It's basically fact that if you choose to honeymoon in Italy you're guaranteed a romantic time — what with it's classical architecture, candlelit cafes and mind-blowingly delicious food and wine. But if you pick a less-traveled destination, such as the adorable towns of the northwestern Ligurian Coast, you're also guaranteed a supremely unique, multi-experiential journey. Situated just south of Milan (a two-hour drive along the A7 autostrade), Liguria is the regional home of Portofino, a stunning East Hampton equivalent that attracts a well-heeled local and international crowd, especially during the high summer months (fashion designers like Giorgio Armani, Stefano Gabanna and Domenico Dolce own villas there). On the less-glitzy front you'll find Santa Margherita Ligure, an adorable fishing village and Rapallo, the bustling waterfront gateway to Liguria. Post up in your town of choice and plan to explore these highlights on a three- to five-night trip:
You'll need a basecamp from which to explore Liguria's many towns. We're partial to Grand Hotel Miramare, a 78-room grande dame in Santa Margherita Ligure that's a member property of Leading Hotels of the World (meaning it's top-notch). Expect an old school vibe, super-attentive service and a breakfast buffet to the nines. It's also perfectly located just steps from the town's main drag, which is filled with chic boutiques (Manebi espadrilles, anyone?) and waterfront restaurants.
Equally chic is Excelsior Palace Hotel, in Rapallo, where rooms and suites are decorated in luxe fabrics and are situated to highlight picture-perfect views of the Gulf of Tigullio. Plan for sundowner cocktails on the spacious back patio (instant romance!) and afternoons at the spa and beach club, where you can relax and catch rays by the sprawling infinity pools (reserve your lounge chair early).
Time to get to know your surroundings; if you'd rather not drive, hop on the local ferry that connects the coastal towns along the Ligurian Riviera (it departs every hour). Pack lunch and a towel for your first stop: Abbazia di San Fruttuoso, a Benedictine abbey in the Bay of Camogli that dates back to the 10th to the 13th centuries. Take a tour of the abbey's small museum; swim in the crystal-clear blue waters; lay your towel on the beach's smooth rocks (or rent a lounge chair if that's too uncomfortable); and toast to each other over sunset beers at one of the adorable cafes.
It's hard to find a more romantic environment for dinner than Santa Margherita Ligure's waterfront promenade. Pretty much every restaurant serves the local specialty: fresh, catch-of-the-day fish. Peruse the menus and take your pick. Our favorite? Ristorante Skipper, a quaint little spot that has outdoor tables set on a floating dock.
Morning & Afternoon
Grab an early breakfast at the hotel and collect your wheels from the valet; it pays to arrive early in Portofino, since the road dead-ends in town and there's only one parking garage (in the high summer months traffic slows to a dead "one car in, one car out" halt along the road). There's no beach in Portofino, just a quaint marina filled with waterfront cafes and luxury designer boutiques. After a quick lap, head up Via del Fondaco to Niasca Portofino, where, with advance booking, you can take a private cooking class, test your palette with a wine-tasting or relax on the hillside with a picnic lunch in the extensive gardens. The impeccably designed showroom-slash-kitchen is the perfect place to hone your culinary skills, where 20-plus courses include: homemade Genoese pesto (a local specialty, done with a traditional mortar and pestle), pizza and pasta-making (ravioli, tagliatelle or potato gnocchi). The company works with a handful of local chefs, so expect a thoroughly authentic experience, especially if you end up with Chef-Comedian Rocco Antonio Costanzo, whose quick wit is matched only by his ability to whisk. When your food is ready, the staff will set a beautiful table for lunch, complete with Niasca Portofino's homemade sparkling lemonade, pesto and extra-virgin olive oil (which you'll want to continue tasting at home; it's available Stateside at Mario Batali's famed Italian food emporium, Eataly).
While your own pesto-making skills are, by now, top-notch, if you want the real deal there's no place better than La Terrazza Restaurant at Belmond Hotel Splendido. The storied hotel is the gem of Portofino, with 67 rooms and suites set in a former Benedictine monastery at the top of a picturesque hill overlooking Portofino Bay. (There's also a smaller, 16-room sister property in town, called Belmond Splendido Mare.) Order a bellini and the Trofie di "Recco" al Pesto, a pasta dish made with a short, twisted noodle and otherworldly sundried tomato pesto (instead of the usual basil-based version).
Prepare to have your heart stolen today — and no, not by your new hubby, that's already a fact! Drive 20 minutes east and you'll find Camogli, a tiny fishing village that is without doubt the cutest town in all of Italy. With only a handful of streets, you wouldn't expect to find much upon pulling up to the pedestrian-only main promenade. But walk 100 yards and the town reveals its many splendors: brightly hued buildings; small, Riviera-chic boutiques; a wide beach filled with sunbathing locals; a tiny, row-boat-filled harbor; and adorable sidewalk cafes. The hallmark feature of Camogli, however, is it's focaccerias, which serve — you guessed it — focaccia, the region's hallmark bread. Pop into any focacceria and pick up a piece (or three) of the dimpled flatbread, which is served plain, stuffed or topped with every ingredient imaginable (trust us, it's worth the carbs).
Hang out on the beach in Camogli or return to your hotel for a spa treatment and a beach club sesh. Try the Earth-Heaven four-hands massage at Excelsior Palace Hotel or the E'Space multisensory room experience at Grand Hotel Miramare, which incorporates aromatherapy and chromotherapy (the science of using colors to adjust body vibrations to frequencies for health benefits).
For your last meal, head to the bustling waterfront of Rapallo, where your new friend Chef Rocco has his own restaurant, Rocco E I Suoi Fratelli (translation: "Rocco and his brothers"). Expect traditional Ligurian-style dishes with a decidedly Sicilian flair (the chef's family hails from Sicily). If you're lucky, the Chef Rocco may even give you another lesson in Italian cooking with a tableside demonstration of spaghetti carbonara. Buon appetito!