“…one of the loveliest town beaches I’ve seen in Italy. Its wide expanse of smooth sand is framed by typically Ligurian terracotta and green-shuttered ochre houses and sheltered from the wind by mountains to north and west.” This description from an article in The Guardian convinces me to plan my Alassio holiday!
I had never heard of Alassio before my old friend Dwight stopped by for lunch in Nice one day last Fall. He had taken the overnight bus from his home in Germany for a week-long Alassio holiday, relaxing on this beautiful strip of Italian Riviera. He raved about this relaxing little slice of beach paradise and once I started researching Alassio, I ran across the article in The Guardian giving Alassio a glowing review. In it, the author describes Alassio as “the sleepy side of the Italian Riviera” and a welcome escape from the crowds of Portofino or the popular Cinque Terre area. Alassio beaches even rival those in the popular tourist areas of Sicily where there are tons of cools things to do!
So, I research Alassio hotels and find them surprisingly affordable since I’m traveling midweek during low season. Finally, I’m convinced I need to check out this hidden gem of the Italian Riviera, located in the Ligurian region of Italy.
Liguria stretches from the French border in the west to La Spezia in the east, just past the Cinque Terre area. The port city of Genoa divides the Italian Riviera into eastern and western. The western Mediterranean coastline, the “Riviera di Ponente”, stretches from Genoa to the French border. The eastern coastline, on the other side of Genoa, is more rugged with many fishing villages built into steep mountains. Continue east from here and take a road trip through Tuscany, famous for stunning scenery and lots of amazing wineries!
Here are 8 fun (or relaxing) things to do on an Alassio holiday!
1- Wake up Slowly (one of my favorite things to do!)
Small cafes and restaurants line the waterfront of Alassio’s Old Town area. So, the first morning of my Allasio holiday, I set out in search of the perfect coffee spot and I find myself mysteriously drawn to an orange cafe. Brattin Cafe on the Beach offers a simple breakfast of hot coffee and fresh pastries along with uninterrupted sea views. After a rough day on the beach, they’ve also got ice cold beer to quench your thirst!
The best part my first-morning coffee – no other tourists! I sit quietly, sip my coffee, and exhale while slowly waking up. The perfect start to an Alassio holiday!
2 – Relax on the Beach
The beaches in my new hometown of Nice are beautiful but they lack the soft sand I crave after years of digging my feet into the soft sand on Hawaiian beaches. My goal for this brief Alassio holiday – walk barefoot on the beach and then spend a day lounging in the sun.
Comfortable lounge areas with changing rooms, showers, and beach umbrellas line the beach area to the east of Old Town. For some reason, I’m once again drawn to the orange umbrellas like a moth to a flame. I pay the 10EUR daily fee and claim a bright orange chair next to the water.
(Later, I googled “orange” and discovered it relates to joy, warmth, heat, sunshine, happiness, balance, and creativity among other things. Interesting and quite fitting for my Alassio holiday!)
3 – Wander Old Town
Alassio’s Old Town area reminds me very much of Nice with narrow streets and pastel-colored buildings in various shades of orange. The roofs are also orange. Orange is everywhere. I guess that means happiness and joy are everywhere?
There are two differences I notice between Nice and Alassio Old Town areas – the pavement and the siestas. Most of the narrow streets in Nice are nicely paved and mainly flat, making walking much easier. Alassio’s Old Town, on the other hand, still has the original cobblestone streets in many areas. Flat shoes are a must, especially after happy hour.
The other difference I notice – very few shops are open during the afternoon. I’ve gotten used to Nice’s lunch hour of anywhere between noon and 2 pm, but Alassio business owners need a bit more of a siesta and close from noon to 4 pm. Plan your shopping accordingly.
4 – Get happy at Happy Hour
I’ve grown to really love Italian happy hour (“aperitivo”) and this Alassio holiday is no exception. With tons of places to choose from, I grab a table at the one with the best music. Seventies Classic Rock blares from the speakers of Al Capriccio Bar. Outdoor tables line the plaza outside this small pub, located just a block off the sea.
After my long walk on the beach, an ice cold beer sounds perfect so I plant myself at a table and order a Corona (my “aperitif”). The waiter immediately returns to my table with food – tons of food, really good food. All of it is free. I order another beer and it comes with another round of free food. Sadly, I have no room for the pesto pasta I was craving for dinner.
5 – Hit the Hiking and Biking Trails
Mountains surrounding Alassio to the north of the city contain some of the best hiking and biking trails in the area. According to Enrico, owner of Hotel Enrico, if you head up to the highest peak along the ridge, you’ve got Alps views on one side and Mediterranean views on the other. Also perched along this high peak is Madonna Della Guardia, a beautiful old church built in the 13th century. This church is dedicated to Our Lady – Star of the Sea, whose mission is to guide and protect sea travelers from this high perch overlooking the Mediterranean.
Pick up a detailed trail map from the tourist information office or from Enrico. He provides maps to all guests and can recommend the best public transportation to access the trails.
6 – Explore a Medieval Village
The nearby coastal town of Laigueglia is home to one of the most well-preserved medieval villages in the area called “Colla Micheri”. Famous Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl restored this village and lived here until his death in 2002. Along with stunning coastal views, you can get a view of what life was like in the middle ages. Colla Micheri reminds me a bit of Eze Village, another medieval village built between Monaco and Nice, but much less commercial with only one bar in town.
Laigueglia is located 2.8 miles from Alassio and is accessible by train. The walk from Laigueglia takes 20 to 30 minutes of a gentle uphill climb.
7 – Sail to Gallinara Island
Spend the day on the island of Gallinara, home to some interesting historical ruins as well as unique and protected flora. The island has been described as “beautiful and mysterious” and a nice escape into a place of peace and serenity. Spend the day swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing in the natural island beauty.
Like most places in this area, it comes with a long and colorful history. The island sheltered St. Martin of Tours between 356 and 360 in his escape from Milan in order to avoid the Aryan persecutions. (Who’s that you may ask? Saint Martin of Tours was Bishop of Tours, whose shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain” …Wikipedia)
During the 11th century, the island became home to some very influential Benedictine monks. Eventually, during 13th and 14th centuries, the abbey fell into the ruins which are now preserved and protected.
The boat for Gallinari Island departs from the pier in Alassio several times a day during high season. For more information: www.liguriaviamare.it
8 – Enjoy dolphin or whale watching! (July through September)
Two of my favorite things about the sea – dolphins and whales! Luckily, they both live in the Mediterranean Sea near Alassio and can be spotted during the summer. This is not just a regular tourist boat, but a research vessel with marine biologists on board who can explain the habits of these amazing creatures. You can catch the boat at the nearby port of Andora. The 5-hour tour starts at 35 EUR for adults and you’ll receive a 50% discount on a future trip in the sad event that you fail to see any whales or dolphins.
For more information: www.whalewatchliguria.it
Alassio Holiday Transportation
From Genoa: The train takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. Ticket prices start at 8 EUR each way. (More details here…)
From Nice: The train from Nice to Ventimiglia (on the border) takes about 40 minutes. Change to the Italian train for the 50 minute trip to Alassio. (More info here…)
Alassio Holiday Accommodations
Hotel Enrico is my choice for the perfect location and reasonable price. It’s conveniently located just a few blocks from the train station and one block off the sea. The rooms are spotless and the rooftop terrace offers the most stunning sea view!
Check here for the best hotel prices in Alassio!