SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE is a small, thoroughly attractive, palm-laden resort, tucked into an inlet and replete with grand hotels, garden villas and views of the glittering bay. In the daytime, trendy young Italians cruise the streets or whizz around the harbour on jet skis, while the rest of the family sunbathes or crams the gelaterie. Santa Margherita is far cheaper to stay in than Portofino and less crowded than Rapallo, and makes a good base both for taking boats and trains up and down the coast and for exploring the countryside on foot.
The town is in two parts: one set around a harbour and gardens and a small town beach, and a second, more commercial harbour around the headland. In between there’s a small castle, and behind this the shady gardens of the sixteenth-century Villa Durazzo, which hosts art exhibitions and the like. There’s a decent if small town beach, but the best beaches are out of town, accessible by bus: south towards Portofino is Paraggi, while to the north the road drops down to a patch of beach in the bay of San Michele di Pagana. In addition to its beach bars and crystal-clear water, a Crucifixion by Van Dyck in the church of San Michele may prove an added incentive for a visit.