Italian Riviera

Ligurian high life

The Italian Riviera shares plenty of similarities with its French equivalent – the dramatic Alpine backdrop; the narrow strips of waterfront land; the sandy beaches; the high-end boutique shopping and the first-rate Mediterranean cuisine. But in contrast to the French Riviera, the exclusivity on the Italian coast feels altogether more rustic and approachable. The shore is littered with fishing villages, some of which (like Portofino) have achieved super-chic status; and others (like those around La Spezia) that retain an authentic salt crust on their tumbling technicolour buildings. There are also plenty of extraordinary coastal walks, sheltered bays, secluded beaches and lofty cliffs, but what makes the Italian charter experience so special is that it fuses maritime tradition with 21st century luxury to better effect than anywhere else in the world.

As a historical refuge for some of Europe’s most pampered elite, the balmy Ligurian resort of San Remo is arguably the showiest destination on the Riviera. Widely known as the `City of Flowers’ for its seasonal show of blooms, it is more useful to think about the modern manifestation of this old Roman settlement as a hotbed of ritzy, casino-style nightlife. The enormous harbour is a renowned superyacht hub and the bars, shops and cafes ooze with appropriate cosmopolitanism.

As the hub of the Riviera, the capital of Liguria and one of Italy’s foremost seaports, Genoa is the worldly counterpoint to the compact elegance of the outlying towns and villages. In addition to a buzzing arts scene, a huge waterfront aquarium, a plentiful supply of high-class dive sites and a beautiful old harbour, it offers several classical districts, where the manic mishmash of multicoloured villas plunges steeply to the sea. What could be more Riviera than that?

The fabled Italian fishing village of Portofino nestles between herb-strewn hillsides in a protected reserve at the apex of a turquoise inlet. That alone makes it an alluring charter venue but if the modest size, the pristine loveliness or the seasonal throng gets a bit much, try the nearby port towns of Santa Margherita and Rapallo instead. They might be a touch less chic and a lot less celebrated but for the charter yacht explorer, they’re every bit as good.

The traditional seaside resort of Viareggio has grown in popularity among the yachting elite – and like most towns in this region, the long promenade is the heart of the shopping, dining and late night scene. The high-spec marina sits at the apex of the two main beaches and while the town’s shipbuilding roots have largely given way to tourism, the youthful energy of its upmarket beach scene is extremely attractive. It also makes an ideal stopover for a daytrip to Pisa or Florence.

The impossibly lovely headland settlement of Portovenere is one of the best places in the whole Riviera to sit among the waterfront villas and revel in the quiet prestige, the rustic elegance and the maritime gentility of it all. From here, Cinque Terre is also within reach – a mountainous patch of Riviera coastline encompassing five famously unspoiled fishing villages that have managed to survive the region’s gentrification unscathed. No Riviera yacht charter itinerary would be complete without them.

The Isle of Elba is like a Caribbean paradise in the middle of the Med. Its shores are riddled with lofty headlands, sandy bays and protected rural landscapes and with a variety of exposed and sheltered coasts, the watersports options are first class. Its clear, richly stocked waters are great for diving and Portoferraio, the historic centre, is at once an authentic fishing town and a sophisticated leisure destination. With its great cuisine and extraordinary Napoleonic heritage, it makes a superb charter detour.

Technically, the Tuscan seaside resort of Porto Ercole falls a good way outside the limits of the Italian Riviera – but as a pretty town wrapped around a natural deepwater harbour with an expansive and entertaining marina at its heart, its value to the roaming superyacht skipper is beyond question. Up on the hill, various 16th century fortifications keep watch over the town’s pastille coloured streets and the seasonal effervescence in and around the long town promenade is brilliantly infectious.

Top Ten Italian Riviera attractions

  1. Experience the world-famous seafood in and around Genoa’s old port.
  2. Explore the revitalised earthquake ghost town of Bussana Vecchia.
  3. Head north from Portofino to witness Santa Margherita and Rapallo.
  4. Walk the ancient pathways of the Cinque Terre fishing villages.
  5. Step inland and sample the slow, graceful antiquity of Finalborgo.
  6. Wander the winding urban labyrinth of Genoa’s incoherent zigzag streets.
  7. Step ashore and sample the gorgeous waterfront gentility of Portovenere.
  8. View Napoleon’s death mask at Portoferraio on the Isle of Elba.
  9. Take a short daytrip inland to Pisa or Florence.
  10. Explore the Tuscan Archipelago, the largest marine park in Europe.

AVERAGE CONDITIONS