The Italian Riviera — the lowbrow, underappreciated alternative to the French Riviera — has a breezy beauty all its own. The Cinque Terre are tops: Five idyllic hamlets along a rugged coastline, connected by scenic hiking trails and dotted with beaches. But nearby towns to the north (Levanto, Sestri Levante, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino) have more beaches; towns to the south offer a mix of marble (Carrara), train connections (La Spezia), and yachts (Portovenere).
Along a beautifully isolated six-mile stretch of the most seductive corner of the Italian Riviera lie the Cinque Terre — five (cinque) small, traffic-free towns gently and steadily carving a good life out of difficult terrain. Each village fills a ravine with a lazy hive of human activity — calloused locals and sunburned travelers enjoying the area’s unique mix of Italian culture and nature. There’s not a Fiat or museum in sight — just sun, sea, sand (well, pebbles), wine, and pure, unadulterated Italy. Enjoy the villages, swimming, hiking, and evening romance of one of God’s great gifts to tourism. While the Cinque Terre are now discovered (and can be unpleasantly crowded midday, when tourist boats and cruise-ship excursions drop by), I’ve never seen happier, more relaxed tourists.