Walks on the Riviera coast work best when they combine colour and contrast
The French and the Italian sides of the Riviera, while having much in common, also reflect many characteristics of the very different countries to which they are attached.
The French Riviera, for example, is better “organized” and more clearly structured into individual zones (leisure, residential use and nature reserves), while Italy’s coastline is more haphazard, more “sprawly” and more densely built-up, the individual resort towns following each other in comparatively quick succession.
For coastal hikers and walkers, this represents a distinct trade-off: there is less “wild” coast in Italy, but it is logistically easier to find your way from one town to the next. Most of the time, a lungomare of some sort runs parallel to the sea front, and where you have to walk directly on the beach, there is nearly always such a road near-by, so any detour you may be obliged to make (because a posh hotel or private property is in the way) is usually short.
The rewards of these town-to-town walks on the Italian Riviera are, however, decidedly mixed: some of them pass through semi-urban no-man’s land, and even where no waste incineration plants or tyre factories may spoil the sight, a lack of optical variation, once the novelty of the scenery has worn off (after a couple of hours or so), can make the experience a trifle monotonous.
These coastal walks work best when they are reasonably short (around the 5 km mark), giving you enough time to explore the towns on either end of the hike within the confines of a day trip, when these two towns are worth the time you dedicate to them and when they offer you two different types of “Riviera experience”. Which normally means: when one is dignified and historical, and the other youthful and brash.
Finally, we have found such a coastal walk on the Italian Riviera that ticks all of these boxes in exactly the right way. The hilltop village of Cervo, a perennial finalist in Italy’s Most Beautiful Town contest, has a charming centro storico, …
… while Diano Marina provides all the mods and cons of a bustling and modern beach resort. Moreover, the walk between the two towns, the centrepiece of the trip, is a nice blend of beach promenade and cross-country adventure. You get pleasant, occasionally spectacular views, and if you do this on a sunny day (as you should: doesn’t that go without saying?), the walk will fill your tank with enough sunshine to last you for a whole week. What more could you possibly ask?
The Old Town of Cervo, located on a rock immediately by the coast (and easily reachable by train), actually deserves a post of its own, and we will deliver all the info you need to plan your own trip some other day.
Walking from Cervo to Diano Marina
Once you have completed your sightseeing tour, return to Cervo train station and continue westward (towards your right, facing the sea with Cervo train station behind you) in the direction of San Bartolomeo. You are now on the Via Aurelia, the mother of all Roman roads, today a busy highway, so you should leave it at your first opportunity right behind the river crossing, turning left for the lungomare beach promenade. Inside the town borders of San Bartolomeo, this is a very genteel and pleasant walkway, not least due to the total absence of road traffic (all of which has been banned to the Via Aurelia 200 m further inland), perhaps a little too eerily quiet at this time of year.
Behind the town frontier, however, the beach path rapidly changes its character and becomes more of a cross-country walk.
Several times you will think: this is the end, I have to turn back to get to the road, but you can continue on the beach all the way, through sand, over stones, half-finished concrete structures and, at the very end, a causeway across the river Pineta. Even at this time of year, you will never be alone for long, meeting a surprisingly diverse bunch of locals who are enjoying the sunshine, each in their own way: pensioners with their dogs, young as well as elderly couples holding hands, families feeding the seagulls …
… and anglers dangling their fishing rods into the sea, sometimes right under the sign that says Fishing Strictly Forbidden (ah, Italy!).
At this time of year, you can also see something that local administrations normally take great pains to hide from your eyes: the driftwood that the rivers carry down from the hills before it is washed out to the sea and returned to the coast by the waves. Summer guests have no idea how much wood accumulates on the beaches, mainly (but not exclusively) during the winter months – and how much work it takes to clean up the beaches to get them ready for the tourists. (In January, this effort is slowly getting into gear.)
The town of Diano Marina at the end of the walk is a largely modern resort, having been razed to the ground by an earthquake in 1887. It is not specifically charming or picturesque, but the town centre (around Corso Roma and Via Genova) …
… offers you a wide range of shops and of places where you can eat – or have something sweet with a cup of coffee. Mrs. Easy Hiker was able to establish (through dedicated research) that the local variety of baci has rich chocolate cream sandwiched between equally rich chocolate macaron-like pastry shells. And this time, we discovered something new, too: a local specialty (pebble-shaped M&Ms) called sassi di Diano or Diano Pebbles.
Also note that right on entering Diano harbour, you will come across a rather touching and unusual monument dedicated to the Caduti del Mare, the Fallen of the Sea, which has been created by the Norwegian sculptor Fritz Roed.
The sculpture illustrates the old legend according to which the soul of a sailor who has perished at sea is carried to the heavens by a seagull.
Finish your walk at the train station of Diano Marina, one block north of the town centre.
A final note: we took the walk in the direction of Diano Marina from Cervo, but one could also make a case for hiking in the opposite direction. You would be walking towards Cervo’s attractive skyline, for one, with pleasant anticipation lending an additional spring to your step. You would, however, also have the sun in your back (whether that counts as a disadvantage or not depends largely on the season). Importantly, you should take note that not all of the local trains on the Ventimiglia-Genoa line stop in Cervo, so it is logistically easier to return from Diano Marina. Like much else on the Riviera, this, too, ultimately involves some sort of a trade-off.