The Italian Riviera is synonymous with the Liguria region of Italy, a crescentshaped strip of Mediterranean coastline between the south of France and Tuscany.
This region has something for everyone… beautiful hillside villages, glamour and glitz equivalent to Monte Carlo, exquisite countryside and of course, Florence and Pisa, the cities of art, architecture and food.
Clearly, this region attracts millions of tourists. Some 65 million visit Italy each year, many heading here, and who can blame them…I love a show stopper, but I’m also a big fan of authenticity aka the ‘real thing’ and this trip I may have just found the gin to my tonic…La Spezia.
La Spezia sits right on the border between Liguria and Tuscany, it’s Liguria’s second largest city and is home to the country’s largest naval base. Its combination of historical buildings, beautiful scenery and tree-lined waterfront, the Passeggiata Costantino Morin, makes for idyllic wandering.
Surprisingly though, this is a city that is often overlooked despite having exceptional transport links and its own Rivera town, Porto Venere, a mere 20 minutes away.
Porto Venere is as pretty as its famed Riviera rivals and it’s historically interesting. Its rocky shoreline is home to Grotta di Lord Byron (Byron’s Grotto) named appropriately after the English Poet who lived in Porto Venere. Byron often swam in this rocky cove and said he drew inspiration from it. Porto’s beautiful harbour is surrounded by colourful houses and the town’s crooked alleyways climb upwards to the precariously positioned gothic Church of San Pietro.
So why stay in La Spezia or Porto Venere? Four reasons, better value accommodation, great transport, authenticity and la Cinque Terre, the five picturesque old fishing villages are said to be among the most photogenic places in Italy, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
So picturesque are these villages, everyone wants to be there, much like summer in Cornwall. Your visions of a scenic Italian road trip may be one thing, the reality may be another, roads can be very congested. La Spezia, however, has the answer, in its rail links, its central station, La Spezia Centrale, is on the main railway line linking Genova, Cinque Terre, La Spezia, Pisa and Rome.
These frequent services mean you can enjoy a better value, more authentic experience by staying outside of the main tourist hubs. The benefits of this are a plenty, connections with local people, their cultures and of course ‘real’ food…Liguria is a food Mecca, the home of Minestrone, Focaccia, Pesto Genovese and Linguini pasta, need I say more?
So, the next time you’re planning a getaway, could you consider what hidden gems may be waiting to welcome you just a little further out? Like La Spezia it could be your gateway to new adventures.