Liguria stretches west in a narrow ribbon along the coast from France. Mountains separate it from Piedmont to the north, Emilia Romagna to the east and Tuscany to the south. Even if you've never been there, you've probably seen its northeastern border in all those movies where glamorous jet setters hop into their sports cars and motor from Monte Carlo to Rome: the quaint customs booths any foreign film lover knows well are outside Ventimiglia. Like so much of Italy, Liguria is a land of contrasts, home to belle époque seaside resort towns in the style of Cannes and Monaco; dozens and dozens of sandy strands, rocky coves and pebbly beaches; the country's largest commercial port and largest naval port; some of its most secluded stretches of coast, where lush forests of lemon trees, herbs, flowers, almonds and pines send forth heady sweet-smelling breezes; terraced hillsides that produce an olive oil considered more delicate than those grown in Tuscany. Whether you travel by train or by car, the spectacular journey along the Ligurian coast goes through tunnel after tunnel, always bursting forth from darkness into warm sunlight, the aquamarine sea glimmering at your side. 

Genoa, Via GaribaldiEzra Pound, Lord Byron, Shelley and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, Ernest Hemingway all loved this part of Europe, whose capital is Genoa. The world's schoolchildren know this city as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, but few foreigners consider it one of Italy's must-see art centers. Indeed, it is a typical bustling seaport, similar to Marseilles in many aspects. Yet it is worth a visit, if only for a few hours between trains. Its steep, narrow alleys stretch from the picturesque medieval town center up to the hills crowding directly behind it. You can visit the explorer's home, which happens to be next door to the serene 12th-century cloisters of Sant'Andrea, a welcome respite from the lively atmosphere of a harbor that has sent raucous sailors off to conquer the world for centuries. Via Garibaldi (pictured at right), with its patrician palaces and herringbone brick pavement, is the epitome of European elegance, and the Royal Palace, which houses an excellent collection of European art works, rivals Versailles for its extravagant trappings. 


Most people come to Liguria for its seashore, which is a virtually uninterrupted string of resorts that have been a mecca for Italian tourists for a hundred years. The Ligurians have two names for their boomerang-shaped coastline: the half that stretches from France to Genoa is called La Riviera di Ponente, while the half that lies on the Italian peninsula proper is La Riviera di Levante. The latter is where you will find Liguria's rising star attraction, the fascinating Cinqueterre.