Lined with picturesque towns from Genoa to just south of Naples, Italy’s western coastline is among the most beautiful in the world. Whether you have one week or one month, seaside towns, regional delicacies, locally produced wine and liquor, outdoor activities and sweeping views of the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas await.
1. Hike the Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre has become saturated with tourists and backpackers over the years. But don’t let the critique that it’s now “too mainstream” dissuade you. Cinque Terre consists of five little hillside towns with a hiking path that connects all of them along the Ligurian Sea. Vernazza (pictured above) has waterside restaurants and narrow cobblestone streets that lead up to the homes on the hill. Monterosso boasts the only recreational beach, and Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore all have their own subtle charm. Hiking to all five in a day is ambitious, but rewarding.
2. Visit Portofino
Portofino rests on the tip of a small peninsula, about an hour from Genoa. The seaside town’s harbor sees a lot of yacht and sailboat traffic carrying the rich and (sometimes) famous, who come for Portofino’s boutiques and restaurants. There’s a stretch of intimate beaches surrounding the peninsula, most notably those in and around Paraggi and Santa Margherita Ligure. If you’re a diver, don’t miss the opportunity to see Christ of the Abyss, which lies below the surface near the harbor of San Fruttuoso.
3. Eat Mozzarella di Bufala in Paestum
Paestum is 62 miles south of Naples and known for its marvelously preserved ruins dating back to Ancient Greek times. But its best-kept secret is the mozzarella di bufala: the fresh buffalo milk mozzarella made in the Campania region. A two-mile stretch along Paestum’s SS18, known as “Mozzarella Road,” is lined with almost as many purveyors of this cheese as there are Starbucks locations in Manhattan. You can even tour the facilities that make the rich, lightly salted, creamy and quite possibly best mozzarella in the world.
4. Stay at a B&B on the Ligurian Coast
Photo by Adrian Spinelli
Yes, Airbnb has changed the bed-and-breakfast game, but you’d be surprised by how many old school B&B facilities still operate here, especially on the Ligurian coast between Genoa and Cinque Terre. Check out the tiny towns of Sori, Rapallo and Chiavari for the best deals and a front-row seat to sunsets like the one pictured above.
5. Wake Up to the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast has the most intimate and sweeping views of the Tyrrhenian Sea’s blue waters. The town of Amalfi is the perfect place to rent a room with a sea-view balcony. There’s nothing like waking up to coffee and Italian pastries as you hover over pristine waters, looking at colors you never knew existed.
Any Italian will tell you that the finest lemons in the world come from Sorrento, on the very tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula off the Amalfi Coast. Limoncello is a digestif made from lemon zest, and the flavors of the coastal lemons from Sorrento are a miracle of nature. Most restaurants will customarily leave the bottle of the chilled homemade liquor at your table following dinner to be enjoyed at your leisure.
7. Eat Focaccia al Formaggio in Recco
Photo by Adrian Spinelli
Different from the focaccia you might be familiar with, the variation made in Recco—a seaside town about 14 miles from Genoa—is served with stracchino, a creamy cheese, inside thin layers of dough and often includes toppings like prosciutto, local herbs and spices.
8. Reminisce in the Chianti Classico Region
A short train ride off the coastal highway leads you just south of Florence to the small town of Greve in Chianti. Greve boasts a beautiful central plaza where the famous butcher shop Antica Macelleria Falorni is located, as well as boutiques and a multitude of restaurants serving traditional Tuscan fare. But don’t spend the whole day here; all of Chianti Classico—the oldest part of the Chianti region—is a Tuscan treasure filled with olive oil mills, Chianti wineries and craft ceramics shops. If you’re considering a private tour, a day with Greve-local Monika Iris is sure to change your life. She opens doors for you in Chianti that you would not have arrived at on your own.
9. Rent Bikes in Lucca
A 20-minute detour from the E-80 highway along the coast leads to Lucca, a Tuscan town surrounded by a large wall, which now separates the “old city” of the Roman republic from the post-Napoleonic “new city.” Renting bikes is the best way to travel along the Renaissance-era wall, one of the few intact fragments of the city’s tumultuous history.
10. Drink Local Wine
Drinking the local wine not only allows you to taste something delicious, but gives you access to the region in a different way. You are not just seeing and hearing about the culture, you taste it. You feel it. Every bottle tells the story of where it came from. Much like the food you’ll eat, the wine is local, unprocessed and pure.
is a San Francisco-based writer and globetrotter, covering music, food, drink & more.