When you think of the perfect Christmas getaway, I doubt the Italian Riviera is high on your list of destinations. The bright lights of New York or the achingly Christmassy markets of Berlin are far more likely to tickle your festive fancy. It seemed EasyJet agreed and were offering eye- wateringly cheap flights to the odd few who fancied heading to the beach in December.
Greeted by unseasonably good weather we admittedly felt rather smug whilst tucking into an al fresco lunch on arrival. We soon realised that visiting the Riviera in winter offers the perfect opportunity to explore the coast without the suffocating heat or swarms of tourists. Despite being a famous summer destination it turns out Liguria can turn its festive charm on too, and we were more than happy to embrace it.
With this in mind, we embarked on a 50km road trip down the Ligurian coast, discovering new places and revisiting familiar ones with fresh eyes. It goes without saying that each town is a destination in its own right, but with a day to spare, we decided to pay a quick visit to each.
The Itinerary: Andora- Laigueglia- Alassio- Finalborgo- Loano.
Andora is fp’s* home town and our base in Italy. Originally an agricultural town famous for its fields of basil for growing pesto, it’s developed into a popular holiday resort over the past 50 years, with its population increasing from a sleepy 6000 in winter to a heaving 90000 in summer. His Grandfather was actually a pioneer of tourism in the area, having the foresight to see it as a tourist destination rather than just a farming community. People thought he was mad for investing in the unusable marsh land which lined the sea front but fast forward 50 years and it turns out he was right. White sand was shipped into the area creating the wide sandy beaches Andora’s known for, and with it, holiday homes for its enthusiastic visitors. It’s popular not only with families but with watersport lovers too, acting as the Ligurian hub for surfing.
With a clear niche for seasonal tourism most people would never think of visiting Andora in the colder months, but in my mind, they’re missing out. The town is quiet and sleepy; the perfect contrast to the pre-Christmas chaos in London. You have no option but to relax, ideally in one of the town’s restaurants where you can while away the afternoon drinking red wine and sampling some of Liguria’s finest cuisine. Head to Il Grillo Parlante, a stylish restaurant & pizzeria found slightly inland for the freshest bruschetta you’ll find anywhere, or Il Bastione, a charming restaurant in a restored Saracen Tower, for a plate of the Ligurian speciality, polpo e patate.
A 5km drive along the coastal road and you’ll find yourself in the towns of Laigueglia and Alassio. In stark contrast to their modern neighbour, these towns dating back to the 10th Century epitomise the elegant style of the Italian Riviera. The colourful old buildings line cobbled streets, with secret alleyways and hidden osterias ready for you to fall into. Couple this with beautiful beaches served by numerous restaurants and bars and it’s no surprise that these towns are a tourist hotspot. It was actually the Brits that first holidayed here in the late 19th Century, but funnily enough, it’s rare to hear a British accent these days, and even rarer to come across an Italian who speaks English- great for me to practice the language!
The main street in Alassio is named the Budello, and visitors and locals alike can be found doing vasche, literally meaning swimming pool lengths of the shopping street. During the summer months, shopping is usually off the agenda for me (I don’t fare well in the heat) so visiting Alassio in the winter offers the perfect opportunity to add some Italian fashion to my wardrobe. The shops in Alassio are exquisite with each and every window display successfully enticing you inside. After exhausting yourself in the shops, dive into one of the many pasticcerias to replenish your energy stores. I’d recommend Cafe San Lorenzo for an afternoon tea, Italian style. The pastries are delicious, and you’ll leave feeling thoroughly sick!
For a truly festive experience, head sightly inland to the Medieval walled village of Finalborgo, nestled above the seaside town of Finale Ligure, 30km from Alassio. During winter, the cobbled piazzas and narrow streets are adorned with twinkling lights ready to explore while eating a cone of caldarroste; roasted chestnuts to us Brits.
As you wander around the streets, you’ll notice an abundance of outdoor shops which hint at the surrounding terrain. Finalborgo attracts mountain bikers and climbers from around the world, and although earmarked for a future visit, the only activity we partook in was the art of aperitivo at one of the many cafes. It was hard to choose where to stop for a drink as literally everywhere looked inviting, but the festive cabbage below stole my heart, so we had to stop there!
Last in our road trip was a flying visit to Loano, a coastal town with a Medieval walled historical centre. With a 2km long beach, a newly developed marina and a budello to match Alassio, Loano is definitely worth a visit. During winter, the Medieval town becomes even more enchanting when lit up with Christmas lights- the perfect atmosphere to explore the Christmas market while sipping mulled wine.
When you’re thoroughly exhausted, retreat to the surrounding hills to the small village of Verzi, where you can take refuge at L’Agricola, a no frills pizzeria fuelled by two wood-fired ovens, sure to keep you toasty and warm. Start with farinata, a Ligurian chickpea pancake (I’d recommend the onion variety!) followed by pizza and un mezzo litro di vino rosso. All in all, the perfect end to a festive day on the Italian Riviera!
What I Was Wearing:
Sunglasses: Rayban Erika
Blue Fur Gillet: French Connection (On sale!)
Black Turtle Neck: Warehouse
Blue Skinny Jeans: Topshop
Tan Ankle Boots: Clarks (similar)