The Lie that Built the Italian Riviera

The Italian Riviera is an iconic destination, attracting people from across the globe with its postcard-perfect coastal towns, crystal-clear Mediterranean waters, and luxurious hotels and marinas.

But it first became popular because of a lie…

The Italian Riviera has been a playground of royalty and celebrities for generations.

In 1854, an article appeared in a Paris newspaper, La Presse, exalting the small, obscure Italian town of Sanremo for its incredible coastline and miraculous climate with amazing health-enhancing qualities.

The article was written by a foreign tourist who had visited Sanremo. Or so it was claimed…

In fact, the article was written by Countess Adele Bianchi, the wife of an Italian aristocrat based in the area.

The countess was determined to turn the stretch of coast around Sanremo into a tourism destination for the royalty of northern Europe…a place where they could escape their freezing winters.

After her deceptive missive in La Presse, she commissioned a series of articles by celebrity doctors praising the therapeutic properties of her town and its climate. And in 1855, she built the region’s first villa for tourism purposes on the hills outside Sanremo, to rent out during the winter season.

This was the birth of modern tourism on Italy’s most famous stretch of coast.

The bustling marina at Sanremo. The town was the first destination to attract tourists in big numbers on the Italian Riviera.

Today, the term “riviera” evokes images of sun…sand…glistening waters…wealth…and luxury… Riviera is now used to describe destinations across Europe and the world, from France to Portugal…Turkey to Mexico.

But its origins are in Italy.

Riviera is an Italian word, meaning coastline. It was also part of a proper name used for the Mediterranean coast of the northern Liguria region, Riviera ligure. In English, this was shortened to Riviera.

The Italian Riviera spans about 218 miles on the country’s northernmost Mediterranean coast.

The Italian Riviera wasn’t entirely unknown before Countess Bianchi’s schemes. Prominent painters and writers such as J.M.W. Turner, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley had been visiting its small coastal towns since the early 19th century seeking artistic inspiration.

But dignitaries like the countess brought the coast to the attention of Europe’s aristocracy.

It quickly proved popular with the continent’s royalty who had become enamored with the idea of climatic tourism—visiting towns with special environments that could supposedly improve health or alleviate or cure ailments.

In the mid to late 19th century, emperors and empresses, kings and queens, began staying in the once-tiny fishing village of Sanremo.

Russian Empress Maria Alexandrovna visited, as did the crown prince of Prussia, later Federick III, who stayed for months before assuming the throne in an effort to improve his failing health. And Sanremo impressed the “Wandering Empress” Elisabeth of Austria, who’d embarked on a life of extensive travel and spent long periods cruising the Mediterranean.

Of course, the royalty and aristocrats who could afford to winter away demanded luxurious lodgings. So scores of grand hotels were built. As were casinos and marinas.

Today, the Italian Riviera retains this sense of grandeur and opulence. This is a playground of the ultra-rich…

The Municipal Casino in Sanremo, built in the 1900s to attract and entertain Europe’s elite.

Tourism on the Italian Riviera started in Sanremo, but quickly grew in other towns along this coast as well such as Bordighera and Portofino.

In time, Portofino began to supersede Sanremo as the region’s most luxurious enclave.

In the 20th century, Sanremo sprawled outward as more tourists came, but Portofino, located on a small peninsula, is hemmed in by geography.

This “moat” on its development, combined with the high-end marina in its sheltered harbor, meant it remained exclusive and prestigious….

The small harbor town of Portofino is the most exclusive on the Italian Riviera.

By the 1950s and ’60s, Portofino had become a favorite of celebrities and the elite, attracting the likes of Winston Churchill, Ingrid Bergman, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were regular visitors. The couple, known for their famously turbulent relationship, often arrived via their luxury yacht, The Kalizma (named for Taylor’s children, Kate, Liza, and Maria). They’d dock at the marina and dine at Ristorante Puny, a waterfront restaurant serving local cuisine.

Portofino remains popular with celebrities to this day. Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow have regularly visited for family getaways. Rihanna, Madonna, Denzel Washington, and Bruce Springsteen have all been spotted there. Kourtney Kardashian got married in a villa in Portofino.

The town is so synonymous with luxury that Ferrari named one of its supercars Portofino. Here’s a video I found online showing the town…

This video shows the glistening azure waters and stunning colorful historic homes of the renowned enclave of Portofino.

Today, the small Marina di Portofino is one of the most exclusive in the world…

Set in a promontory formed by the inlet of Portofino Bay, it has only 14 berths for superyachts and two for mega-yachts. The average berth price is €2,398 per day, making it one of the most expensive in Europe. And that’s if you can get a spot. They have to be booked months or even years in advance.

It’s a similar tale with real estate in Portofino…

The Marina di Portofino is among Europe’s most exclusive and sought-after marinas, but berths are in extremely limited supply.

Portofino has long been a place where the wealthy wanted to own. Italian fashion designers Giorgio Armani, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana are among the famous names who reportedly have villas in this small town. But supply is limited by the geography.

This means prices can be astronomical…

A few years back, a famous home in the area, Villa Buonaccordo di Portofino, was sold for between €30 million and €35 million. Even basic dated condos can list for close to a million dollars. For instance, this ordinary-looking three-bed in the center of town is on the market for €890,000.

For something more modern, with sea views, you’ll need to cut a much bigger check. This three-condo with views of the port, mountain and sea is listed for €1.95 million.

For a villa, you’ll pay much more still. This 2,700-square-foot, 12-room home is a tad dated, but the views are sensational. The list price: €4 million.

This 12-bed villa has stunning views down to the harbor, but the price tag is eye-watering…

Today, a new trend is playing out in Portofino…

The ultra-wealthy are getting disillusioned by the lack of available, modern real estate and marina berths. Plus, the town is no longer the hidden enclave it once was. In summer, it teems with vacationers.

This is a pattern we’re seeing in towns across the Italian and French Rivieras.

They are becoming more crowded, less exclusive…and their small historic marinas can’t be expanded to suit the growing demand for superyacht berths, or the growing size of the superyachts themselves.

That’s why many ultra-wealthy are now looking to Europe’s new “Hidden Riviera…”

Dubbed the new Monaco, the tiny country of Montenegro has attracted the attention of the world’s ultra-rich.

Located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, Montenegro boasts one of the most dramatic coastlines in Europe. Running for 183 miles along the Adriatic Sea, it’s liberally sprinkled with historic towns, lively beach resorts, secluded coves and white-stone fishing villages, all punctuated by strips of fine sand and pebbled beaches.

A-listers, oligarchs, and Gulf state billionaires are flocking to this “hidden” coast to berth their superyachts in the new, modern marinas. Luxury penthouses there sell for millions. The Saudi royal family even relocated its golden fleet of mega-yachts to here from Monaco in 2012 on a 30-year lease.

I’ve previously scouted this destination and several of my most senior scouts had boots-on-the-ground here in just the past several months. It’s emerging as a new Monaco or a new Portofino.

Now I’m getting ready to unveil an incredible new deal here for members of Real Estate Trend Alert group.

This will be their chance to own best-in-class real estate here at mind-blowing off-market prices…a tiny fraction of what you’d pay in a place like Portofino. In fact, this deal is so strong that I expect gains of €201,643 five years after delivery. (That’s $215,587.)

I’ll have more details on this deal in the coming days…


Ronan McMahon, Founder, Overseas Dream Home & Real Estate Trend Alert

P.S. Right now, I’m preparing a special report for my RETA members on the incredible transformation taking place in Montenegro. And I’ll be sharing some details here in Overseas Dream Home too. That’s coming very soon.

Questions and Feedback

Have a question or comment? A destination you’d like us to scout? Share it here. Here’s a question I got from an Overseas Dream Home reader…

Thomas J. asks: Where’s a good place to invest for an Airbnb?

Ronan says: Hi Thomas, thanks for your question. So broadly speaking, there are lots of places on my international real estate beat that offer amazing short-term rental opportunities. And the potential for rental income is a big consideration in any of the deals I bring to members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group.

I believe rental income is among the most wonderful things in the world. I still get a sense of quiet satisfaction every time I see rental income hit my bank account.

Take my condo on Portugal’s Silver Coast, a stunning stretch of the country’s Atlantic coastline between Lisbon and Porto. I brought this condo several years ago for $300,000. Last year, a local real estate agent wanted to list it for $450,000, but I’m not selling. I tend to spend time at this condo in spring and fall each year. In between, it’s often rented out. And the income I make from summer rentals more than covers the cost of owning it.

A little while back, I decided to clear the mortgage on this condo. But before I did, the rental income I got during peak season more than covered the mortgage as well as my HOA fees, taxes, my golf club dues on two great courses, and insurance for the year. I even had money left over for gas for the car and pocket money when I was using the condo.

It’s a similar situation with my condo in Los Cabos. I bought my condo in Cabo in the 5-star Quivira master-planned beach and golf community in 2015 as part of an exclusive, off-market deal I brought to members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group. The RETA-only price on a two-bed, two-bath ocean-view condo in the best-in-class Copala community in Quivira was $336,156. In 2022, an identical condo to mine two floors above listed for $725,000. That’s $388,844 more.

I spend time at my Copala condo each winter. I enjoy the perfect weather, the incredible food, the outstanding golf, and the beachside lifestyle…Then when I’m on the road again, I rent out my condo. Last year, I earned $3,000 per month in gross income from renting out my Copala condo when I wasn’t using it…and I could have earned more. I offered a lower rate to a renter who could work around my return dates.

A useful tool if you’re looking for ideas for the best places on my beat for rental income is my 2024 International Real Estate Index . This is my first-ever ranking of the best places in the world to buy real estate. For this index, I created 10 categories, ranging from Relative Value to Quality of Life and International Appeal. I also included an Income Potential category. This is the amount you can expect to earn from renting out a property short or long term, relative to the amount invested.

Check out the full Index. (RETA members get access to this Index as part of their membership. If you’re not yet a member, go here to join.)

Sign up to Overseas Dream Home now, and Discover The Best Places in the World to Buy Real Estate 2024.

Enter your email address in the box below and click “Sign me up now” to claim your FREE report.

No-spam pledge: We value your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Overseas Dream Home ....on Social Media

Subscribe on Youtube

Follow us on Instagram

Transparency is important to us, so you should know that properties and development projects detailed here may be clients of Pangaea Limited, a real estate advertising company managed by Ronan McMahon and Margaret Summerfield. Should you purchase one of the properties, Pangaea may receive a fee from the property owners, real estate developers and/or real estate agents. International Living Publishing Limited along with certain marketing companies who work with Pangaea may receive a portion of that fee.

Nothing in this website, and no communication by our staff, should be considered personalized advice. Although our staff may answer general queries, they are not licensed to address your particular situation.

We always recommend strongly that buyers perform their own complete due diligence and use a qualified legal professional to help with any real estate transaction.

© 2024, International Living Publishing Limited

Privacy Policy

Cookie Policy

Terms & Conditions