Summer made a very shy start this year on the Italian riviera. From here to Marseille, we experienced a lot more rain than previous years, throughout May and June. After a three year drought, most local people were quite happy to see some rain at last. The best part was it was still warm. And there’s nothing better than some hot monsoon-like rain to freshen up the air and reduce humidity. In between the occasional stormy shower, we loved the glorious June sunshine. Now we are halfway through July and we can definitely confirm that the summer heat has well and truly arrived! In fact, it’s breaking records and with some of the media headlines you could be forgiven for thinking that the Med is unbearable right now.
Hot summers, even scorching ones, are not that unusual for Italy. The peak temperatures during Italian summers often hit 40c or more especially in the south and Sardinia. Whilst it is certainly hotter than usual right now, but Italians are well adapted to more extreme temps. We’ve already learned to get up early to get any outdoor work done, or work later into the evening – essentially taking most of the afternoon off. Enjoy the shaded porticos in the towns or cities, take an early and long lunch, followed by an afternoon rest – usually indoors with shuttered and shaded windows and a fan, or on a shady breezy terrace. Those big awnings serve to shade both terraces and inside the house. And of course, the best way of all to cool down – to go and enjoy the water! We take a swim in the local river pools on most days, from refreshing mountain spring waterfalls. And of course, one of the best places to spend a day by or on the water is at the beach - followed by gelato on the way home naturally.
We’re spoilt for choice along this coastline, with some lovely swimming beaches within a 30 minute drive and some a little further afield but worth the extra effort, for some castaway island feels. The Ligurian coastline offers something for all the beach lovers, including our furry pawed pals, with some excellent dog friendly beaches and even beach clubs. There’s numerous watersport centres to hire SUP paddleboards, wind-surfs, sea kayaks and more. You can even hire a small motor boat, without any special licence, and enjoy exploring secret coves and the rugged coastline from the sparkling Mediterranean sea.
So we thought we would share our top 5 favourite spots, all within striking distance from our coastal mountain hideaway. This list is not really a chart because we love each of these places for different reasons and on different days, depending on the season and what we feel like doing. Some days we just want to laze on a sunbed for an hour or two and take a swim, maybe in-between running some local errands. Other days we want to spend to the day somewhere and take a long lunch at a much longed for restaurant. Or we want to explore a section of coastline on paddleboards or kayaking. We also go to different beaches at different times of the year – to avoid the crowds and find a more hidden quite spot, or places where the busyness is well managed or when we want to feel the expanse of mostly tourist-free beaches out of season.
LUNGOMARE-ONEGLIA (Papeete Beach / Spiaggia di amiche dei cani)
Top of the list is simply because we spend more time at this beach than anywhere else. It’s a short stroll from the centre of the Oneglia side of Imperia, so close to the cool portico shopping arcades, Wednesday and Saturday’s bustling markets and extensive parking, as well as an array of portside restaurants for a quick or lazy long lunch. Whilst this beach is quite rocky, there are several laid back beach clubs and bars offering sun loungers (Papeete is at the far end, with a delightful beach restaurant perfect for watching sunsets over Porto Maurizio – Il Pennello with its distinctive blue bar set-up and delicious aperitivo is situated in the centre of this beach with good value sunbeds for hire by the hour. The dog friendly part of the beach is at the opposite end to Papeete, but you can still hire sunbeds from Il Pennello and set up just inside the dog zone.
A little further away than Oneglia, but this is the kind of beach that brings the Milanese and Piemontese down to the coast. Alassio is a stylish Italian riviera holiday town, with an old school vibe, about a 40 minute drive towards Albenga. The picturesque arcades of pedestrianised streets are filled with beautiful shopping, restaurants cafes and gelateria’s, running parallel to a stunning expanse of white sandy beach. From late May until late September, there are lots of beach clubs making temporary structures along much of the beach. There are still a few public beach spots but we tend to spend our time here out of season.
We love the wide sandy expansive beach here, with crystal clear waters for idyllic swimming. The central pier is a focal point in summer, providing diving fun for swimmers. Out of season, dogs can also join in the fun. There’s lots to explore in Alassio, and it’s hard to find somewhere that isn’t serving great aperitivo and food, as well as endless beautiful streets and arcades to explore. Our favourite beach bar spot for aperitivo and sunset DJ vibes is Spotti Bar. We’ve had some great eats at Mezzaluna and Il Veliero. Our favourite gelato place is on the far side of town at Gelateria Rainbow. But let’s be honest, it’s very difficult to find bad gelato in this country!
LAIGUEGLIA (Capo Mele)
This is our favourite place to laze the day away in summer and enjoy some excellent food. This white sandy bay is busy during the summer months, but the beach clubs are well spaced and there’s even a dog friendly place at Capo Mele. Follow the boardwalk to this hidden cape, set amongst a beautiful beach garden, with sunbeds and shades. The sea is crystal clear blue with views for miles along the mountainous coastline. Laugueglia has lots of great restaurants, cafes and bars to choose from and we loved the dining terrace at Ristorante Tino e Marco alla Baiadelsole. For those feeling a little more energetic, the walk from here into Alassio is a delightful coastal walk and a well connected railway to return you to your starting point.
We fell in love with Bordighera many years before we moved to Italy. Close to the French riviera, we used to hop down the coast on the train with my family from my dad’s home near Nice. The candy coloured houses, palm trees and picturesque promenade along with some of dad’s favourite restaurants meant we spent many family afternoons here.
It was only in later years I started to explore the beaches here. Well I say beaches – there are wide expanses of surfy, sandy and stony beaches to explore. But actually my favourite part here is where the rocks form terraces and low cliffs around aquamarine pools at the south easterly end of the beach. Perfect for swimming, snorkelling and free diving, or lounging on the rocks watching the local school kids perfecting their diving skills and leaping off the rocks into the water.
The best place to enjoy this from is La Reserve, a beach club and restaurant that enjoys the perfect position on the cliffside, with smooth rocky terraces of sunbeds and the sea lapping at your feet. The food is pretty good too. You can a book a sunbed at La Reserve for the day, or you can also enjoy the adjacent rocky terraces for free. There are even some shady caves, if you get there early to get dibs on one. Lido Beach has a beautiful spot on the sandy beach, and the restaurant is usually excellent. However, like anywhere in the height of summer – it’s important to book and sometimes the standard of food slips a little during peak season. At the other end of the promenade you’ll find the popular Chica Loca which serves a large varied menu, so there’s always something suitable for different tastes.
Even closer still to the French border, and about an hours drive for us, the pretty bay of Ospedaletti is only reachable by car or bike, since it doesn’t have train station. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t explore here before we moved to Italy. It was actually a Niçoise friend (a matredi no less) who recommended this place – he said it is truly impossible to eat bad food in this town. Well that was all I need to hear!
The beach is lovely, with gentle undulating curves of small stone leading to aquamarine crystal clear calm water. Sadly no dogs allowed on the actual beach during the high season (although they can still enjoy lunch at a beach side restaurant). There are several beach restaurants with beach club sun beds and hospitality.
Ospedaletti is currently the end point of the epic coastal cycle route recently completed in our own town of Imperia, converting the old coastal railway line to a fabulous cycling and walking route. Eventually this route will run from Diano Marina (our chic neighbouring town) all the way to Ventimiglia, the coastal border town famous for its huge Friday markets. Bikes can be hired at various places along the route, and many of the old stations or signal houses have been made into bike-friendly little cafes and restaurants. Another fantastic day out in itself. And the opportunity to visit and eat at several beaches along the way. And if the rrturn journey seems too much, you can drop your bike off at any of the Nolobici bike hire shops and jump on a train home. Currently, the first available outlet to Imperia is in San Lorenzo, and going the other way, San Remo has the last outlet. Check their website for details and booking, although you can also just turn up.