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A cruising guide to the French and Italian Rivieras

Destination Reviews

The jewels of the Western Mediterranean are the magical French and Italian Rivieras, stretching from Toulon to the west, through to Monte Carlo, then the Italian coastline of Liguria, where the Alps and Appenines tumble to the turquoise waters, embracing the sheltered waters of the Ligurian Sea. The Alps to the north protect the region from the ravages of the Mistral, giving a mild climate even during the winter months.

The region is perfect to visit by sea. A playground to the rich and famous dating back hundreds of years, the contrast between the two rivieras is striking. In France, glamorous grand hotels, châteaux and imposing houses give way in Italy to pretty hilltop villas and elegant palazzi alongside secluded bays and harbours, and pretty pastel coloured seaside villages.

Historically home to the Romans, and then the great families of the region, in particular the Grimaldi family, the hinterland of the French Riviera is scattered with enticing hilltop towns and pretty castles, boasting a distant view to the glowing Mediterranean on the horizon. Visit the perfume capital Grasse, the pretty perched village of St Paul de Vence, beloved by artists, the medieval castle of Gourdon, and countless other hilltop villages such as Tourettes sur Loup and Haut de Cagnes.

Monte Carlo

The romantic showbiz marriage of Princess Grace to Prince Rainier of Monaco, followed by her tragic death in a road accident, firmly placed the region in the public consciousness, and the area provides a huge draw to celebrities, the jet set, and minor royalty, who aspire to live in the prestigious tax haven of Monte Carlo, home to lavish hotels and casinos. Highly ostentatious events such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix provide an even further draw. It's not just about the glamour though - the beautiful scenery and the magical light enticed impressionist artists from around Europe, including Chagall, Matisse, Monet and Picasso.

The Italian Riviera is home to great maritime cities such as Genoa and La Spezia, as well as pretty harbours such as Portofino, with its designer boutiques surrounding the bustling piazzetta, overlooked by the 16th-century fortress Castello Brown which stars in the award winning film 'Enchanted April'. Lovely Santa Margherita Ligure, with its picture-perfect seaside promenade, boasts elegant hotels alongside a thriving fishing village, and is a great gateway to the magical Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of pretty villages, terraced vineyards and precarious mountain roads, a huge draw to walkers.

Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy

Seaside towns such as Porto Venere stand with their backs to the sea, warding off the pirates that used to roam the coast, and enclosing little streets and alleys to keep off the wind in the winter, and the glare of the sun in summer. This was the stamping ground of Victorian romantic poets such as Byron and Shelley, and the Gulf of La Spezia is still known as the Bay of Poets. The idyllic sea landscapes and beautiful scenery have long been a draw to artists and writers, and the English poets were following in the footsteps of Dante and Petrarch.

Portovenere, Italy

Exploring these rivieras by sea is the perfect option. Expect to wake each morning in a new sparkling bay, ready for a day of walking, shopping, exploring the culture or simply watching the world go by. Your itinerary will probably start in Nice or in Rome for a perfect 7 day Rivieras cruise, which may then continue further into the Western Mediterranean, to Barcelona for example, or eastwards to Venice or Athens.

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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