Stunning cliffs, lush hills, and picture-perfect beaches are a few reasons to love Italy’s coastline. Buildings, many medieval, perch prettily on the hills. Red tile roofs are a grace. Fishing boats bob on harbor waters, and from there you might glimpse a castle ruin, citrus farm, and terraced vineyards. Each coast town has expansive seascape views and a past that reaches back through time. Explore coves, for it’s there you’ll come upon intriguing secrets during an Italy vacation.
Portofino, situated along the coast of Liguria, has been frequented by A-list celebrities since the 1950’s. The town’s upscale boutiques and stellar restaurants define relaxed luxury. Situated on an isolated peninsula, Portofino is exclusive and a tad arrogant. The harbor is dotted with rustic fishing boats and glamorous yachts; this stretch of the Italian Riviera is one of the ritziest. Celebrity spotting is a favorite pastime—keep an eye out for large sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Hike to the lookout on top of Castello Brown. There’s a fine museum, and the harbor spreads out below you. If you’re a scuba diver, go 45 ft. beneath the surface and you’ll come face-to-face with a submerged, bronze statue of Jesus named, “Christ of the Abyss.”
Local Tip: Vacation in the villas of Portofino for elegance. Consider nearby Santa Maria Ligure or Camogli for a down-to-earth base. Alternately, visit Portofino on a day trip via rail from Genoa.
The Medieval fishing village of Riomaggiore is situated on a series of dramatic cliffs and rocky coves. Part of the Italian Riviera, this slice of coastline has undergone some major development since travelers discovered it. Still, it has a vibrant personality. Riomaggiore is the most easterly of five fishing communities that make up Cinque Terre, five towns steeped in history and charm. Climb the village’s rocky outcrop. You’ll have a terrific view of multi-colored buildings that look like precariously stacked blocks teetering on larger blocks. Stay in the village to experience its gentler vibe during the warm glow of sunset.
Local Tip: Ride the Cinque Terre Express to access the region’s four other villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Cinque Terre is a day’s drive from much of southern Italy.
Even with the absence of soft, golden beaches characteristic of Italy’s coast, Sorrento is a favored seaside town. Towering above is the Lattari Mountain Range with a series of hikes, offering dramatic views over the Bay. Beyond Sorrento’s elegant, café-lined Piazza Tasso, are streets lined with little shops with local lacework and ceramics. Bordered by the rustic Italian countryside to the south, the Amalfi Coast to the east, and historic Pompeii to the north, the inspiring location of Sorrento is a springboard for a dozen getaways.
Local Tip: Travel Sorrento in the springtime to see the town painted in vivid colors of jasmine and orange blossoms in full bloom. From there, it’s an easy boat ride to Capri or a guided tour to Pompeii. Limoncello is served with meals as frequently as water. Enjoy!
Positano is an enclave of pastel-hued homes on the Amalfi Coast. This portion of Italy’s winding coastline is considered by many to be the most picturesque. There is one major road, lined with chic boutiques, fine hotels, and renowned restaurants. During warm, summer months, the town feels like a large resort. Go beyond the main road into a network of steep side streets, and you’ll discover the beauty of everyday life. Hike “The Path of the Gods,” a scenic cliffside trail that winds above Positano’s dazzling turquoise sea. The views are extraordinary.
Local Tip: Sunbathe on the more intimate pebbled Fornillo Beach instead of the town’s main Spiaggia Grande to escape the crowds.
Arriving by boat to Cagliari is to witness Italy in all her glory. This is the capital of Sardinia, a wonder of the Mediterranean, and the country’s second-largest island. Towering domes and energetic squares surround Cagliari’s famous feature, Il Castello, a hilltop citadel. Explore cobblestone lanes on your way up for a harbor view. Cagliari’s historic center reveals its rich past—the remains of fortifications flanked by city walls and an amphitheater, recall the past Pisan and Roman rule. In the summer, locals gather in cafes along the town’s harbor or they head to Poetto Beach. Cagliari has it all—historic sites, panoramic views, and sandy beaches.
Local Tip: Travel south of Cagliari and try windsurfing at Santa Margherita di Pula, a local favorite with optimum wave and wind conditions.
This is, for many, the Italy they envision. The coast was loved by Roman emperors, has starred in movies, and buildings that tumble down to aquamarine harbors feel like a miracle. The Italian Coast may be the highlight of your Italy vacation.