Liguria, the elegant curve of coastline from the French border to Tuscany, also goes by the name of the Italian Riviera or the Ligurian Littoral - whatever you call it, this is a delicious part of a delectable country.
Liguria is where the mountains meet the sea, making for a dramatic landscape of prettily painted fishing villages clinging to cliffs and verdant pesto-green hillsides carved with ancient terraces. It was this sense of topographic drama that attracted the great romantic poets Byron and Shelley to the region in the early 1800s. Indeed, Shelley suffered a suitably dramatic denouement himself here, drowning in a sudden summer storm off the coast near Lerice.
Latter-day tourists have a happier time of things and head to the lovely hotels in picture perfect ports such as Portofino instead. In fact, Portofino might be the quintessence of what makes the Italian Riviera so magical - pastel painted houses, fishing boats bobbing in the harbour and a famous hotel looking down on the whole scene from a perfectly panoramic spot above. The arrival in Portofino's harbour of ever bigger superyachts each summer might be an unwarranted addition of bling, but at least makes for excellent people watching potential as everyone engages in the traditional evening passeggiata walk along the waterfront.
On the subject of walking, the famous Sentiero Azzurro walking trail connects the impossibly photogenic Cinque Terre, the 'five lands' in question being the virtually inaccessible villages strung out along the coast. The 360-plus steps leading in to Corniglia at the end of the trail might even help work off another of the Liguria's great pleasures - pesto. In our humble opinion the Genoese green stuff warrants a place alongside Italy's other legendary foodstuffs, and a great pleasure of any Ligurian visit is sampling the tiny variations on a pesto theme that each restaurant claims makes theirs the best in show.
Genoa itself, once centre of a great seafaring empire, is worth exploration for anyone with time on their hands. Any city enjoying the nickname La Superba has got to have something going for it, and Christopher Columbus' place of birth has a UNESCO World Heritage old town, the layers of which peel back to reveal the city's fascinating and often turbulent history.