Liguria Off the Beaten Path (Hidden Gems of Liguria)

Want to get away from the crowds of Cinque Terre? Here are my top 28 off the beaten path locations in the Italian Riviera, and all of t...

Want to get away from the crowds of Cinque Terre? Here are my top 28 off the beaten path locations in the Italian Riviera, and all of the hidden gems. These locations will be ass beautiful as many others, but they will come with more benefits: cheaper prices and less people to share your space with


This post is based on current values and circumstances dated in June 2020, and may not be true nor applicable at the time you read it or prepare for your trip. Please read the information on official sites for updated values and conditions. I have linked these as much as possible to help you on your planning :)

Sestri Levante view

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As I mentioned on my previous blog about the most popular places to visit in Liguria, Liguria is much more than just Genoa, Portofino and Cinque Terre. It is filled with loads of beautiful, colourful small towns by the sea, and medieval villages in the country side. I spent about a week in there back in 2018, and unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to visit many of these locations, so I am dying to go back!
So here is a VERY GOOD and comprehensive list of less popular, yet magical places that you can visit in the Italian Riviera (Liguria). These places are less explored and so, they will not only be a great surprise to you, but they will also be ideal if you're trying to escape the crowds and enjoy a real local experience.

To make it easier to understand where these places are located, I've separated them by area: Western Ligura (Riviera di Ponente) and Eastern Liguria (Riviera di Levante).






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WESTERN LIGURIA
Known as Riviera di Ponente (in Italian), this is the most western part of Liguria, close to the border with France (Cote D'Azur, the French Riviera). This part of Liguria is the least popular and so, the least explored, and it offers different type of locations that you won't find in the Eastern Liguria, such as medieval country side villages and underground caves, as well as the typical small, pretty towns with a local beach and blue waters.

I have ordered these from West to East (from the French Border to the Easter Liguria), but you can also check the list of Western Liguria atraction by type above, in case you would like to visit only specific places.


If you love Nature and you like to visit beautiful gardens, than you will not want to miss the Hanbury Villa. Really close to the border with France, these botanical gardens operated by the University of Genoa will surprise you by their diversity and panoramic views over the sea.
To visit Hanbury, you can be based in Menton or Ventimiglia.


dolceacqua
The view to the beautiful village of Dolceacqua
Not far from the Hanbury Villa you can visit this unique village, a small, but impressive place. The massive humpback bridge somehow reminds me of Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), but it's castle at the top of the village make it very different to any other place you might see in Italy.
The village is devided in two by the humpback bridge that crosses the Nervia river, and the part of the village that is located between the river and the hills is the oldest part and also the most impressive. This part is called Terra, and because it's quite small, it won't take long to visit it all.
Dolceacqua is ideal for those who love to visit cute off the beaten path locations, no matter how small they are.


Where to stay in Dolceacqua:
The prices in Dolceacqua are quite ok comparing to the most popular places in Liguria, and won't vary massively from one acommodation to the other. That being said, you won't find hostels in here. Most of the accomodations will be Bed & Breakfast like Talking Stones, La Villetta, Normanna and U Campanin.



apricale
View over Apricale and the mountains in the back
Not far from Dolceacqua, you will find Apricale, considered one of the most beautiful villages in Liguria. Apricale is a medieval village built on a hill, with amazing views to the mountains around it, and a church at the top. Most of the sights of interest can be found around the village centre, where you will find a square, two churches and a castle, but there is beauty around every single narrow street and corner. Not only that, even though Apricale is just a small village, here you can find places to sleep, eat and shop, as well as some art galleries.

Where to stay in Apricale:
Just like in Dolceacqua, here prices are quite even and the offers pretty similar. You can expect breakfast included in almost all accommodations. Stay at Agriturismo Terre Del Mistero, Apricus Locanda or MuntaeCara Albergo Diffuso.



Bussana Vecchia
Bussana Vecchia seen from above
For those who have interest in abandoned locations, this medieval village remained a "ghost village" for most of the 20th century after a strong earthquake destroyed it in 1887, and is now gaining some life thanks to local artists, who decided to illegally take over the remains of some houses to use as a studio and even to live. Nowadays, there is conflict between these artists, the government and the family members of the previous owners over the possession of these properties.
When the earthquake happened, most of the residents from the village where at the church, that unfortunately collapsed, killing about 2000 people. After the tragedy, the village was rebuilt further down the hill, keeping the original name (Bussana), and the remains of the old one were left abandoned, and it became Bussana Vecchia (Old Bussana). You will feel like in a ghost town while exploring the remains of the houses and the church where the tragedy occurred, as well as its very narrow medieval streets.
Access to the village and its ruins is only available through a short but steep road, and no cars are allowed in the area. There is a parking space nearby, but a bit limited.

Where to stay in Bussana Vecchia:
Bussana Vecchia has very limited options for accomodation, so I would recommend you to stay based in Sanremo instead.


triora
View over Triora
If the previous location got your attention, then you might want to consider this one: a remote village to the North of Sanremo, with the mountains that mark the border with France in the background. Triora is mostly known for a witch trial that happened in the 16th century (1588), where many women in this village got denounced as witches and condemned by the Inquisition for a famine that was happening in the region. Many of them were tortured and some burned at the stake. All of this was recorded in the Ethnographic Museum of Witchcraft (Museo di Triora Etnografico e della Stregoneria), that can be visited in the village. You can also visit the ruins of the old castle (Castrum Triorae), two churches, areas linked to the witchcraft stories and get lost in the narrow streets of one of the oldest villages in the Italian Riviera.

Where to stay in Triora:
Triora is a quite affordable location in Italy. Stay at La Stregatta or Bed & Breakfast Triora Medievale.



dolcedo
View over the colourful Dolcedo
Dolced is a country side pretty medieval town famous for it's olive oil production and it's picturesque views to the colourful houses, bridge and church. It became a popular holiday resort over the years, and so, you might experience the occasional concert or even the flea mark with antiques of all kinds on the 2nd Sunday of the month. Dolcedo is actually part of the Province of Imperia, our next destination on the list.
If you want to stay in Dolcedo, options are limited, but also very low cost. If you're looking for a wide variety of hotels, then you should stay in Imperia instead.


imperia harbour
Imperia at night. Photo by Jakob Ibrom on Unsplash
Imperia is a pretty coastal town with a beautiful harbour and a nice old town (Parasio).
Imperia was actually created in 1923 by grouping few small towns and villages in the area, naming it after the river Imperia that runs between two of the old towns: Porto Maurizio and Oneglio.
In Imperia you can also visit Villa Grock, a villa that was once home to one of the most popular and well paid entertainers in the world: Adrien Wettach, also known as "Grock", the "Swiss Clown" or even "King of Clowns".

Where to stay in Imperia:
Imperia is one of the cheapest locations, and you can stay at a fairly good place for a very low price. Stay at B&B Villa Isabella for a low budget option, or if you fancy a more luxurious experience, Villa Giada Resort or Hotel Rossini Al Teatro.



cervo
The beautiful colourful Cervo by the coast
If you drive for 15min along the coast from Imperia, you will get to Cervo. I remember travelling by train from Menton to Genoa and become astonished by how many beautiful towns facing the coast that I could see. And when I saw Cervo, I knew I had to visit it on a next travel to Liguria. This is another picturesque coastal village that you don't want to miss if you're on a mission to explore every beautiful corner of Liguria, specially the ones that no one have ever heard about.
While in Cervo, make sure to visit it's San Giovanni Battista church at the top, walking through narrow streets and local shops, as well as it's castle.

Where to stay in Cervo
Cervo does not have plenty of options when it comes to accommodation. Prices are not low, but there are also no luxurious hotels. Stay Hotel Le Nereidi or Le notti mediterranee.



Laigueglia
The beautiful promenade of Laigueglia
Another two coastal villages with a nice beach up in front of their colourful houses. You can definitely visit both as they are one next to each other (7min drive), but you will probably feel like spending more time in Laigueglia as it's atmosphere is very different, and the pretty promenade with the Church of Saint Matthew in the back will easily steal your heart. The sandy beach in Alassio is one of the longest in this area of Italy, but is also paid.

What to do in Laigueglia and Alassio
While Laigueglia doesn't offer many options (Hotel Mediterraneo, Hotel Pineta and few others), Alassio has plenty to choose from, with a variety of prices. Stay at Grand Hotel Alassio Resort & Spa, Hotel Regina and Casa d'artista B&B for a luxurious stay, or at Hotel Adler and Hotel Lydia for a lower price.



Driving away from the coast you will be able to visit these two villages with a medieval atmosphere. While Zuccarello it's interesting to roam around and it will certainly take you back in time with it's ancient bridge and castle ruins, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena it's an enchanting village surrounded by stunning green hills and a prominent medieval castle. As in many other medieval villages, you should park outside them, as you might get stuck in the narrow streets otherwise.
Because of being small locations, they are not ideal for accommodation.


For those who enjoy visiting caves, this one is popular for it's beautiful formations and many evidences of life in prehistory. English tour guide is available and the tour takes about 70 minutes.


Finale Ligure is not a colourful coastal town like many that you will see in Liguria, but it is one of the most popular beach resorts in the area, with a long sand beach overlooking the town and the cliffs at the end (again, mostly paid), as well as a nice palm tree promenade. Not only that, Finale Ligure also offers many activities such as hiking, climbing and visiting the nearby villages like Finalborgo and Borgio Verezzi (where you can visit other caves - Grotte di Borgio Verezzi). Both of these villages are less picturesque than other medieval villages mentioned on this list and so, they wouldn't be my first choice

Where to stay in Finale Ligure
Finale Ligure has plenty of options, so it's a perfect place to be based if you're going to explore the area. It's definitely not the most budget friendlier location, but remember you're in Italy after all. If you're on a budget and decide to stay here, your best option will be Hotel Riz. For a more sophisticated stay, Villa Degli Ulivi B&B, Hotel Punta Est and Grand Hotel Moroni.



varigotti
Varigotti pebble beach and it's colourful houses. Image by hansiline from Pixabay, edited with my presets
About 1h walk or 30min cycle from Finale Ligure, you will reach Varigotti, a small town that was once a fishing village, with colourful houses and blue waters, a long pebble beach and stunning views to the hills around the Italian Riviera. While the beach up in front of the colourful houses is free, the popular Saraceni Bay (Baia dei Saraceni) is paid, and not recommended for kids as it has plenty of rocks. Not only that, this bay can get quite busy during peak times.
If you're planning on visiting Varigotti, you should stay in Finale Ligure instead.


noli italy
View to the palm tree promenade in Noli, with the clock tower, the castle and the hill in the background. Image by hansiline from Pixabay, edited with my presets
Noli is another pretty colourful town by the coast, except this one has something different about it. The busy harbour next to the palm tree promenade, the long beach with crystal clear blue waters and the lively colourful streets in the old centre full of coffee shops, all give this town a great Italian Summer vibe, not to talk about how scenic it is thanks to the beautiful hills in the background an the prominent castle and medieval towers.

Where to stay in Noli
Noli doesn't have a huge amount of options when it comes to accommodation, but you will be able to find something for sure. Prices are average comparing to other places in the western Liguria. Stay at Paradiso Di Manรน, B&B Cร  de Badin or B&B Elfo degli Ulivi.







EASTER LIGURIA
Known as Riviera di Levante (in Italian), this is the most eastern part of Liguria, close to Tuscany, and it includes all 3 popular destinations that I mentioned on the previous blog post, and so, it is the most popular region of Liguria among tourists.
Even within the less popular destinations, places like Camogli, San Fruttuoso and Sestri Levante are more well known than others in the Western Liguria, and so, you can expect a lot more visitors than in the places listed above.
While most of the destinations in Easter Liguria are associated with pretty colourful coastal towns, you will also find the occasional country side village in this list too, just way less frequently than the list above.
As done previously, these locations will be in order from west to east, but you can find them sorted by type in the summary in the beginning of this blog post.


campo ligure
View from the bridge of Campo Ligure
Small but pretty country side village not far from Genova (about 45min drive), with colourful houses, a local church and a castle. Even though Campo Ligure is fairly small, if you like to explore every single place, this village won't disappoint you because of it's picturesque views across the bridge, facing the colourful houses with the green hills in the back.

Where to stay in Campo Ligure
Campo Ligure has limited options for accomodation, but if you decide to stay, Nonno Toni has amazing reviews on Booking.com!



sori
View over the colourful houses of Sori
Sori is another town with colourful houses by the coast, with a nice beach and of course, a colourful church. It isn't as pretty as other locations like Camogli, but if you're into exploring the whole area of Liguria, you might want to check Sori as well, specially to see the "miraculous statue of Madonna", a statue that was stolen by pirates in the 16th century, and it was found about half a century later at Sori beach, in perfect conditions, to then disappear again in the waters during a bombardment in World War II, and be found at the beach again, 11 years later, undamaged.

Where to stay in Sori
Just like the previous location, Sori is also limited in accommodation. A Casa di Mila and Il Giardino di Fe are two popular bed and breakfast in the area.



camogli
One of my favourite places in Camogli, the harbour. This place is filled with local art shops an has a very nice atmosphere.
Camogli was my favourite hidden gem location in Liguria. It might be popular among Italians, but I was surprised by how come I never heard about this place before.
Camogli is a small town full of colourful houses by a hill, with a stunning harbour, a pebble but quite nice beach and a pretty promenade full of restaurants, and it hosts two popular events every year:
  • the Fish Festival (Sagra del Pesce), that happens every year in May, where about 30 thousand sardines are fried in a massive pan
  • as well as the "Festa della Stella Maris" in August, where people gather to release thousands of candles into the sea.
The Sunset in this town is absolutely amazing and you can enjoy the beach by the promenade while you watch people having their dinner as the sun sets, or even hike to the Church of San Rocco for breathtaking views.


Where to stay in Camogli
Camogli has certainly more options, but again, not for budget travelers. While you can find more affordable options such as Host alla Millenaria and Porta del Parco, here you will be well served if you're looking for a hotel or B&B with a view - Hotel Cenobio Dei Dogi, I Tre Merli Locanda, and A Due Passi Dal Cielo E Dal Mare.


Santa  Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure's harbour is quite busy and it offers a great view to the colourful buildings on the town.
You will most likely visit Santa Margherita Ligure on your way to Portofino (as I mentioned on my previous blog post about popular places to visit in Liguria), unless you come directly by boat. This is another colourful, and quite pretty town that you will most likely enjoy visiting. The view from the harbour (as seen on the picture above), as well as from the road between Rapallo and Camogli (above town) are probably the best views of Santa Margherita Ligure, and there is plenty to see here if you want to explore: the beach, harbour and promenade, castle, few churches, colourful streets and villas, as well as many coffe and ice cream shops.

Where to stay in Santa Margherita Ligure



san fruttuoso
San Fruttuoso, view from the public toilets (yep, there are free public toilets available as well)
Also mentioned on my last blog post, to me, San Fruttuoso is THE hidden gem of Liguria.
San Fruttuoso is an absolute hidden paradise, and you just can't miss it if you're in Liguria. It's located in a corner of the Portofino Regional Park (Parco regionale di Portofino), with crystal clear blue waters and a stunning 13th-century Abbey, only accessible by boat from Camogli or Portofino, or by hiking through different hike trails, being the one from Portofino the most popular of all (mostly because while the hike from Portofino takes 1h30/1h40, the one from Camogli takes about 2-3h). Most people will hike from Portofino and return by boat (just make sure you don't miss the last one or else you will have to hike back again!).
Even though San Fruttuoso is part of the Portofino most of the time, this hidden corder is actually part of the Camogli municipaly.
The main things to do, despite the obvious time well spent in the beach, include visiting the Abbey and the watch tower which, unfortuantely, are not always opened, and so, you will need to inform yourself with local tourist information points on when you are able to visit them.
Snorkelling and diving are also very popular in San Fruttuoso as you can find an underwater statue of Jesus Christ (Christ of the Abyss) with open arms.


Where to stay in San Fruttuoso
While you can't stay in San Fruttuoso, you can choose to stay in Camogli or Portofino or even Santa Margherita Ligure. That being said, there is a resort not too far from the area - Stella Maris Resort.


Rapallo
Stunning view to Rapallo's promenade and hills. Photo by Brendan Greenway on Unsplash, edited with my presets
Rapallo is not as beautiful as many other colourful towns mentioned on this list, but is a great option for accommodation. The boat and train services from here to other Ligurian destinations are really good, and your wallet will certainly be thankful for the amount of money you can save in accommodation here. If you're exploring Rappallo, you can enjoy the lidos, the harbour, castle, churches, lively streets and squares, museums, promenade and stunning views over the colourful villas that were build over the hill.
Just bear in mind that parking is quite limited here and you might struggle to park your car if you're driving.

Where to stay in Rapallo



Sestri Levante
Stunning view to the Silent Bay, taken from the Salita Mandrella viewpoint.
Just like Camogli, this was another town I never heard about, and it surprised hugely by how beautiful it actually is.
Easily accessible by train from other locations in Liguria, Sestri Levante is another small but cute town with colourful streets and houses, palm trees and a stunning, panoramic bay named Baia del Silenzio (Silent Bay) - a family friendly free beach that can get quite busy during Summer. When we visited, we struggled to find this bay at first on the map, as we were looking at the wrong bay (Baia delle Favole), that let me tell you, looks absolutely nothing like the Silent Bay.
Once we did find it, I quickly fell in love with this town, not only because of it's nice free beach and atmosphere, but specially because of it's panoramic view that you will get if you go up the opposite side of the bay, towards the Salita Mandrella viewpoint. If you're looking for a place to stay, the Hotel Vis a Vis offers spectacular views to the bay, that you won't get anywhere else.

Where to stay in Sestri Levante
Luxurious hotels and villas: Hotel Vis ร  Vis, Hotel Helvetia and Villa Agnese
Affordable hotels/B&B: Villa Pozzi, B&B da Carla and Hotel Miriam



Varese Ligure
Colurful street in Varese Ligure. Image by dexmac from Pixabay, edited with my presets.
Up north from Sestri Levante you can find this medieval village, popular for it's round layout and of course, bright coloured houses. It's castle can only be admired from the outside as it is not opened to visitors, but you will be able to enter the churches. This village is also popular for it's organic farming so, if you're visiting during lunch time, make sure you eat here before heading off to your next stop!

Where to stay in Varesse Ligure
Varesse Ligure doesn't have many places to stay at. However, if you decide to stay here, you will find mostly apartments and B&B's like Agriturismo A Trasea and Azienda Agrituristica Risveglio Naturale.



portovenere sunset
Golden hour in Portovenere harbour, overlooking the popular tall and thin colourful houses. Image by Anke Schofeld from Pixabay, edited with my Presets
Often ignored by the Cinque Terre visitors, this beautiful, less popular town could be the 6th land if Cinque Terre was "Sei Terre", but for some reason, it is not. Nevertheless, Portovenere should 100% be part of your visit to Cinque Terre as you don't want to miss another pretty coastal town in this area, specially this one, with a stunning harbour overlooking the tall, thin colourful houses aligned perfectly, two churches and castle, a lovely old centre and stunning views from the hill towards the coast.
There is no train access to Portovenere so you will have to drive or take a bus from La Spezia (a great town to stay based at when visiting Cinque Terre) or take a boat.

Palmaria Island is the largest island of the 3 located in the Gulf of La Spezia (being the other two Tino and Tinetto), and it is popular for quite few different reasons: it is easily reachable by ferry from Portofino, and it offers a variety of hiking opportunities, scenic beaches with clear blue waters by the cliffs, and even caves that can be accessed by boat. And of course, you will be able to have a great panoramic view to Portovenere.


Where to stay in Portovenere
Luxurious hotels and villas: Grand Hotel Portovenere and Gioia Con Vista
Affordable hotels/B&B: Hotel Della Baia and Hotel Le Grazie



lerici italy
Lerici's harbour overlooking the colourful houses and the castle. Photo by Federico Tasin on Unsplash, cropped and edited with my presets
Lerici is another town with colourful houses by the coast (yep, one more), but with an amazing harbour overlooking the town and the castle. It is another town well known among Italian visitors (so it can get really crowded during Summer peak times), but not so much with visitors from overseas. A hike up to castle is highly recommended, and enjoy the lively streets, with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants as you explore this lovely town.


Where to stay in Lerici



tellaro
Beautiful sunset at Tellaro's harbour. Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash
Not far from Lerici you will find this cute small fishing town of Tellaro, very much unknown, that reminds me of Cinque Terre and Camogli. Be prepared to be surprised by how quiet a beautiful village like this one can be comparing to others, since the crowds escape to more popular towns such as Cinque Terre and even many other destinations on this list which are clearly busier. The village is very small and there is no beach, but you might be able to find a spot to sunbath and enjoy the water in the rocks by the harbour, if the waters are calm - during Summer, you will find locals doing the same!

Where to stay in Tellaro
Tellaro is quite limited in accommodation and price range does not vary that much, so if you're looking for something either cheap or fancy, Lerici will be a better place to stay. Nevertheless, Tellaro still has popular options like Hotel Il Nido and Locanda Miranda.







There are other locations in these area such as Bordighera and Sanremo on the Western Liguria, as well as Chiavari, Levanto and Sarzana in the Easter Liguria, that you might fin d in another lists, but I did not include on the list since they felt less interesting to me comparing to the ones described above. That being said, your opinion might be different, so if you want to explore all locations, do give these ones a try.
Since I did not have the opportunity to visit many of these locations yet (will certainly be back to give you my insights and upload my own pictures), many of the history and facts found on this blog post where inspired on https://www.italythisway.com




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