numerous attractions for tourists: a small gem of a village situated on the Golfo Paradiso, it boasts a colourful port, medieval castle positioned on a huge rock overlooking the sea, and an historic centre that’s been used as the subject of thousands of postcards sent around the globe.
Just half an hour’s drive from San Bartolomeo al Mare is Alassio, with its famous Budello – a picturesque alleyway and shopping area that runs the length of the town – and the Muretto di Alassio (Alassio Wall), designed in 1953 by Mario Berrino, which features more of 1000 autographed ceramic tiles.
Also worth a visit are the Gardens of Villa della Pergola and the Cappelletta ai Caduti del Mare, a small memorial chapel atop an outcrop, which offers superb views.
Nearby Albenga (known in ancient times as Albinganum) has the nickname ‘The City of a Hundred Towers. It sits on the seafront opposite the splendid Gallinara Island. This ancient town’s historic centre retains much of its original charm with many palazzi, towers, museums and monuments.
Heading towards France you reach Imperia, the provincial capital, with its Olive Museum featuring extensive displays of oil lamps, vases, ampoules and olive oil bottles from every Mediterranean country, and the Naval Museum and Planetarium. Imperia is the ideal starting point for exciting excursions thanks to the cycle and pedestrian path that connects a large part of the province. Following the route of a disused railway line, it provides an ideal way to exploring the area. As you approach the French border, you also pass Sanremo. Since 1951, the city has played host to the Sanremo Music Festival, as well as being the traditional finish of the historic Milan-Sanremo cycle race, a major draw for cycling enthusiasts since 1910. Nicknamed ‘The City of Flowers’, Sanremo is also famed the world over for its gardens, noble villas, colourful flowerbeds and tropical plants, which flourish here thanks to its truly enviable climate. It’s no coincidence that the province of Imperia boasts the record for having the best climate in Italy, thanks to the favourable conditions it enjoys year. And this is especially true around Bordighera, a real gem of Western Liguria, which is famous for the elegance of its large parks and beauty of its gardens, noble buildings and the captivating charm of medieval Bordighera Alta.
Continuing westward, you reach Ventimiglia, a border town and home to the Hanbury Botanical Gardens, made famous by Sir Thomas Hanbury: in 1867, he embarked on a tour du force, involving extensive research, study and planning work, which resulted in a scientific project that’s become a Gardens of major international importance.
Menton is an hour’s drive from Hotel Bellavista and is one of the real must-see destinations on the Côte d’Azur. Myriad alleyways, flights of steps and shaded squares characterize the old town, while the two marinas testify to the strategic role of this historic French town. Much admired for its gardens and Belle Époque palaces, Menton is well worth a visit, perhaps during the annual Fête du Citron, (Lemon Festival), a colourful carnival that’s the only one of its kind in the world. Monaco is no less of a gem, with its Old Town, Place du Casino, Oceanographic Museum, Grand Théâtre and much more. Other unmissable destinations include Nice (with its Promenade des Anglais, the Cathedral of San Nicola and square of Place Masséna) and Cannes, famed for its International Film Festival, which always has a few surprises in store. It’s thought that the 22-metre high medieval tower, which provides splendid views of the entire city, was used to imprison The Man in the Iron Mask, the controversial character made famous in Alexandre Dumas’s novel “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. The Côte d’Azur is home to many other gems, including Antibes, Saint-Tropez and Saint-Paul-de-Vence.