If you fancy a day by the sea, there is a wealth of choice and variety in both Northern Tuscany and Liguria. The places described below are a mix of sandy beaches for relaxing and chilling out on, to beautiful and romantic coastal hamlets.
The Gulf of La Spezia (also known as The Gulf of Poets)
- beautiful, romantic Italian hamlets set against stunning backdrops. Mostly rocky coves and beaches although also includes the nearby sandy beach of Lerici.
The Versilia Coast
- large sandy, touristy beaches. Forte di Marmi also offers an Italian retail experience including designer shops. It is worth noting that many beaches in Italy are commercial affairs where you must pay for a space and sunbed.
The Tigullio Gulf
- further afield - the famous resorts of Portofino and Santa Margherita.
The Gulf of La Spezia
All times are approximate from Villa Rosa
A short drive from the house takes you to a semicircular bay known as The Gulf of La Spezia. It is also known as the Gulf of Poets and even nowadays it continues to attract and inspire writers and artists. The Gulf's principal centre and province's capital is the town of La Spezia (45 mins) - only interesting to visit if you harbour a passion for naval history!
The nearest big sandy beach to Villa Rosa is in the town of Lerici (40 minutes) located to the south of La Spezia. There are both private (pay for a space and a sunbed) and public (no charge) beaches. Regular ferries operate from Lerici to Portovenere (ferry takes 20 mins from Lerici) which is a beautiful and romantic village, guarded by two small islands at the end of a little peninsula. You can also get to Portovenere by road (1 hour) although most people arrive by boat and parking could be a challenge. The two charming villages of Fiascherino and Tellaro (50 minutes) are a short distance south of Lerici, the latter being an ancient and evocative village of Etruscan origin, with picturesque houses, streets and harbour that has inspired many painters and poets.
North of La Spezia is the gateway to the five hamlets (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso) collectively known as Cinque Terre (five lands) - there is a sandy beach only at Monterosso. To get there, take a ferry from Lerici (ferry takes 40 mins), a train direct from La Spezia (train takes 15 mins to Riomaggiore) or you can drive there direct - again parking would be a challenge. The trains are notorious for tourist pickpocketing so watch your belongings! For another beach, at a greater distance, go further north again to the the larger town of Levanto (train from La Spezia takes c.40 mins).
The coast features some superb seafood restaurants making this an excellent choice for a special evening.
For the naval enthusiast, La Spezia's nautical heritage will be a major attraction.
Among the nautical-themed tourist sights, the best is proably the naval museum, the Museo Tecnico Navale, close to the Naval Arsenal at Viale Amendola, 1. The museum claims to be one of the best of its kind in the world; exhibits include a collection of ships' figureheads. The Arsenal itself can sometimes be viewed, upon request. The local archaeological museum is housed in the Museo del Castello (Castello di San Giorgio, Via XXVII Marzo), where there is a fine collection of Roman and pre-Roman artefacts from the surrounding area, including some striking stelae from the Bronze and Iron Ages. A more esoteric tourist attraction is the Museo del Sigillo (Via del Prione, 236), the museum of seals, consisting of a large, formerly private collection of seals, probably the largest in the world. The Museo Civico Amadeo Lia (Via del Prione, 234) is based in a former monastery and contains another donated collection, this time of art, and includes works by Titian and Bellini.
The seafront is wide and provides lots of opportunities for gawping at boats of all sizes. A strip of park runs along the esplanade, making it a pleasant place for a stroll or a sit-down. There are also luxuriant parks, owing their existence to the turn-of-the-century lavishness that is also commemorated in the town's architecture and public buildings. Via del Prione is one of La Spezia's busiest streets, a largely-pedestrianised thoroughfare lined with shops, where the young bucks promenade on a Saturday afternoon.
Lerici is located 11km south of La Spezia and has the nearest sandy beach to Villa Rosa. The beach in the photos below is - unusually for Italy - free to sit on, although you can rent sunbeds and parasols. There is another sandy beach in Lerici which you need to pay to sit on. There is a large carpark as you enter Lerici - pay and display in high season although free at other times. As you arrive at the sea front from the carpark (2-3 min walk) there is a tourist office. It is worth picking up literature and maps here.
The town dates back to Roman times and is overshadowed by a medieval castle now converted into a magnificent palaeontological museum. There are several striking villas in the area and the picturesque old town is surrounded by gardens and sunlit beaches.
I definitely recommend that you walk along the promenade from the beach into the centre of the town - the town square (piazza) - as it is very picturesque. In high season there is a funfair for kids, and some very good restaurants. Click here for a recommendation of where to eat.
You can catch ferries from Lerici to Portovenere (20 mins), La Spezia (20 mins), Cinque Terre (40 mins) and even Portofino. The ferry stop is just off the main town square (piazza) and the ferries are pretty regular. Simply buy a ticket from the ferry stop and jump on. It is worth arriving early in high season.
How to get here: From Aulla, take the A15 to La Spezia. This will lead you off the autostrada and you will see a large sign to Lerici after a couple of minutes.
Named after Venus, Portovenere is one of the most romantic villages on the Ligurian coast with a cluster of narrow streets lined with pastel-coloured houses and is full of coastal charm. Today, recognised by UNESCO as part of the world cultural heritage, it has been said that Portovenere is the less ‘flash’ version of
The front is lined with a host of seafood restaurants and bars while the narrow cobbled lanes behind comprise a multitude of small boutiques and shops selling local produce and gifts. In the upper part of the village is the 12th Century
Fiascherino and Tellaro
Fiascherino is located a short distance from Lerici. It is a small and pleasant village located in a bay between rocks and pine, oak and olive trees. It is famous because between 1913-14, the writer DH Lawrence stayed in a small villa in the area with his female companion Frida.
Tellaro is a small village at the far East of the Gulf of La Spezia, 4 km south of Lerici. It is one of the most picturesque towns in the area in a beautiful position on the promontory which separates the Gulf of Bocca di Magra. It is an old sea village built on the rocks with strong fortifications to control potential invaders coming from the sea. It is a typical Ligurian village, with houses next to each other, separated only by small steep and winding strees which end up in a small square. The church facing the rocky spur is very picturesque. Its construction only increases the beauty of this enchanting place.
Le Cinque Terre
The five hamlets of the Cinque Terre are located to the north of La Spezia; the villages of (from South to North) Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso either cling to the cliff face or are concealed in miniature inlets perfectly blending in to this unique and unspoilt landscape. Over centuries, through constant work, man has managed to create this landscape, the only one of its kind in the world. Represented by the steep terraces sloping down to the sea, supported by dry stone walling, cleverly built without any kind of cement, they are cultivated as vineyards that almost touch the waves. The area is both a National Park and protected Marine Area and has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Without doubt, the best way to discover and enjoy the Cinque Terre is to visit on foot and walk the paths and the centuries old flights of steps, which up to a short time ago were the only connections between these five villages. The most famous path is the Via dell’Amore or the ‘lovers lane’ that links Manorola to Riomaggiore which is cut out of the step cliffs overlooking the sea (15 min walk).
Manarola and Riomaggiore cling to the rock face with their houses piled up in a multi coloured mosaic overlooking the sea and are the most typical and unspoilt villages of the five. There is a small shingle beach at Riomaggiore and a tiny port at Manarola.
Corniglia, the only village not on the sea, nestled on a hill surrounded by vineyards has a more ‘country’ appeal. Between Vernazza and Corniglia there is the romantic
The topography of Vernazza is outstanding: tower-like buildings flank the narrow alleyways leading down to the anchorage which is set in a fairy-tale bay. It is naturally protected from the threat of the sea by a rocky cove and for centuries had been the only safe landing point in the Cinque Terre. There is a small shingle beach here.
Monterosso is renowned for the unspoilt architecture of the medieval centre, now a thriving cultural centre, with a larger sandy beach with facilities.
The Cinque Terre, apart from its landscape, is also famous for the DOC rated wines produced here. Only selected grapes, after drying in airy attics away from the damp and the sunlight, will be ready for the production of the famous sweet wine - sciacchettra (sha-ka-tra). The cuisine is handed down from ancient recipes with the herbs grown wild to enhance the basic flavours. The sea plays the major role with a wide range of fish, with the speciality being the anchovies of Monterosso. Although the Cinque Terre are becoming more attractive to tourists the area remains unspoilt and a visit should be included in the travellers itinerary for those visiting the region.
Levanto is to the north of the Cinque Terre - it is a larger town than the Cinque Terre villages and therefore has more activities to indulge in. Unlike Cinque Terre you can easily drive in and out of Levanto and you are connected to the Cinque Terre villages by train.
Levanto offers castles, public gardens, and incredible architecture. It has sandy beaches and a swimming pool (that overlooks the Mediterranean for sun worshipers). There are many outdoor activities available: tennis, scuba diving, surfing, bike rentals, paddle boats. You can go walking or hiking into our magnificent mountains right from the town.
The Versilia Coast
If you want long, sandy, commercial and touristy beaches then the Versilia coastline is for you. It has a wealth of beaches along it, most of which are surrounded by fragrant pinewoods. The most popular ones are Marina di Carrara, Marina di Massa, Cinquale, Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta and Viareggio. They are very popular summer tourist resorts which boast numerous smart hotels, private homes and historical buildings. In the background the awesome Apuan Alps stand stark against the skyline, the ancient marble quarries glittering white in the sunshine. All the resorts are much the same with mostly private organised beaches which you must pay to use. If you want an Italian retail experience, including designer shops, then head for Forte dei Marmi.
Forte dei Marmi
Forte dei Marmi derives its name from the old fortress that still remains in the main piazza and the pier that was once used for loading marble. It became a highly fashionable resort in the 1970's attracting many international celebrities and has in recent years undergone a facelift to become popular again as a chic destination. Grand old villas of the late 19th century provide the perfect facade of this luxury town with important families of Italian industry and design owning villas here. For those seeking retail therapy Italian style, the town will not fail to impress with some of the most famous brands in the world. It is surrounded by pine forests which open onto a splendid beach. It is now equipped with high quality tourist facilities, although it retains the relaxed atmosphere of a small residential community. However, even if many of the shops sell some of the most expensive items money can buy, it has managed to retain a strangely relaxed and somewhat unpretentious atmosphere. Stylish boutiques and cafes line the streets. When you have had enough of shopping you can escape to one of the beach clubs for some sun, sea and relaxation.
Viareggio is the largest and oldest of the coastal towns on the Versilia Coast. It has a big sandy beach dotted with private bathing areas that you can buy a day pass for.
During the summer months there is a lively atmosphere and any train bound here on a summers morning is likely to be full of people heading for an easily organised day at the beach. Forget tiny coves with hidden beaches where you can throw down a towel as
The Tigullio Gulf
The Tigullio Gulf is much further away than both the Versilia Coast and the Gulf of La Spezia. However if you are truly determined to visit the famous resorts of Santa Margherita and/or Portofino then it is just about possible if you are an early riser!
Portofino and the Tigullio Gulf are symbols representing Italy throughout the world. The coast is a sequence of fashionable resorts with their marinas, pastel-coloured houses, first-rate sports facilities and the seductive atmosphere of the Dolce Vita. But perhaps the most striking thing for the traveller is the beauty of the seascapes, with some of the most celebrated views in Italy, suspended between the intense blue of the sea and the green mountains.
Santa Margherita is a fair-sized town; large enough not to seem smothered by the tourism which has been an integral part of the town's existence for decades. The harbour mainly caters for smart yachts, but the town is also home to a small fishing fleet which can be seen unloading opposite the businesslike morning fishmarket. There are wide ranges of hotels and restaurants, and a selection of good daytrips to make if you get tired of pottering along the laidback seafront. Bars, cafes, gelaterie and restaurants are spread along the seafront and there are also a few along the main quay - these latter are rather more expensive but the view is lively.
Portofino is an ancient, very small and charming fishing village that has become a boutiquey stop-off point for the yachting set and has been a fashionable resort for the rich and famous. But although it fills up with trippers, this prettily-painted harbour settlement still exudes an air of tranquillity, and it's certainly a must for anyone visiting this stretch of coastline. The pretty Piazzetta by the harbour is lined with cafe and restaurant tables; a lovely place to relax with a drink and watch the boats go in and out.