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Santa Margherita Ligure is that wonderfully old-fashioned kind of Riviera resort where palm fronds wave along the esplanade and foreign visitors spend a week or two out of season, enjoying the balmy climate, attractive views and comfortable long-established hotels. Santa Margherita Ligure is a fair-sized town; large enough not to seem smothered by the tourism which has been an integral part of the town's existence for decades. The harbour mainly caters for smart yachts, but the town is also home to a small fishing fleet which can be seen unloading opposite the businesslike morning fishmarket. There are wide ranges of hotels and restaurants, and a selection of good daytrips to make if you get tired of pottering along the laidback seafront. Bars, cafes, gelaterie and restaurants are spread along the seafront and there are also a few along the main quay - these latter are rather more expensive but the view is lively. If you prefer to picnic, there is a good-sized Coop supermarket in Corso Matteoti which is generally open until 8pm. The small hill dominating the waterfront is an interesting place to explore. Behind the small Castello and the severely striped Chiesa dei Frati Cappuccini are intriguing overgrown passageways prowled by semi-wild cats. Further up the slope is the fancier church of San Giacomo in Corte, which contains among other sights a creepily-illuminated Madonna in a rocky niche. Next door, the grand Villa Durazzo is a monument to the faded glory of the Riviera. The garden terraces are a public park; a pleasant place to sit. There is also a 'Coffee House' and although the Villa is used as a study centre, you can catch glimpses of frescoed interiors. Good daytrips from 'Santa' include Portofino, the picturesque San Fruttuoso Abbey, the resorts of Camogli and Rapallo, Genoa and the Cinque Terre (around an hour by train, or an all-day boat excursion).
The handiest airports for this stretch of the Italian Riviera are Genoa and Pisa - both towns are connected by rail to the coast, and both are on budget airline routes from the UK. Santa Margherita Ligure's train station is fairly central, and provides good connections with the rest of Italy. On the main railway line between Pisa and Genoa, access is easy from Rome and other big cities. You may need to change to a 'stopping' train at a nearby station such as Chiavari. Local buses run from outside the station; the seafront and several hotels are just a short walk away. Boat services Passenger ferries (not especially cheap) connect the town with other resorts up and down the coast, and are a good way to see the area. The trip to Portofino (€6 return) takes just a few minutes; excursions down as far as the Cinque Terre take most of a day, and do not run every day. In the winter, services are reduced, but boats still connect Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino and San Fruttuoso.
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