Liguria Italy

Just before Piedmont reaches the sea, Liguria steps in its way. The name is synonymous with the Italian Riviera, a thin, mountainous coastline of fishing villagesturnedtourist attractions that extend from the French border to Tuscany. Vacationers and retirees alike have come here for more than a century to enjoy its seafood, pesto, white wine, and sunshine.

Its capital, Genoa, was once a proud seafaring republic and is now a gritty port city trying to regain its medieval title of La Superba. While it dusts itself and its image off, tourists head for either side of the region that Genoa cuts in half: To the southeast is the riviera di levante (land of the rising sun), while the northwest is riviera di ponente, where it sets. Both have famous resorts, but different points of view.

Driving into Italy from Monaco and the French border town of Menton, you know something has changed once you pass over the line. There is no longer a customs house here”the Schengen agreement wiped them away”but the difference is immediately palpable all the same. The tunnels that cut through the cliff-lined coast get a little grayer, their rocks rougher-hewn. The hillsides are dotted with greenhouses that grow Liguria’s famous flowers, and to the west, the sea is tracked by fishing boats hauling in squid. The first visible traces of civilization show up about 20 minutes from the border: the clifftop town of Imperia, followed by San Remo.

WHERE TO LIVE

Anyone who has seen or read The Talented Mr. Ripley has some idea of San Remo’s jet-set reputation in decades past. These days, the resort is best known for its annual music festival, where Italian pop stars are made. The festival was started in the Fascist era as a way to build a pan-Italian cultural identity, and that popular spirit pervades to this day. Unlike Portofino and other swanky centers of the Levante, San Remo is unpretentious and hosts hundreds of summer homes for the Milanese middle class. Even its casino has a casual atmosphere when compared to nearby Monte Carlo.

The downtowns of San Remo, and especially Imperia, hold little appeal for homeowners looking for the best of the Riviera. At times, they can be grim. The better real estate lies in the small beach towns on either side of the cities, or in the mountains farther inland. In the surrounding villages, you should be able to find a smallish stone home, without much land around it, for less than €100,000. A well-restored, three-bedroom country home in the hills just behind San Remo, with a view of the sea, should sell for between €200,000 and €250,000. These kinds of stone houses often sit on olive groves and almost always have an ample garden where you can grow fresh basil to make pesto. Prices per square meter become much more expensive when you move down to the waterfront.

There, villas are generally divided into apartments, as there is little space for new construction on the steep slopes. Expect to hear prices between €300,000 and €500,000 for a nicely furnished family apartment. harbor in the fishing village of Camogli Or, you may decide to do what many bargain-hunting Europeans started to do in the early 1990s, and explore the mountain valleys farther inland, where local traditions are strongest and the real estate relatively cheap. The hottest spot these days is the group of valleys running from Liguria’s highest peak, Monte Saccarello, along Route 548 past Badalucco to the coast near San Remo. The tight alleys of Andagna, Triora, and Agaggio are surrounded by oleander and rhododendron, the refinished houses painted pink and ocher, others awaiting final touches of their new owners’ choosing. The valley has dozens of characteristic stone homes in need of serious work but selling for less than €20,000, 12th-century mills for less than €50,000, and fully restored cottages, complete with horse stables, for less than €100,000. These are true mountain hideouts, where small trattorie serve pasta with walnut sauce, and yet the towns also hold festivals dedicated to stockfish”after all, the beach is just 20 minutes away.

Rents are not cheap on the Ligurian seaside, especially in the Levante. Lots of foreign services offer weekly rates for tourists, and the monthly rentals, which are slightly harder to come by, reflect the scarcity. Still, in Rapallo, for example, you can find a large four-bedroom apartment with an expansive terrace overlooking the sea for about €1,000 per month. Renters will have more luck on the Ponente side. San Remo, in particular, has lots of options for short-term rentals, and some great deals ”as little as €10 per square meter. For example, you could find a three-bedroom apartment measuring approximately 80 square meters for about €800 per month.

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