From chic Portofino to the en­chant­ing mari­nas of the Riviera di Po­nente, the Lig­urian coast leaves Cumbo ut­terly smit­ten

Motorboat & Yachting - - Contents - Words & pictures Peter Cum­ber­lidge

Peter Cum­ber­lidge ex­tols the plea­sures of bas­ing your boat for a year or two to make the most of the spec­tac­u­lar cruis­ing along the Lig­urian coast and across the strait to Cor­sica

The fab­u­lous sea­port of Genoa lies at the hub of Italy’s Lig­urian coast, which sweeps in a grand curve from the French bor­der near Men­ton to the glit­ter­ing Gulf of La Spezia. Lig­uria is a won­der­ful re­gion of moun­tains, rolling hills and the sunny, south-fac­ing Ital­ian Riviera. Be­tween Men­ton and Genoa, the shores are mostly soft and gen­tle with a con­ve­nient trail of mari­nas and time­less fishing har­bours. East of Genoa, the Riviera has a steeper, wilder char­ac­ter, reach­ing a cli­max along the sheer cliffs of the Cinque Terre.

Genoa is a warm and ro­man­tic city, an an­cient trad­ing post built on a coastal mound. It is also Italy’s busiest port and one of the great names in the history of sea­far­ing. The vast docks han­dle all man­ner of com­merce, but this vi­brant re­gional cap­i­tal also has sev­eral ex­cel­lent mari­nas. Yacht­ing is a pri­or­ity here and there’s ev­ery con­ceiv­able fa­cil­ity. The orig­i­nal in­ner har­bour – Porto An­tico – has been sym­pa­thet­i­cally re­stored and de­vel­oped into one of Europe’s most pedes­trian-friendly city wa­ter­fronts.

Two hours fly­ing time from Lon­don, Genoa is a fan­tas­tic boat­ing base for a sea­son or two if you can or­gan­ise a berth. I al­ways find just be­ing in Italy re­lax­ing and the cruis­ing here is fascinating in all di­rec­tions. To the east, you can make short trips to chic Portofino or nearby Ra­pallo, with their colour­ful fa­cades of closely packed houses. Fur­ther round, the pre­car­i­ously perched vil­lages of the Cinque Terre coast pro­vide breath­tak­ing vis­tas be­fore La Spezia opens up past Por­tovenere.

West of Genoa are the charm­ing har­bours and mari­nas of the Riviera di Po­nente. San Remo is a clas­sic Ital­ian re­sort, backed by a ram­bling old town, a wooded hill and a 12th­cen­tury cathe­dral. For off­shore for­ays, the moun­tains of Cor­sica will soon beckon you south for a land­fall you’ll never for­get!


Genoa’s docks and basins sprawl eight miles along the coast, fronted by long break­wa­ters that look im­pen­e­tra­ble from sea­ward. How­ever, most vis­it­ing boats will be mak­ing for the city’s old har­bour and can use the east en­trance near Punta Vagno. This is the most at­trac­tive end of the ap­proaches, with a hol­i­day seafront along the coast road. Keep to the north side of the chan­nel to avoid traf­fic, par­tic­u­larly the nu­mer­ous fer­ries stream­ing in and out. Soon you pass Fiera di Gen­ova Ma­rina, site of the Genoa Boat Show, and then the fair­way curves north to­wards the heart of the city.

The in­ner har­bour is quite a spec­ta­cle. To star­board you gaze along a gleam­ing row of su­pery­achts at Ma­rina Molo Vec­chio. Fur­ther in are the tall white spars of Il Bigo, a fu­tur­is­tic crane whose cap­sule lifts vis­i­tors above the har­bour for panoramic views. Nearby is Genoa’s renowned aquar­ium with a bio­sphere along­side. North of the aquar­ium, Ma­rina Porto An­tico ac­com­mo­dates boats of a more nor­mal size and its in­ner berths are stern-to con­verted ware­house build­ings oc­cu­pied by shops and restau­rants. The city stacks up be­hind the har­bour in a cu­bist daub of apart­ments, ex­otic spires and oases of green.

The Ge­noese ar­chi­tect Renzo Piano di­rected the am­bi­tious ren­o­va­tions of Porto An­tico in the early 1990s and the re­sult has suc­cess­fully re­con­nected the city to the sea, which was so cen­tral to Genoa’s history and pros­per­ity. For boat own­ers, Porto An­tico is fascinating to ex­plore, pro­vid­ing vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing you need a short stroll from your moor­ing.

If you can’t ne­go­ti­ate a slot in the cen­tre, Genoa has sev­eral other mari­nas, each with its own ap­peal. Near the east har­bour en­trance, there are vis­i­tor berths at Fiera di Gen­ova Ma­rina and at the Yacht Club Ital­iano in Abruzzi basin. Al­ter­na­tively, about five miles to the west, you can en­ter a dock north of Genoa air­port where Ma­rina Gen­ova Aero­porto has 500 berths. There are more pon­toons at a nearby sub­urb called Sestri Po­nente, a some­what in­dus­trial quar­ter but agree­able when you get to know it.

Genoa is a fan­tas­tic boat­ing base for a sea­son or two if you can or­gan­ise a berth. The cruis­ing is fascinating in all di­rec­tions


While the stylish Porto An­tico draws many vis­i­tors, the city it­self has plenty of at­trac­tions, es­pe­cially in its me­dieval quar­ter around Via Cairoli and Via Garibaldi. From the ma­rina, you can cut in­land un­der the main road and me­an­der east to Via Cairoli, a long cob­bled pedes­trian street that runs into Via Garibaldi. The loom­ing houses give sum­mer shade and wash­ing hangs high up be­tween apart­ments where lo­cals peer down from bal­cony win­dows.

Genoa’s most fa­mous build­ings are its op­u­lent mar­ble palaces cre­ated from the vast wealth that flowed into the city dur­ing the 16th and 17th cen­turies. There are over a dozen on Via Garibaldi and one of the most in­trigu­ing is Palazzo Lomellino, built in 1563 by a mer­chant who made a for­tune from fish and co­ral in North Africa. Here you can visit an amaz­ing rooftop gar­den adorned by a white minaret. This el­e­vated re­treat is filled with or­ange trees and you can fol­low a per­gola path heady with wis­te­ria.

Don’t miss climb­ing to Spi­anata di Castel­letto, a rest­ful hill­side park on the site of a de­mol­ished fortress, with a stun­ning prospect of the city. Early evening is a good time to re­lax here, watch­ing the sun go down and the lights com­ing on around the har­bour.


From Genoa, the Riviera di Le­vante curves east and south to­wards a rugged penin­sula lush with pines, olive groves and fra­grant maquis. This is Portofino Na­tional Park, idyl­lic for hik­ers and a mouth-wa­ter­ing back­drop for the deep blue sea. There are sev­eral vil­lages around this spur and the first is Camogli, tucked into the north-west cor­ner. The har­bour is small but worth a visit just to see its cheer­ful mo­saic of Ital­ian ochres, um­bers and si­en­nas.

The more fa­mous Portofino is on the op­po­site side of the penin­sula, a picture-book Ital­ianate vil­lage built around a cleft in the lime­stone. Portofino has be­come al­most too pop­u­lar for its own good and in peak sea­son, it’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to squeeze in, but if you come here early, per­haps late May, you can en­joy this lovely wooded ria with­out the squash. Morn­ing light shows Portofino in sen­su­ous warmth, its sim­ple ‘fish­er­men’s houses’ set off by lav­ish su­pery­achts.

The east side of the penin­sula has two more har­bours a cou­ple of miles apart − Santa Margherita Lig­ure and Ra­pallo. Fac­ing north-east, Santa Margherita is home to su­pery­achts at the outer break­wa­ter, fishing boats jostling in the mid­dle and nor­mal yachts and mo­tor boats around the head of the har­bour. On the wooded slopes above the bay are the pros­per­ous vil­las for which this cor­ner of the Riviera is noted.

The en­chant­ing re­sort of Ra­pallo graces the north-east cor­ner of the penin­sula, where vil­las in spa­cious grounds look down from slopes of scented pines and po­plar trees. Palms fringe the beach and a tiny castle over­looks the sea. The har­bour has a friendly yacht club and the pres­ti­gious Carlo Riva Ma­rina runs like clock­work. Carlo Riva died last year at the age of 95. His beau­ti­ful mo­tor boats are leg­endary and he started Ra­pallo Ma­rina in 1975.


From Ra­pallo the Riviera trends south-east past Chi­avari and Lav­agna, two fairly or­di­nary yacht har­bours within a mile of each other, and then the coast be­comes steeper and more moun­tain­ous

be­yond Punta Ma­nara. Soon you reach the spec­tac­u­lar Cinque Terre, where the cliffs fall al­most ver­ti­cally into the blue Mediter­ranean. Be­hind this com­mand­ing shore, the parched Lig­urian slopes look wild and remote, yet in the ten miles be­tween Punta Mesco and Capo Pi­etro, five ex­tra­or­di­nary vil­lages − Mon­terosso, Ver­nazza, Corniglia, Ma­narola and Riomag­giore − cling to the cliffs with­out vis­i­ble means of sup­port.

Only Ver­nazza has a proper break­wa­ter where boats of mod­est size can moor stern-to but on still sum­mer days, you can an­chor off the Cinque Terre vil­lages in clear water with incredible views of this primeval coast and its moun­tain­ous hin­ter­land. The swim­ming and snorkelling are out of this world and you can take the dinghy ashore to a wa­ter­side bar or bistro.

At the end of a lazy day of plea­sure, it’s not far south to Por­tovenere, an al­most per­fect Ital­ian har­bour at the mouth of the Gulf of La Spezia, look­ing across a nar­row strait to­wards Pal­maria is­land. Por­tovenere’s patch­work of build­ings catches the sun as en­tic­ingly now as when Lord By­ron was loung­ing about here a cou­ple of cen­turies ago.


The western part of the Ital­ian Riviera is still rather a cruis­ing se­cret but from Genoa, you can sam­ple its charms in easy bites and linger where you fancy. While there are sim­i­lar­i­ties with the French Riviera, Italy is a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to France and its pace of life more lan­guid. Be­tween Genoa and San Remo there is less high-rise con­crete than on the Côte d’azur. You pass tra­di­tional Lig­urian towns where the tourism is gen­tle and many restau­rants and cafés have a laid-back, ev­ery­day style.


About 16 miles west of Genoa, Varazze is one of my favourite havens on the west Ital­ian Riviera. Al­though a buzzing re­sort, the town has a pleas­antly old-fash­ioned feel with a leafy prom­e­nade and pedes­trian streets be­hind it full of mar­ket stalls. The ma­rina was de­signed with Ital­ian flair and its tim­ber build­ings, raised walk­ways and green cop­per roofs cre­ate a wel­com­ing ef­fect.

A short stroll east of the ma­rina, we re­cently found an ex­cel­lent fam­ily-run bistro called Gar­bassu, a block be­hind the seafront gar­dens near the beach pier. Their suc­cu­lent fritto misto di mare and spaghetti alle von­gole were the busi­ness.


A short hop from Varazze, Savona is a busy com­mer­cial port whose docks and si­los look un­promis­ing as you ap­proach, yet the town has a grace­ful old Floren­tine cen­tre and a snug ma­rina be­hind a pedes­trian lift­ing bridge. Lo­cals of­ten gather here to watch huge cruise ships ma­noeu­vre along­side near the bridge. Savona has some im­pres­sive me­dieval build­ings, in­clud­ing a sturdy fortress sit­u­ated be­tween the ma­rina and the sea.

Some ten miles south-west of Savona, the peace­ful ma­rina at Fi­nale Lig­ure is tucked be­neath a rocky head­land and backed by shel­ter­ing hills. Then you pass miles of hol­i­day beaches be­fore Loano ap­pears, a large but easy­go­ing yacht har­bour with some help­ful lo­cal berth hold­ers. A Ro­manesque town clus­ters be­hind the quay and be­yond a domed church, craggy coastal moun­tains rise to­wards the 3,500ft peak of Monte Ravinet.

A dozen miles south of Loano, Alassio is a long-estab­lished Riviera re­sort once fash­ion­able with film stars. Its beach seethes with holidaymakers in sum­mer and at first, Alassio seems a place to avoid. But at the north end of the town, a wooded cliff juts out to a chapel on Capo Santa Croce and a break­wa­ter en­closes a cosy ma­rina. The cliff forms an im­pos­ing back­drop to the har­bour, which is nicely tucked away from the hec­tic seafront. Just off­shore, a small is­land – Gal­li­nara – has a minia­ture har­bour on its in­ner side, but the is­land it­self is out of bounds to vis­i­tors.


Not far west of Alassio, Imperia is a pleas­ant sprawl­ing town renowned for its high-qual­ity olive oil. There are two sep­a­rate har­bours, each with their own at­mos­phere. The orig­i­nal port, Oneglia, has a few yacht berths but is mainly con­cerned with fishing. I like its slow, so­cia­ble vibes, es­pe­cially when the fishing boats come in each morn­ing and folk wan­der down to see what’s on of­fer. The cus­tomers are un­hur­ried, gaz­ing down at the as­sorted fish, gos­sip­ing among them­selves or with the fish­er­men, who in turn seem re­laxed about sell­ing. The mu­sic of Ital­ian voices rises and falls in a way which is slightly per­plex­ing to strangers, who some­times think some se­ri­ous argument is in train. But then the ban­ter ends in shrugs, warm smiles and a mu­tual ap­pre­ci­a­tion that an­other sunny Riviera day should be en­joyed to the full.

Just west of Oneglia, Porto Mau­r­izio is a mod­ern ma­rina where vis­i­tors lie at the south jetty,

At Ra­pallo, vil­las look down from slopes of scented pines and po­plar trees. Palms fringe the beach and a tiny castle over­looks the sea

or in the west basin op­po­site a wa­ter­front lined with pizze­rias and trat­to­rias. Mau­r­izio is crowded in high sea­son with plenty of tourists ashore but if you can find a berth, there’s al­ways plenty to watch. All kinds of boats use this bustling har­bour, in­clud­ing small coast­ers.


The qui­etly lux­u­ri­ous har­bour at San Remo has ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties and a hos­pitable feel. Quite mod­est boats min­gle nat­u­rally with su­pery­achts and the staff at Por­tosole Ma­rina have a calm, civilised touch.

Shel­tered by coastal moun­tains, San Remo was one of the orig­i­nal grand re­sorts of the Ital­ian Riviera, whose palmy days be­gan in the 1840s when English and Rus­sian aris­to­crats were drawn by the mild win­ters and glo­ri­ous sur­round­ings.

Later in the 19th cen­tury, San Remo be­came even more de­sir­able when pam­per­ing ho­tels and the rail­way ar­rived. As with Nice and Cannes, the 1920s and ’30s saw a more glitzy boom as celebri­ties dis­cov­ered this Mediter­ranean jewel. Though the tourism is less ex­clu­sive now, San Remo still has the ‘Old Riviera’ magic.


Sooner or later you’ll be tempted to cross to Cor­sica, a spec­tac­u­lar is­land whose moun­tain­ous spine falls dra­mat­i­cally to­wards the west coast. Cor­sica’s high­est peak, Monte Cinto, reaches nearly 9,000ft within 14 miles of the sea.

From Genoa the near­est part of Cor­sica is Cap Corse, on the east side of which Maci­nag­gio Ma­rina lies in a de­light­ful bay where lush green coun­try slopes down to the har­bour and a golden beach. From Genoa to Maci­nag­gio is 90 nautical miles, not too ar­du­ous a run for fast boats on a quiet day.

Bas­tia’s Port Toga Ma­rina is 18 miles south of Maci­nag­gio, or you might cruise back around Cap Corse to Saint Florent in its south-west crook. Saint Florent feels like a sleepy St Tropez, with brasseries and chic houses look­ing across the har­bour. The town hud­dles on a low point near a round citadel, and clean white sands stretch around the shore.


Hav­ing de­cided to cruise from Genoa to Cor­sica, I’d plan a di­rect pas­sage to Calvi, about 110 miles at a touch west of south. Calvi is an en­chant­ing place to linger and is well placed for fair-weather hops down Cor­sica’s west coast.

The ma­rina crouches be­hind a steep-sided citadel, over­look­ing a splen­did bay whose leafy shores and cres­cent beach curve away be­neath rolling hills. Yachts of all sizes lie at an­chor in pierc­ingly blue water, wafted by cool­ing breezes. Along the ma­rina es­planade there are bars, cafés and restau­rants ga­lore, many with shaded decks at the water’s edge. Be­hind the har­bour, Calvi’s old quar­ter is a maze of wind­ing streets, beck­on­ing steps and un­ex­pected court­yards.


Cruis­ing south from Calvi, you pass remote beaches and hol­i­day vil­lages be­fore the coast be­comes higher and more rugged to­wards Punta Palazzo. Around Scan­dola coastal re­serve, steep red cliffs are weath­ered into weird sculp­tures. In quiet weather, you can edge in close to see the caves.

Off Punta Rossa you swing into a mag­nif­i­cent gulf, fol­low­ing the soar­ing gran­ite wall to­wards a humped promon­tory topped by a Ge­noese fort. Be­hind this spur hides Giro­lata vil­lage, once a remote set­tle­ment but now on the tourist trail with sev­eral restau­rants and beach cafés. A few lo­cal boats bring in fresh fish. The an­chor­age is rea­son­ably well pro­tected so in quiet weather, you can spend a mem­o­rable night in this exquisite cove with the hills of Cor­sica all around. The water is crys­tal-clear, with turquoise shal­lows at the head of the bay.

Sooner or later you’ll be tempted to cross to spec­tac­u­lar Cor­sica, whose moun­tain­ous spine falls dra­mat­i­cally to­wards the west coast

The trop­i­cal par­adise that is Genoa’s Bio­sphere A kalei­do­scope of colour on the Ra­pallo wa­ter­front

Chic Portofino is pretty as a picture – but best avoided in peak sea­son

Tim­ber build­ings and green cop­per roofs at Varazze The ap­proach to Savona’s snug har­bour Alassio’s charms used to at­tract the movie stars

The Giro­lata an­chor­age at Cor­sica

A touch of the ‘Old Riviera’ magic at San Remo’s har­bour

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