Head to these seaside resorts for some serious glamour - and lovely beaches

Portofino (Liguria)

This former fishing village on the Gulf of Tigullio in the Italian Riviera has attracted artists and celebrities for decades. How to blame them…Portofino is simply splendid.

The tiny village is clustered around the picturesque harbor (where many – too many? - luxury yachts are docked), with colorful houses lining the shore and the famous piazzetta, gathering point for the rich and famous and anyone who wants to experience some glamour, overlooking it all.

Portofino was founded by the Romans, who named it Portus Delphini (Port of the Dolphins), due to the large number of dolphins that inhabited the Tigullian Gulf. In the 13th century, it became part of the Republic of Genoa, further developing the town's maritime and fishing vocation. In the 19th century, the British and Northern European aristocracy began visiting Portofino, making the area fashionable, a trend that has continued through the 20th century and until today. By the 1950s, tourism had replaced fishing as the town’s main industry.

When you visit Portofino, don’t stop at the Piazzetta: start with a visit to the 12th-century San Giorgio Church, dedicated to the town’s patron saint, which houses saints’ relics brought back by sailors after the Crusades. Nearby, up a flight of stairs signposted “Salita San Giorgio”, is Castello Brown, whose location above the harbor made it well suited for defence. Built in the 16th century by the Genoese, it was transformed into a private mansion in the 19th century by a British diplomat. It now belongs to the city of Portofino and can be visited – don’t miss the views from the garden. Venture a little further the same track to reach the lighthouse, located on Punta del Capo, for even better views of the entire bay.  

Before you leave, make sure you check out the Statue of Christ of the Abyss, which sits at 17 meters below the sea in the bay. The statue was placed there in 1954 to protect fishermen and scuba divers. It portrays a blessing Christ looking up toward the sky with open arms. Also worth seeing is the Abbey of Cervara, built in 1361, former home of Benedictine monks, three popes, the saint Caterina da Siena and French king Francois I (well, it was a prison for him).

Forte dei Marmi (Tuscany)

World-famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli lives here. The Agnelli family, one of Italy’s most influential families, spent their summers here at Villa Agnelli. Fashion designer Giorgio Armani also has a villa here. Many writers and artists, as well as wealthy families, from Italy and abroad, made the area fashionable in the 19th and 20th centuries, coming to spend their summers here. It was also the birthplace of a future queen. Today, tourism is Forte dei Marmi’s main industry, with many (wealthy) visitors coming from Russia. 

Forte dei Marmi is a chic seaside resort on the northern Tuscan coast, with umbrella pines lining the streets and a beautiful sandy beach. The town’s name, which means “the marble fort”, derives from the fortress (“Fortino”), rising in the middle of the main square, originally built to defend the coast from outer attacks; in the 19th and 20th centuries, the fortress became the stocking place for the marble quarries arriving from the nearby Apuan Alps (the mountains providing the famous marble of Carrara) before being sent to the port for shipping to the rest of the world. The fortress is a now a museum of satirical art.

When you want to take a break from bars-, restaurants- and nightclubs-hopping, go check out some of the villas in the Roma Imperiale neighborhood, designed by major Italian architects of the 20th century, such as Giovanni Michelucci, Giò Ponti e Giuseppe Pagano. Villas here include Casa Mann-Borghese, built for the daughter of German writer Thomas Mann, Villa Bertelli, Villa Antonietta, and Villa Agnelli, which is now a hotel.

But most of the time you’ll probably be at the golden-sand beach, which extends for 150 meters, mingling with sports stars, politicians and celebrities, who descend over Forte dei Marmi in summer, tripling the town's population.

Porto Cervo (Sardinia)

The capital of Sardinia’s fabulous Emerald Coast (Costa Smeralda), Porto Cervo was created and developed in the 1950s and ‘60s by Prince Karim Aga Khan, mesmerized by the blue-green waters of the island’s north-eastern coast. The area soon became a jet-set hideaway, the most luxurious and inaccessible of the Mediterranean. Spiaggia del Principe (“the Prince’s Beach”), one of the beaches along the Costa Smeralda, was named after this Ishmaelite prince.

Porto Cervo (meaning “the deer’s port”) takes its name from the shape of its natural harbor, which recalls the head of a deer. The town stands out for its exquisite Mediterranean-style architecture, enhanced by the seemingly casual arrangement of winding alleys, porticoes and stairs converging on the central Piazzetta, a charming square lined with boutiques and shops showcasing the world’s top designer brands, linked by a wooden bridge to the Porto Vecchio (Old Port). In the summer, Porto Cervo bay fills with mega-yachts and sailing boats, docking at the Marina, nestled in a beautiful and perfectly sheltered harbor, considered one of the Mediterranean's best equipped and most welcoming ports.

Besides Porto Cervo, the main centers here are Liscia di Vacca, Capriccioli and Romazzino. According to a European luxury real estate agency, Costa Smeralda is Europe’s most expensive location for real estate, with property prices reaching up to €300,000 per square meter.

Hotels are just as pricey, with some regularly appearing in the top ten lists of the world’s most expensive hotels – in case you want to splurge, try the Pitrizza, Romazzino and Cala di Volpe, the latter featured in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, with the presidential suite going for about $30,000 a night.   

But beyond all the glitz and glamour, Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda is incredibly beautiful, so take time to explore the area, including Palau and Capo d’Orso, Santa Teresa di Gallura, and La Maddalena.