This Italian seaside town has all the charm of Portofino without the crowds

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An upscale haven for celebrities and jet-setters, Portofino stands out among the many coveted spots on the Italian Riviera. Golfo Paradiso, a tiny stretch of the Ligurian coast in northern Italy, is home to some lesser-known gems that are just as characterful. Italians and seasoned international travelers have flocked to the nearby seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure for decades to enjoy the sun-kissed Mediterranean ambience — and all the delicious food, gorgeous beaches, and warm hospitality that a vacation here brings — without much fuss and fanfare. By Lindsay Cohn

the previous fishing village wins hearts today with its charming architecture, beaches, shopping and restaurants. Santa Margherita Ligure also offers proximity to Genoa city, a port and a train station, making it a great base for exploring the rest of the laid-back region as well as the popular Cinque Terre.

get there

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Santa Margherita Ligure is about 35.4 km southeast of Genoa. Depending on where you are coming from, it may make sense to fly into Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport and then take a taxi or bus. You can also board a direct train from major Italian cities such as Rome, Florence and Naples to Genova Piazza Principe and then transfer to the regional train direct to Santa Margherita Ligure station.

Best time to visit this Italian seaside city

Italian seaside town
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The Italian Riviera comes alive in summer, when locals and tourists alike sunbathe on the sand, frolic in the warm water, and Alfresco dining. It’s also the time of year when there are frequent ferries between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, as well as the lesser-known villages of Camogli and San Fruttuoso. For these reasons it is both the busiest and the most expensive time in Liguria. If you’d rather save a few bucks and deal with fewer people, consider visiting in late spring or early fall, when the weather is still pleasant but vacationers have departed in peak season.

best things to do

Santa Margherita
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Santa Margherita Ligure dates back to Roman times. In the second half of the 19th century, nobility from all over Europe discovered its potential as a holiday paradise. Tourism really took off in the mid-20th century. Today, Santa Margherita Ligure offers visitors a tantalizing cross-section of what makes Liguria so wonderful.

a living one Beach resort, it’s bursting with heritage, culture and incredible scenery. Unique to the region, Santa Margherita Ligure offers sandy beaches to spread out a towel. Visitors will find a handful of beach clubs like Bagni Vicini just steps from the sea. The infinitely picturesque Chiesa di Santa Margherita towers over the square where markets are held daily.

History buffs should also not miss Villa Durazzo, a sprawling property with manicured gardens, cobblestone pathways and a 17th-century mansion-turned-museum. Not far away is the Church of San Giacomo di Corte. It is worth visiting the Abbey of Cervara and also visiting the Castle of Santa Margherita Ligure.

Among the biggest selling points of staying in Santa Margherita Ligure is easy access to Paraggi and Portofino beaches for shopping, dining, and an overall glamorous atmosphere. It is also convenient to take a boat to Camogli and San Fruttuoso or to take a day trip to the Cinque Terre.

The best places to stay

places to stay
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Grand Hotel Miramare

Santa Margherita Ligure doesn’t have many hotels, although it’s larger and therefore better equipped to accommodate visitors than some of the smaller neighboring villages. One of the grandest respites in the area, the Art Nouveau Grand Hotel Miramare features elegant rooms and resort-style amenities like a curved seawater pool, refined restaurantSpa and Beach Club.

The classic yellow facade reflects the cheerful yet traditional demeanor of Hotel Sant’Andreaa restored villa with airy rooms with four-poster beds and a relaxing garden terrace.

On the more modern side of things, Blu di Te house offers individually designed rooms, a hidden spa retreat and a rooftop pool overlooking the shimmering Tigullio Gulf.

The best places to eat and drink

Italian seaside town
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Liguria can boast of many culinary awards. Considered the birthplace of pesto, it bakes some of Italy’s finest focaccia. Santa Margherita Ligure is a fantastic place to try this local flavors from the region.

There are many top quality restaurants – especially Trattoria da Pezzi and Angolo 48 – which serve traditional Ligurian dishes at reasonable prices. Other popular picks include Ristorante Antonio, DuCoq, and Pizzeria Il Delfino. In the meantime, Zi’ Ninella Ristorante stands at the top for upscale, prix-fixe meals. There are more casual outdoor restaurants on the boulevard across from the sea. And if you venture a few blocks, bistros and aperitivo bars spill down cobblestone streets.

This story appeared first on www.travelandleisure.com

Main and feature photo credit: katatonia82/Getty Images

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