Friendly and affordable, Santa Margherita Ligure stands in stark contrast to its high-priced, superstar sister, Portofino, and serves as a great base for exploring the region. If one of your day trips takes you to Cinque Terre, you pass from the delightful to the sublime. Make the transit itself a thing of beauty by taking one of the ferries that ply the sapphire water of the Mediterranean and be charmed by your destination before you even set foot there.

Santa Margherita Ligure

Towns like Portofino and Rapallo intimidate visitors with exquisite, crystalline beauty, snooty elegance and sky-high prices. In Santa Margherita, everyone feels at ease. Life in this small and lovely fishing town centers on the palm-lined waterfront, with its white-pebble beach and jaunty line of docks and marinas. Stop in a cafe at either of the burg's two seaside squares, Piazza Martiri della Liberta and Piazza Vittorio Veneto, for a front-row seat at town activities. Santa Margherita is particularly delightful in winter, when the weather is mild and the beaches uncrowded, or in spring for the merry Festa di Primavera, featuring fritters and beach bonfires. No matter when you visit, don't miss the daily morning fish market on Lungomare Marconi and the Friday open-air market on Corso Matteotti.

Cinque Terre

The wonder of Cinque Terre -- the Italian coastal region that includes the five small towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore -- is both what it has and what it lacks. Expect hillsides filled with olive groves and vineyards, small sandy coves at the base of white rocky hills, and quaint villages perched high on cliffs with narrow walkways and many steps. You won't find cars or modern development or, for that matter, much fuss or fury. The best entertainment is walking the cliff trails (ancient goat trails) that connect the villages and gasping at the spectacular coastal views. Busy always, crowded in the summer, Cinque Terre retains a special, serene magic that makes it worth a visit any day of the year.

Ferry Transportation

The ferry ride from Santa Margherita Ligure to Cinque Terre is one you will remember for years: the deep blue of the water, robin's egg sky, and slow parade of villages, ports and beaches tucked into the stunning coastline. Servizio Marittimo del Tigullio is the company to look for, since its boats plow the waters between Santa Margherita and Cinque Terre; three lines offer service to the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza, and one of them also stops in Monterosso and Riomaggiore.

Catching the Ferry

Servizio Marittimo del Tigullio only runs ferries between Santa Margherita and Cinque Terre in the summer. Since the lines operate on odd schedules, review the online interactive map before you go. For example, the line that stops in Monterosso runs on Wednesdays in May and June, Wednesdays and Saturdays in July and September, and Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays in August. The tickets are for "tours," which means round trip travel plus an hour or so per town to explore, but if you use a little charm, you may be able to return on a different day. Consorzio Marittimo "5 Terre Golfo dei Poeti" also runs ferries to Cinque Terre, but it does not serve Santa Margherita; you have to board at Portofino.


Finding a cheerful or charming room in Santa Margherita or one of the Cinque Terre towns is not a problem as long as you reserve in advance. One reasonably priced spot in Santa Margherita is the Nuova Riviera Hotel, a bed-and-breakfast inn in a villa in midtown. Its nine rooms have decided character, with high ceilings and bay windows. Or try the slightly more expensive Hotel Fasce, with brighter, more spacious rooms and more amenities like hair dryers, room service and free bike use. In Cinque Terre, the best thing to do is to rent a room from one of the room providers, licensed or unlicensed, that abound in all five of the towns. One to try in Riomaggiore is Mar Mar, on the harbor end of town. It operates a hostel as well as renting out rooms and apartments around town.