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The Italian Riviera - When To Go
The high and low travel seasons along the Italian Riviera follow the weather, which is, on the whole, quite mild (and what drew the first proper tourists – Brits fleeing the wet winter – to Liguria). As the thermometer goes up, so do the crowds, with the height of the high season peaking in July and August (high season is officially mid-June to mid-September).

In the summer months you may find yourself elbow-to-elbow on the beaches, stuck in traffic on the Via Aurelia, or waiting – and waiting – for a table at a restaurant. On the plus side, everything is open and there's a party atmosphere as the towns and villages of Liguria host numerous festivals and special events (see the calendar, below). It's hard not to love the Riviera in the summer, all hassles aside.

If you don't want to deal with crowds, April, May, and late September – the shoulder seasons – are an excellent time to visit. The weather is warm (averaging 70 °F or 21 °C), rain is rare, and the crowds are at bay. Room rates are generally cheaper during the shoulder season as well, though you should, of course, verify with your hotel at the time of booking. Easter week does bring crowds, but the festive atmosphere surrounding this important Italian holiday (Catholicism is the predominant religion in Italy) offsets any nuisances.

Once upon a time it wasn't uncommon for hotels and restaurants along the coast to close from October to February, but this is becoming more and more rare. Most of the Riviera is now open year-round, though museums and shops might have limited hours during the off-season. Information about closures and odd hours is provided in the individual listings of this book. The rainy season falls during October, November, and December. Liguria doesn't get a lot of rain, but when it does it can cause havoc on the narrow, curvy inland roads. Some of the mountain towns get snow during the winter and Liguria has a sprinkling of ski resorts and numerous locales for cross-country skiing and other winter activities.

Airfare from North America to Europe also follows the seasons. Generally, the best fares are available during the "off-peak" months, from mid-October to mid-May. The summer months, following supply and demand, bring the most expensive airfares. However, between miles rewards programs, ticket consolidators, tour operators and packagers, and the web, it's still possible to find a reasonable fare for travel during the summer.

Italians love a good festival, and the calendar along the Riviera is packed with events that bring locals to the piazzi for food, revelry, and commemoration. Tourists are not only tolerated, they're welcomed with the warmth and spirit typical of Italy. You might want to plan your trip to coincide with any of the following:

January: To celebrate the Feast of St. Sebastian on January 20th, the townspeople of Dolceacqua and Camporosso carry laurel trees decorated with colored communion wafers through the streets. At the end of the month, San Remo hosts the Italian Festival of Popular Songs.

February: The Festa dei Fulgari, held in mid-February, commemorates the defeat of Saracen pirates at Taggia, a coastal city famous for its olives, citrus, almonds and figs.

Easter: The most important holiday on the Catholic calendar is celebrated all over Liguria with feasts, processions, and festivals. The most famous are the Black Thursday and Good Friday processions in Ceriana, and the Good Friday processions in Savona and Triora.

May: Though landmines dotted the seas off Camogli during WWII, the fishing fleet made it back to shore safely. Their return is commemorated each second Sunday of May with a festival featuring a giant frying pan and hundreds of fish, which are cooked and freely distributed among the revelers.

May/July: The Regatta of the Maritime Republics takes place alternately between Genoa, Amalfi, Pisa, and Venice. Dating from Renaissance times, only men born in the respective cities can compete in the boat race, though anyone can watch. Also during the summer months, the Ligurian towns of Chiavari and Sestri Levante participate in the Maritime Palio, a series of races and events on the sea similar in origin to the Palio horse races in Siena.

June: Seven weeks after Easter, Whit Sunday is celebrated in Baiardo with the Festa delle Barca, which has nothing to do really with the apostles or the tongues of flame. Instead, villagers – and festival-goers – dance around a decorated pine tree in recreation of what is thought to be an ancient pagan ritual. Also in June, on the Sunday following the feast of Corpus Christi, the towns of Diano Marina and Sassello host a unique celebration in which artists create ephemeral masterpieces on the pavement using only flower petals. In Genoa, the Festival of St. John – the city's patron saint – is celebrated the on 24th with a street procession and city-wide party.

July: Fireworks explode over Rapallo as part of Nostra Signora di Montallegro. The lovely village of Cervo hosts the International Festival of Chamber Music near the end of the month in the square outside the Baroque church of San Giovanni Battista.

August: The first Sunday of the month is festival time in several villages. Camogli hosts Stella Maris, a beautiful boat procession. In La Spezia, there's a regatta and fireworks for the Palio del Golfo. See villagers in period cos- tume participating in the procession as part of Corteo Storico in Ventimiglia. August 13-14, the town of Lavagna cuts a giant cake and hosts tournaments and a procession to commemorate medieval fieschi weddings as part of Torta dei Fieschi. At the end of the month (August 23), the heart of the Cristo degli Abissi festival off San Fruttuoso is the descent of divers to the ocean floor where a wreath is laid at the feet of a bronze statue of Christ.

September: Feast on delicious snail dishes as part of the Sagra della Lumaca, or Snail Festival, in Molini di Triora. The second Sunday of the month, a regatta and procession is held in Noli for the Regatta dei Rioni.

December: Most towns and villages hold various events for the Christmas season, including nativities, craft fares, and processions. Santa Lucia (December 13) in Toirano features a candlelit procession, and in Dolceacqua, a bonfire is lit on Christmas Night.
About the Author
Hunter Publishing is a travel guide publisher with several hundred guidebooks to destinations around the world.
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