Cinque Terre’s fame has brought Italy’s southern Riviera new attention, with travelers seeking out neighboring villages in search of extra helpings of rustic coastal charm. Portovenere, although an outstanding destination in its own right, has sometimes been dubbed the “sixth” of the five famed hamlets because of its proximity to the southernmost Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore.
Like Portovenere, the town of Lerici sits with tantalizing allure on the Gulf of La Spezia (”Gulf of Poets”), although on its lesser-known eastern shores. As with Portovenere, it has been attracting notice from Cinque Terre fans, but also from a cohort of privileged visitors, the type who tends to turn up at international hot spots like Capri and Forte dei Marmi. They’ve been coming not just to visit, but for extended stays in secluded vacation homes (or to look at buying one) in the hills along the coast, known for its ethereal views.
Lerici isn’t often referred to as Cinque Terre’s sixth or seventh town, nor should it be. While it has all the elements you might expect in a bona fide Ligurian seaside haven, there are different elements at play. The Lerici coast has long enjoyed a quiet mystique, thanks first to the writers who became enthralled by and championed the region’s beauty, and, more recently, as a cherished oasis for privacy-seeking elites. Lerici’s mayor, Leonardo Paoletti, has described the town and its surroundings as having “un anima complessa,” a complex soul, one likely to become more complex as the area deals with the economic realities of travel today. Geography has helped save Lerici from over-tourism, although who knows if any place in such a gorgeous setting can remain free of it forever.
Unlike most Cinque Terre towns, Lerici enjoys an expansive seafront that includes a lungomare running from its castle to the castle in the adjacent village of San Terenzo (about 1.5 miles away). There’s also a spacious waterside piazza with restaurants, bars and gelaterias from which to enjoy the painterly sunsets. The sprawling nature of the Lerici coast, with its many sandy beaches, makes it a blissful destination not only for sun worshippers, but also for those who want to indulge in a variety of sea sports. The surrounding hills are a magnet for hikers, bikers and trekkers from spring to fall.
If geography, in terms of access, has helped prevent over-tourism, it’s also helping to shape the area’s contemporary travel strategy. Making the most of Lerici’s varied coastal setting is a priority, according to Mayor Paoletti, with an emphasis on initiatives that will attract the sports-minded traveler.
Instead of the dolce far niente ambiance found in many Italian coastal resorts, the attitude here seems to be dolce far qualcosa, and the more active the better. “The future of Lerici [travel is with those] who look for quality experiences, love sports, and want hospitality services for the whole family, including pets,” says Paoletti. The official travel website, Lerici Coast, outlines a range of these experiences (sailing, biking, climbing, SUP, wind surfing) tailored to various travelers’ needs.
Here’s what else you need to know about Lerici for a memorable stay.
There’s culture by the sea
Appropriately, considering that Lerici’s early notice came from prominent writers (Dante, Shelley, D.H. Lawrence) who visited or lived in this part of Liguria, the cultural scene has a literary focus, although there are many music and other art events as well.
This year, for example, Lerici celebrates the bicentenary of the death of Percy Bysshe Shelly, who famously lived in nearby San Terenzo, with a program that runs through October; held the Lerici Music Festival in July and August; and hosts the annual Premio Lerici Pea Golfo dei Poeti Prize, a major literary competition with prizes awarded in various categories. The Lifetime Achievement Award this year will go to the 2022 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, Louise Glück. There’s even a “Walk of Poetry” in Lerici, along the sea promenade, where silvery plaques commemorate winners of the Pea award. Art events can pop up anywhere in Lerici—in the castles, parks and along the seaside walkways, which become settings for exhibits and lectures. Even the Hotel Byron where I was staying, had an art show, a striking installation by Rossana Rotondi.
Why luxury travelers head to Lerici
This spring, when Idealista published a list of the most expensive towns in Italy to buy a home, Lerici ranked number four, ahead of such better-known areas on the gilded swath of land that makes up the eastern Riviera as Portofino and Cinque Terre. “Property prices have been high for at least 30 years and have never gone down,” says Paoletti. “The quality of life in Lerici, as in many other Italian places, is priceless.”
The Idealista ranking certainly didn’t surprise pros in the business, like Francesco Mottini, an architect and designer with The Dream Real Estate, which specializes in luxury properties in southern Liguria, the Versilia Riviera and Lucca. “In recent years properties with values above 10 million euros have been sold,” he says.
One of the reasons for Lerici’s attraction is its location, a little off the beaten tourist path, so it hasn’t become a day-tripper’s destination. “Unlike the Cinque Terre where the railway line stops in each [town], Lerici does not have a stop. You have to [travel to] Sarzana, La Spezia or Carrara and from there move by public transport or taxi,” says Mottini. In addition to the absence of a train station and the crowds that it could bring, the Lerici Coast offers the kind of settings where buyers can expect exceptional privacy—the villas aren’t centered in one posh district, but are discreetly spread out amid tiny hamlets in the pine-covered hills facing the sea.
Another reason for soaring prices is that besides well-heeled Italians in search of a seaside perch, Lerici has been attracting major international money, including Russian buyers who became familiar with the area after vacationing in Forte dei Marmi. “Many Russian families have bought properties here in the last few years,” says Paoletti. British and American buyers have also been part of the mix, he says.
Even though Lerici and its neighboring villages don’t have train stations, the town is well positioned to access the type of amenities popular with elite visitors, says Mottini. “Within a radius of 30 kilometers there are all kinds of services that this type of clientele expects to find, such as the high fashion boutiques of Forte dei Marmi and several Michelin-star restaurants, managing to combine the best of several Italian regions within a short distance.” He points out that Lerici is located “only 30 minutes from Forte dei Marmi, 50 minutes from the Pisa airport, an hour and 30 minutes from Florence and a few kilometers from important ports such as Porto Lotti and Porto Mirabello, where you can moor your superyacht.”
The many seaside spots, both private and public, to enjoy
Whether your taste runs to wide sandy beaches or idyllic cove settings, you won’t lack for choice along the Lerici coast, which reaches roughly from the villages of San Terenzo to Tellaro. Seven of the beaches have Bandiera Blu ratings (for meeting cleanliness and environmental standards). La Baia Blu beach club, on the northernmost beach of the same name, even has two swimming pools. In Lerici itself there are many places to take a swim. Among the best known clubs is the Lido di Lerici, its long rows of deep blue umbrellas sitting in precise formation by the sea. The public San Giorgio cove beaches are accessible from a path by the castle.
For one of the most memorable beach experiences anywhere in Italy, head to Eco del Mare Night and Day Beach Club, located a short drive from Lerici in Maramozza. A draw for celebrities, VIPs and creatives who come for the privacy, boho-chic decor and perfect cove-beach setting, the property, owned and styled by Francesca Mozer, is actually a boutique hotel and restaurant. It allows for non-hotel guests to use the stunning beach depending on availability.
In Fiascherino there are a pair of family-run hotels fronting exquisite bay beaches. The Hotel Fiascherino, managed by the sister team of Simonetta and Giovanna Fiori, has been in the family since 1949, where it evolved from beach club, then restaurant to the present-day hotel. Facing the Fiascherino bay and near a house where D. H. Lawrence once lived, the hotel, popular with Scandinavian and other northern European visitors, has a nice stretch of beach, swimming pool and tennis court.
A short walk away is the Locanda Il Senatore, run by Nicola Fiori Cimato, the Fiori sisters’ brother, and his wife Martina Cabano. The Locanda, an insider’s find, attracts many Italian guests, says Cabano. It has 8 rooms, a private beach with 18 umbrellas, so even those not staying at the property can take advantage of the beautiful beach, where loungers are literally at water’s edge. The Locanda has an excellent seasonal restaurant, with a spacious terrace overlooking the sea.
You can stay right by the water, even when in town
Not surprisingly, hotels in town have been built to take advantage of the sea views and proximity to the water. One of these is the recently refurbished Hotel Byron Lerici, a sleek and modern mid-size property, with 30 rooms, spa, a restaurant with sea views and a sophisticated menu, and superb air conditioning. The hotel also has an arrangement with a nearby beach club (there’s an extra fee), and can organize golf outings, boating excursions, and yoga sessions by the sea. Unlike some resort hotels, the Byron is open year round. “There’s always something to do in Lerici,” says Damiano Pinelli, the hotel’s general manager.
The historic Hotel Shelley e Delle Palme on the lungomare dates from 1880 and has long been popular with English and German tourists. A majority of the hotel’s rooms overlook the sea. There’s a waterside terrace for sunbathing and swimming, and an outdoor restaurant affording some of the best views of the Lerici harbor and castle in town.
The nearby villages and towns to explore
San Terenzo, a nice walk along the lungomare from Lerici, is the small town where Percy Shelley once lived with his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. Their former home, Villa Magni, a stark white structure opposite the sea promenade, is now privately owned, but you can visit the town’s medieval castle, which offers magnificent sea views.
Tiny Tellaro, designated one of Italy’s most beautiful villages (I Borghi più belli d’Italia), does remind you of a Cinque Terre hamlet (minus the crowds). Tellaro fans out from a small harbor surrounded by weathered stone buildings and anchored by the Church of San Giorgio, dating from the 1500s. Join sunbathers, who bring towels or beach chairs to stretch out along the rocks after navigating the narrow caruggi, to enjoy the get-away-from-it-all vibe. (Don’t miss the Sotto-ria Gallery, an evocative arcaded walkway, once part of the hamlet’s medieval defense structure.) Not far away is another designated beautiful village, Montemarcello (a hamlet that’s a frazione of Ameglia, rather than Lerici), an artists’ and intellectuals’ favorite with outstanding views overlooking the Gulf. One way to connect to these villages is by sea—rent a boat or take the public ferry from Lerici to Tellaro or San Terenzo.