Todays Ligurian hotspots are the Cinque Terre and swanky Portofino. But head west of Genoa for now-quiet resorts such as Alassio where, a century ago, Brits went to see and be seen
As the plane circled over the Ligurian coast towards Genoa, my fellow passengers were getting excited. They all seemed to be heading east to glamorous Portofino, or the Cinque Terre for hiking. But I was going west, along a road that was practically built by the British but has been curiously forgotten by them.
The 19th-century British habit of wintering on the Mediterranean changed the fortunes of many seaside villages, and Alassio was no exception. But this small seafront resort between Savona and Imperia seems to have slipped off the British radar. Even my Italophile friends hadnt heard of it.
Until the 1930s, it was so popular with Britons that the winter population would swell by about 5,000. They built the three sure signs of a British resort: an Anglican church (now a cultural centre), Hanbury Tennis Club (still going strong) and an English-language lending library (the second-largest in Italy). Now the permanent British population is about 15.
Tastes changed and people moved on away from one of the loveliest town beaches Ive 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. In July and August, it is teeming with holidaying Italians. By going in September, I still caught the heat but missed the crowds.
The aptly named Hotel Eden, a pleasant three-star with balconies for grandstand sunset views, was less than 15 minutes stroll along the seafront from Alassios gleaming new pier. In the town centre, romantic beachfront restaurants with candlelit tables sat comfortably with rustic-chic cafes. A tiny hole-in-the-wall bar made a satisfying spot for a late night grappa.