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Home to pristine beaches, charming fishing villages, breathtaking views and pesto, the region of Liguria is surrounded by the lapis blue Mediterranean Sea to the south and to the west and lush green mountains to the north and east. Despite being one of Italy’s smallest regions, it is rich in culture and history. The jewel of Liguria is the Italian Riviera composed of two main sections with Genoa as the dividing point. Both have their allure with the Riviera di Ponente (the coast of the setting sun) to the west and the Riviera di Levante (the coast of the rising sun) to the east. This area can be reached by a short train ride from Genoa, Florence, Milan and Turin.
Last year, I spent time discovering the eastern shores where the less trodden towns of Sestri Levante and Camogli lie. North of Sestri Levante on the Golfo Paradiso is the quaint sleepy fishing village of Camogli. It’s been said that the name Camogli comes from “Ca’ mogli” or case delle mogli, which means houses of the wives. It was the housewives who oversaw the village while their husbands, who were fishermen and sailors, were at sea. Camogli is divided by a rocky outcrop that features at its heart the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta (the town’s cathedral) and the Dragon Castle. The tiny harbor is packed with fishing boats located at the north eastern tip of the curved cove, while the beach sprawls out on the other side of the bluff.
Characteristic of the villages of the Riviera di Levante, Camogli’s tall and narrow beachfront buildings are painted in pastel colors, washed in the sun, and placed between the wavy blue water and the vivid green hills. Though homes may be similarly colored, the facades are famous for their elaborate Trompe-l’œil (optical illusion). Look closely and you will see that some windows are not real. They are painted. Not only windows but shutters, curtains, window frames and ornamentation. Trompe-l’oeil painters were masters of perspective. Some historians believe that citizens painted the facades of their homes as it was a cheaper than hiring a builder or mason to add ornamentation. Days could be spent weaving through the narrow streets distinguishing the paintings from reality.
From the harbor, climb a few stairs to the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. While it looks quite ordinary from the outside, the interior houses three naves in classical baroque style, rich in gold, stucco and marble with decadent chandeliers. Locals and visitors spend most days on the beach soaking up the sun or renting a paddleboat or kayak. On the seafront at Pasticceria e Focacceria Revello, the savory focaccia di Recco con formaggio (thin and soft focaccia made with fresh cheese) and camogliesi (pastry made with rum and chocolate cream) are must eats.
The Benedictine Monastery is situated in a quiet cove overlooked by the ancient Torre Doria tower which was built in 1562 to protect the abbey from frequent pirate raids. The romantic monastery is nestled between the weatherworn yellows and pinks of the seaside resort.
The modest Ristorante Da Giorgio overlooks the pebbly beach closest to the pier and dishes up local fare like marinated anchovies and spaghetti with pesto and clams. Alternatively, walk to the next cove where you’ll find Ristorante La Cantina at Via San Fruttuoso 19. Sit at a beachfront table or under the trellis and nosh on octopus and grilled fish, enjoy a coffee and take a dip at this smaller, more intimate beach.
After a long and relaxing day, catch the boat from San Fruttuoso back to Camogli and retire to a room at Locanda Tre Merli and completely unwind in the jacuzzi whirlpool while enjoying a view of the port.