Genoa, Italy

In 61 A.D., Roman poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, better known as Lucan, wrote of the Ligures, the first inhabitants of Genoa: “First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme.”

The ancient Ligures were only the first of many peoples who have occupied the city now known as Genoa. Situated in northwest Italy on the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, Genoa has been a strategic port for millennia, subject to invasion and occupation. The port’s prominence makes Genoa an appropriate birthplace for its most famous mariner, Christopher Columbus.

Genoa, Liguria, ItalyGreeks, Etruscans, Phoenicians and Carthaginians successively dominated Genoa’s harbor until the early 3rd century, when the city became part of the Roman Empire. Ostrogoths, Byzantines, and Lombards occupied the area after the empire’s fall. Genoa’s medieval gates are a rare survivor on the city’s tumultuous beginnings, and also one of Genoa’s most famous landmarks.

In the heart of Genoa stands the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, built by monies earned during the Crusades. Genoa built her own mini-empire as a partner in the Crusades, entering into a fierce rivalry with Venice for dominance over the seas, a rivalry that continued well into the 14th century.

The cathedral’s distinctive horizontal striped façade is another city landmark. For centuries, the Cathedral’s prized possession was the an “emerald chalice,” obtained during the crusades and said to the Holy Grail. An accident later revealed the “emerald” to be green glass. During World War II, Genoa fell under shelling from a British battleship. A shell fell into a nave of the cathedral but did not explode. It remains there to this day.

Genoa is still an important seaport, and in modern times, the commercial aspect of the city led visitors to view Genoa as not much more than a stop along the way to the tourist favorite, Cinque Terre, five popular towns along the Italian Riviera. In 2004, the Italian government poured millions into Genoa for city-wide renovations. An infusion of youthful entrepreneurs followed, opening new cafés and bars.

Porto Antico, the port of Genoa, now features wide promenades along new shops and restaurants. The port boasts one of Europe’s largest aquariums, a biosphere suspended over the harbor and the Galata Maritime Museum. The museum features artifacts that date back to the time of Columbus, as well as a reconstruction of a 17th century galleon. The museum’s rooftop Galata Café offers scenic views of the city and harbor.

The long, varied history of Genoa is reflected by the city’s walls. Portions of the walls date from the 9th century to the 17th century, with fortresses along or near the perimeter. Wandering the streets of Genoa can feel like stepping back into time, with narrow, cobblestone alleyways that make it easy to imagine life during the Middle Ages.

Most attractions in the city can easily be reached on foot. Cabs are also widely available. Genoa’s recently modernized Cristoforo Colombo Airport features non-stop flights to major European cities.


Levanto, Italy

Situated on the stunning Ligurian coast a bit north of Cinque Terre, Levanto is an attractive area of Italy with unique characteristics and a mild climate. Because of its family-friendly beaches and engaging festivals and events, Levanto is a travel destination almost anyone can enjoy. It is also easily accessible by train, which adds to its appeal for many families. The town is located at the end of a beautiful thickly wooded valley featuring pine and olive trees.

Levanto was Malaspina’s feudal stronghold before passing to the Republic of Genoa in 1229. In Medieval times, the town became a center of commerce, and benefited greatly from maritime communications. The major development of the town began after the Middle Ages with the construction of several commercial buildings, the most interesting of which were built in the 1600s and 1700s. The Corso Roma and Corso Italia, two thoroughfares which were completed in the early 20th century, marked the modernization of Levanto.

Levanto, ItalyLevanto reminds many travelers of an old-fashioned town, and features a city park and village square. Traditional shops can be found in the city, as well as establishments that cater to tourists. Local residents are friendly and helpful, and many of the town’s hotels are modest in size and owned and operated by local families. The town has its own gelato shop where reasonably priced gelato can be purchased seven days a week.

Levanto boasts one of the best surfing beaches in Italy due to its impressive waves. However, many visitors find swimming at the beach just as enjoyable as surfing. Levanto Beach is long and the water is clean, making it a great place to enjoy the day and view an outstanding sunset at night. Each November, world famous surfing events take place at Levanto Beach.

There is a vast array of landmarks and attractions in the town of Levanto and the surrounding area, one of which is an almost perfectly preserved Medieval-era castle that was originally built to defend the village from marauders and foreign armies. The Church of Saint Andrew is a spectacular example of 13th century architecture, with its Gothic facade and magnificent stained glass windows. The Church of Saint Mary of the Coast is another landmark that has survived since the Middle ages. The Gardens of Villa Agnelli were designed in the early 1900s, and this attraction offers visitors and their families a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Here, Levanto’s rich foliage is beautifully showcased on impeccably maintained grounds.

Levanto’s weather is part of the reason it has become a favorite vacation spot for so many individuals. The town features a very mild climate throughout most of the year, where frost is practically non-existent. However, Levanto can experience significant rainfall, especially in the spring, but this creates the lush, healthy foliage that is characteristic of the area. The coldest month in Levanto is January when the average temperature is approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


La Spezia, Italy

Italy. From the heights of the Alps to the stunning ruins of Rome, there is much to see and enjoy in this beautiful country. One of the loveliest places to visit in Italy is La Spezia. Nestled at the head of the Gulf of Le Spezia in the Liguria region of Italy, it is a quaint and distinctly Italian region. It is a northern city, and is a part of the capital city of Le Spezia. It also sits right between Pisa and Genoa on the Ligurian Sea. As a gateway to the ocean, it is one of the most well known commercial and industrial harbors in Italy. As well as hosting commercial industries in the harbor, it also holds Italy’s biggest military producer, OTO Melara.

La Spezia Harbor, Ligurian Coast, ItalyThe history of La Spezia dates back for nearly a millennia. It was settled during Medieval Times, but the height of its popularity and productivity came during the golden age of prosperity for the Roman Empire. It was the capital of the Niccoli Fieschi Signora between the years of 1256 and 1273. Obviously it was a short lived title. It was a part of the Genoese vicissitudes until the fall of the Geneon Empire, after which point it developed and changed into the Ligurian Capital. Today the Ligurian influence can be seen in the architecture and culture of the La Spezia area. During the late half of the 19th century, the military commissioned a naval base to be built under the Savoys. At the end of World War II, La Spezia became an important departure point for Jews who had survived the Nazi concentration camps. Many Jews were able to depart for Palestine from here without being detected.

La Spezia is a large and beautiful Italian province that draws visitors every year. Although it is not as famous as Rome, Almafi or Pisa, there is much to explore in this region. Because of the ancient history, there are many historical sites and sounds to experience when you visit. The climate of La Spezia is typical of a Mediterranean region, with hot, dry summers and springs and rainy falls and winters. Although there is no snow during the winter, sometimes an exception occurs and the village is dusted with a fine layer of white. The chief economic export of the region is their naval station and arsenal and their school of navigation, as well as their industrial and commercial sea ports.

There are many old historical sites to visit. The first and most famous is the Christ the King of Centuries Cathedral. Although not historical – it was consecrated in 1975 – it is an architectural feat and a popular center for worship in the area. The Santa Maria Assunta is an Abbey Church that was erected during the 13th century, thus holding much historical value. There are many museums, ruins and ancient sites of villages and churches in La Spezia, as well. The Castle of San Giorgio was built by Niccolo Fieschi in 1262.


Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza is a picturesque fishing village in the Cinque Terre region of the Italian Riviera. Founded in 1000AD and ruled by Genoa for centuries, the wealth created from trade is still evident in the town’s architecture. This elegant style is exemplified by elaborate doorways, open gallerias and sophisticated arcades. The surrounding terraced olive groves only add to the tranquil ambiance. Vernazza is a collection of colorful and antique homes that cling to a cliff that overlooks a small harbor nestled under the remains of medieval Doria castle, a breathtaking seaside church and the 16th century Belforte Tower.

Vernazza, ItalyYou journey to this charming Italian village by train. The international  Galileo Galile Airport in Pisa is eighty kilometers away. The route provides panoramic vistas as you travel along cliffs overlooking turquoise water and the olive trees that produce the regions renowned oils. The train station is a ten minute walk from the harbor. Your stroll into town is along a cobble stone street that is lined with shops and cafes. The ferry is a fun option in the summer months. The village also closed to vehicle traffic with a parking lot outside of town. With a population of approximately one thousand, is easily accessible on foot.

Visitors should take the trails that lead out of town and into the countryside. The picture postcard scenery will easily confirm why the Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests will also feel the steep hike worthwhile once they see the Shrine of Our Lady of Reggio on the cliff overlooking the town. For those looking to enjoy a little sun, the small pebble stone beach sits on the only natural harbor in the Cinque Terre region. After a day of sun or sightseeing, enjoy one of the highly recommended therapeutic massages or a mouthwatering gelato. Of course, no visit to Vernazza would be complete without trying a pesto pizza because pesto was created in the Cinque Terre.

The surrounding cliff structures not only enhance the natural beauty of the region, but help create the near constant climatic conditions. There is very little difference between the cool, damp winter months and the warm, dry summer days in Vernazza. With winter lows around 50F and summer highs near 70F, the spring and fall provide the best weather for travelers to the area.

Vernazza is the second most northerly town of the Cinque Terre or “Five Lands”. The town’s colorful history, painted houses, quaint restaurants and the clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea combine to make Vernazza a favorite destination for tourists.


Riomaggiore, Italy

Riomaggiore, Italy is part of the area known as Cinque Terre. The area is part of the rustic Italian Riviera and is comprised of five cities: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The history of Riomaggiore and the Cinque Terre area sounds as if it could have been ripped from a movie script. The area along the coast was dangerous and uninhabitable until around 1000 A.D. due to the large population of pirates, marauders and slave traders prone to frequenting the area. After the establishment of several Italian cities nearby it became safe for the area to be populated and, thus, was born the five towns of Cinque Terre.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, ItalyToday, Riomaggiore is a quaint tourist stop somewhat off the beaten path of busy and popular Italian tourist destinations. The town is known for its vibrant, colorful buildings as well as the Sciacchetrà wine that is unique to this coastal area. Travelers visiting Riomaggiore and the rest of the Cinque Terre will find that taking in the amazing scenery of the natural surroundings as well as the rustic beauty and charisma of the architecture can take up a great deal of time. The breathtaking ocean and cliff views are magnificent both from land and sea. To view the town from the water, simply seek out one of the many boat and water sports rental services available throughout the city. When enjoying the view from dry land, don’t miss the area’s terraced fields, a unique, man-made addition to the local landscape. Riomaggiore is home to the castle of Riomaggiore which was built in 1260 and, today, is a must see tourist delight. There are several churches in town which are also architectural wonders from the past and should not be missed.

The main street in Riomaggiore is a great area to visit with quaint shops, restaurants and other travel destinations. Riomaggiore is also home to a diving center, perfect for seeing the amazing ocean views from a completely unique perspective. To get a true sense of the local culture and lifestyle, explore the streets that stray away from the main tourist area and discover the shops, cafes and restaurants frequented by locals. When staying in Riomaggiore, guests can choose from a wide variety of apartments, hotels, bed and breakfasts and hostels for accommodation. Staying in town will give travelers the ability to experience some of the local night life in one of the many bars, restaurants and special wine bars.

Exploring Riomaggiore and the rest of the Cinque Terre is a great way to experience rustic, small town Italy. Riomaggiore is a great destination for travelers who want to avoid large crowded areas and really experience Italy like an Italian. The amazing scenery and vibrant culture of Riomaggiore give the town a life of its own. Tour the Cinque Terre, take in the breathtaking scenery and share a bottle of Sciacchetrà with friends in Riomaggiore.