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Liguria - When and where to visit
Medieval Port Maurizio is the historic centre of Imperia © Paolo Airenti, Shutterstock
It’s generally a sunny place with an average of four hours’ sunshine a day in winter and nine in the summer. Indeed it’s one of the sunniest places in Italy despite its northerly position. Annual average relative humidity is 68%, ranging from 63% in February to 73% in May. Rainfall can be abundant at times and Genoa and La Spezia can see up to 2,000mm of rain in a year. October and November are the wettest months and in recent years there have been torrential rains in Liguria in the late autumn and serious flash flooding. Snowfall is sporadic, but does occur once or twice per year.
The average yearly temperature is around 19°C during the day and 12°C at night. Even in the coldest months of January, February and March, the average daytime temperature is 12°C which makes for a pleasant stay even in the depths of winter. The average yearly temperature range is only 5.4°C, which is one of the lowest in Italy. In summer, it’s usually between 25°C and 28°C, and 21°C at night; temperatures are lower than in other parts of Italy as the sea breezes cool the air, although in a heatwave temperatures can reach 36°C. The sea is generally warm and from June to October is 19°C or higher. The sea is mainly calm, with a tidal range of 30cm.
Don’t be fooled by the sea that can look like a mill pond. The Italian Riviera is particularly prone to fierce storms, heavy rainfall and rough seas, so always check weather reports before setting out (www.eurometeo.com).
Liguria is a windy place and the wind usually blows from the southeast, bringing humid and warmer air from the sea. Summer often comes to a close with dramatic thunderstorms that feel like they have jumped out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
With the mildest of climates, tourists visit Liguria at all times of the year but November and February can be wet and are best avoided. There are things to do all year round: from fascinating museums to visit and fabulous palaces, to beaches and wild mountain countryside to explore.
There is, however, a clearly defined high season that runs from May to September and the coast can get very busy, especially at weekends. It is hot in Liguria in summer and it’s not the best time to explore Genoa. It’s essentially a beach experience at this season but it is also a beautiful time to spend time in the mountains that are degrees cooler than the coast. August can be disappointing for visiting Genoa, as many restaurants close for the entire month and the city can be uncharacteristically empty.
In winter, when the air is clear and the views are at their best, it’s a joy to walk along the Cinque Terre in peace and gaze out across the sea to Corsica. Spring and autumn are best for sightseeing and any kind of sporting activity that doesn’t involve cooling off in the sea.
Liguria has some of the most stunning coastline in the Mediterranean: it includes the Cinque Terre, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions. Dramatic cliffs plunge into a deep blue sea; there are tiny rocky coves and beautiful seaside villages like the world-famous Portofino. That said, Liguria isn’t all about glitz. The Ligurians like the simple life and the hinterland is well off the tourist track. This is somewhere to have a truly Italian experience.
For historians and art lovers, Genoa has sumptuous palaces, stuffed with old masters and was once the powerhouse of medieval Europe. Its old town is one of the largest in Europe and refreshingly authentic. It’s an excellent option for a short break.
One of the real wonders of Liguria is its fantastic food. This is the home of the pesto sauce and you will never have eaten a version as tasty as the one they make here. Genoa once had a vast trading empire that stretched to the Near East and the Genoese as a result adopted the Arabs’ love of ice cream and candied fruit. What is truly fascinating about eating in Liguria is that, although it is Italy’s smallest region, the cuisine is highly varied and changes from valley to valley. Trying the flagship dishes won’t break the bank either as the Ligurians are a thrifty lot and live off simple food.
Fortunately, Liguria is an outdoor place so you can burn off the calories hiking along the mountain tops that offer stunning views along the coast, snorkelling and swimming in the sea or cycling along the mile upon mile of coastal pathways.
Base yourself in Genoa. Spend one full day exploring the city and trying out some of its fabulous restaurants. On the second day take the train to Camogli. Eat lunch in La Nonna Nina and then walk across the promontory to Portofino. Catch the bus or get a taxi back to Santa Margherita and from there take the train back to Genoa.
Base yourself in Porto Venere. Spend the first day exploring the old town and take a boat trip to Palmaria Island, where there are great walks and some lovely beaches. The next day, take a boat trip to the Cinque Terre or across the bay to Lerici.
Spend two nights in Genoa exploring the old town and visiting the palaces and museums. Then head for Camogli for two nights: from here, take a trip to the monastery of San Fruttuoso and visit Portofino for a day; then head for the Cinque Terre. Spend a night in Corniglia before moving on to Porto Venere where it’s time to unwind and take the boat to Palmaria Island for a day on the beach. As you journey back up the coast, stop off at Sestri Levante before heading home.
Spend four nights in Genoa; this will give you time to see everything that the city has to offer and take a trip on the narrow-gauge railway up into the mountain valleys behind the city. Then spend two nights in and around Portofino or Camogli. Take two nights to walk along the Cinque Terre and spend the next night in Porto Venere. Then catch the train from La Spezia to Varazze. If you stop off for two nights here you can get the best of the hinterland as you will have time to explore Monte Beigua. Next stop is the tiny walled city of Noli. Then head for Imperia, stopping en route to see the caves at Toirano. Then finish your trip with two nights in Triora, deep in the mountains.
With three weeks you have time to see all the highlights of Liguria. Start at the French border. The Mediterranean beckons, so spend the first night in Bordighera. Then head up into the mountains to the hilltop towns of first Apricale and then Triora. Then it’s time to head back for the coast via Taggia to Imperia. Take a trip back up into the mountains, basing yourself for a couple of nights in Borgomaro. Kick off week two exploring the area around Varazze and relaxing by the sea. After this you’ll be ready for the city life and four nights in Genoa. Week three gives you plenty of time to explore the Riviera di Levante as described in the one-week itinerary, but you will also have time to visit the medieval town of Sarzana.