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Driving Italy's Ligurian Coast

Beach outside the Hotel Punta Est, in Finale Ligure.

Photo: David Cicconi

Day 3: Finale Ligure to Noli

Immediately east of Finale Ligure, the Via Aurelia becomes spectacularly scenic, twisting under massive outcroppings and through deep indentations in the rock. Six miles along lies Noli, which during the Middle Ages was one of the five maritime republics (with Genoa, Pisa, Venice, and Amalfi). The town hosts a lively market several days a week, including this morning, and we spend an hour foraging through bins of linens, then buy a sackful of sweet grapes to savor in the shadow of crumbling façades.

At noon we backtrack to Varigotti. One of the finest natural ports in Liguria, it’s a tiny village not likely ever to get bigger, confined as it is between the protruding cape and steep mountains. Varigotti feels more in character with southern Italy, with low-slung houses painted dark orange and red backed by hillsides planted with olive and lemon trees. The town’s habitués have a decided gloss; Baby Missoni abounds at Varigotti’s exclusive bagni, where on weekdays young mothers and their progeny revel in the lapidary waters, then indulge in house-made sorbetti at Gelateria Saracena, just up from the beach. At lunch they fill the patio tables at Muraglia Conchiglia d’Oro, a seafood institution since the 1950’s, or at the terrace restaurant of the slick Hotel Al Saraceno, opened in 2008.

Of all the beaches we’ve encountered, Varigotti’s is the most tranquil and beautiful. At dusk on our last day, well after all the Italians have returned home to prepare for dinner, we remain on our loungers, tracking the saffron disk of the sun as it dips into the inky sea, savoring the peace around us, and determining how we might find ourselves in exactly this place next summer.

Maria Shollenbarger is deputy editor of How to Spend It at the Financial Times.

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