The Italian Riviera is heaven on earth if you know not to focus your visit on any particular destination, “It’s not unlike sitting in a restaurant, deciding what you want for dinner, and realizing that you’d rather have several appetizers than limit yourself to one entrée.” I recently enjoyed a French-operated, eightday luxury cruise that does the region right, and “my brain’s mailbox is now stuffed with Italian Riviera postcards.” Our 122-cabin ship, the Lyrial, was small enough to enter the most scenic ports, all of them home to centuries-old churches and citadels, pebble beaches, and fantastic food and wine. As a bonus, our voyage began in Nice, France’s beautiful port city. “This is where the wealthy once came to play, and it shows.”
Portofino, an early stop, might be considered too touristy by some travel snobs. But not me. “This town is like the supermodel of small Italian fishing villages—there are no bad angles.” Its sun-bleached, multicolored homes hug a half-moon bay, and the views from the town’s 16th-century castle are dazzling. Still, every day brought new highlights: Bastia on the French island of Corsica; the five Hollywood-worthy fishing villages known as Cinque Terre; Elba, the beautiful island where Napoleon was exiled. One day, I boarded a train from the coast to Florence, then rode a Vespa to San Gimignano, a Tuscan hill town famous for its medieval towers.
Ship life was a treat as well. “One of the benefits of solo cruising is that you end up meeting some fascinating people,” and I was lucky enough to have a kind family from Virginia fold me into their activities. It’s to them I owe my magical day on Elba, highlighted by “the best pesto I’ve ever consumed”— courtesy of a restaurant named Salegrosso—and a thrilling ride in a yellow cable car to the top of Monte Capanne. If you ever find yourself in Elba—“and I recommend that you make a point of finding yourself there”—my advice is to make the cable cars a priority. “But only if you’re OK with heights and views that will knock your Crocs off.” Ponant (us.ponant.com) is offering a sevenday 2023 cruise from Nice to Rome that starts at $4,100 a person.