What in English is known as “Riviera” is the Mediterranean coast extending all the way from Cannes in France to La Spezia in Italy.
The French part is not as extensive as the Italian section, which covers the whole width of the region Liguria, in Italy’s north-west, with its long, arch-shaped coastline.
The French Riviera is not the same as what the French call the Côte d’Azur (literally meaning “Blue Coast”), but includes only part of it, while the rest of the Côte d’Azur continues further west.
The Italian Riviera (which Italians call Riviera Ligure) starts after Menton (Italian name is Mentone), which is on the Italian-French border. Genoa, which with Marseille in France is the most important port in the Mediterranean, is the capital of Liguria and is located in its middle, so it splits this region’s coastline into two parts: Riviera di Ponente west of Genoa and Riviera di Levante east of it.
Further east and south of Riviera di Levante is the north Tuscan coast, with Viareggio & Versilia Riviera, famous for their long and sandy beaches, yachting harbours, fashionable clubs and nightlife, shipyards, pinewoods, and Viareggio Carnival. Viareggio & Versilia Riviera have the stunning natural backdrop of the Apuan Alps. The Apuan Alps’ quarries produce the white Carrara marble used in the art schools and sculpture laboratories of Pietrasanta, the world’s capital of marble working.
The climate in the Italian Riviera is good. Protected from northern cold winds by two mountain ranges, the Maritime Alps and Ligurian Apennines, the area has exceptionally mild winters and bright, hot summers, and lots of sunshine all year. There is rain just approximately 60 days per year, and it rarely snows on the coast. The Osservatorio Meteorologico Ligure records an average of over 2,600 hours of sunshine a year, and sometimes even over 2,800 hours.
Testimony to the region’s extraordinary, favourable weather, one of the best in the whole Mediterranean basin, is its vegetation. Various delicate plants flourish, among which agave, pomegranate, mimosa. Certain species of palm grow here too, giving their name to the section of Riviera di Ponente from the coastal resort of Varazze to Diano Marina, called Riviera delle Palme.
Great quantities of flowers are grown out of season and exported to northern markets. You can see the many greenhouses (“serre”) where flowers are grown dotting the hilly landscape all over Liguria, in particular in the western (Ponente) part, whence the nickname “Riviera dei Fiori” given to its westernmost section from Diano Marina to Ventimiglia and the French border.
The architecture of the Italian Riviera has a certain prominence of Art Deco style.
The favourable climate, the breathtaking beauty of the scenery and rugged coasts, bays and inlets, the clean, crystal waters of the sea, the luxuriant subtropical vegetation, and finally the great array of entertainments and delights, from world-renowned, prestigious wines of Cinque Terre to culinary treasures of traditional cookery, from fashionable night spots to the historical heritage of its ancient buildings, from olive groves to intact natural parks, all these have since a long time attracted the leisured rich, particularly in winter.
The Italian Riviera has always been a favourite holiday spot for royalty, aristocratic families and artists. The area is densely populated by both the locals and the tourists.
Modern transport has multiplied tourism, and now luxury hotels and posh villas mix with budget accommodation and popular resort facilities.
The area is divided into four provinces, whose capitals are, eastwards, Imperia, Savona, Genoa, La Spezia.
The other largest towns and most renowned resorts on the coast are, from the west: Ventimiglia, Bordighera, Sanremo, Diano Marina, Alassio, Albenga, Loano, Pietra Ligure, Finale Ligure, Spotorno, Vado Ligure, Albissola Marina, Celle Ligure, Varazze, Arenzano, Voltri, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, San Fruttuoso, Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, Zoagli, Chiavari, Lavagna, Sestri Levante, Moneglia, Deiva Marina, Framura, Bonassola, Levanto, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore, Portovenere, Lerici, Bocca di Magra.
The whole of the Italian Riviera is washed by the Gulf of Genoa, in Italian Golfo di Genova, which is the northern portion of the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. The Gulf of Genoa is quite vast, with an extension of 145 km (90 miles) around the northwest coast of Italy, from Imperia in the west to La Spezia east.
A few rivers flow into the Gulf of Genoa: the Centa, Roia, Taggia, and the Magra which is the furthest east, on the border with Tuscany. The Gulf of Genoa includes the small gulfs of Spezia and Rapallo.
La Spezia, a port and naval station with a prestigious history, is still today one of the most important naval bases in Italy.
Italian Mini Dictionary
Spiaggia [‘g’ pron. as in jar] libera = Free beach
Spiaggia a pagamento = Paid beach
Stabilimento balneare (or bagno [pron. bannio]) = Bathing establishment,
a private service which is part of a paid beach, with showers,
beach umbrellas, bathing huts, deck chairs, sometimes bar, restaurant
Spiaggia di ghiaia [‘g’ pron. as in get] = Pebble beach
Spiaggia di sabbia (or arenile) = Sandy beach
Sabbia, or rena = Sand
Scoglio [pron. scollio] = Rock
Scogliera [pron. scolliera] = Cliff