In a sly 19th-century marketing coup, the French all but co-opted the best-selling term Riviera, a single word neatly evoking a whole hedonistic way of life. But what of that other Riviera—the one over the border?As a recent, comprehensive hotel-finding mission illustrated, the pellucid waters, bone-warming sun, lazy days, and sexy nights that people associate with the Côte d'Azur are actually in better health and greater supply on the Italian Riviera. So take that, Cap d'Antibes.
Part of Liguria—a narrow, crescent-shaped region caught in a topographical vise between sea and mountain that's pure eye candy—the Italian Riviera has nearly 200 miles of coastline. It climbs from Ventimiglia in the west, sweeps around Genoa, and finishes just beyond Cinque Terre, five famously inaccessible villages with gravity-defying lemon orchards and kitchen gardens. Liguria is rich in natural reserves, the landscape bristling with palm trees, parasol pines, vineyards, olive groves. And it is home to one of Italy's great regional cuisines. Perhaps you've heard of pesto?
As with many seaside destinations, there are hotels worth leaving home for on the coast, but uncovering them is more of a challenge than the area's profile suggests. The highest concentration is in the Levante, the glamorous eastern segment that begins with Genoa and includes Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure. Every taste, every budget is provided for. At one end of the spectrum is a hotel where a guest once parked a yacht in the harbor below, then called his soon-to-be bride onto their terrace for a look at her wedding present. At the other is an inn where an expertly prepared four-course meal is cheaper than a bad pizza in town.
Pleasure has always been its own reward on the Riviera. But never more than now, in Italy, at these hotels.