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Sestri Levante is a casual beach town popular with Italian families, comfortable and inviting like a well-worn leather coat. If glitzy Portofino is likened to the Hamptons, then Sestri Levante is Fire Island. Families make the scene here rather than fashionistas. Living in NYC, I spent summer weekends with friends on Fire Island so it was no surprise that I loved the vibe of Sestri Levante when I visited with a friend last year. The best time to visit is June or September when it’s warm and less crowded. Sestri Levante is perfect for a day trip, and only located a short train ride from Genoa, Florence, Bologna and Milan.
We started our day walking along the palm-fringed boulevard that starts with Lungomare Descalzo and turns into Viale Rimembranza, hugging Sestri’s beach. The land narrows with the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairytales) to the west and the Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) to the east. While the long and sandy Baia delle Favole is lined with beach “stabilimenti” that rent umbrella and beach chairs, the smaller Baia del Silenzio is more intimate and sheltered. Beach chairs are available to rent here too and beachside coffee bars and small restaurants are open daily.
After our beach stroll, we headed to Via XXV Aprile to window shop and grab a fresh pressed juice.
The street is lined with outdoor restaurants, cafes, bakeries and plenty of clothing shops. We were drawn to Wikini which sells beachware and clothing designed and made in Italy. Swim suits with ruffled edges in stripes and floral patterns are cleverly packaged in glass containers. Saturday is the day for the outdoor market when many locals arrange stalls on the outskirts of Via XXV Aprile that sell mainly hand made jewelry, beach cover-ups, and children’s clothing all with reasonable price tags.
We passed by a number of bakeries selling focaccia ligure (traditional focaccia dotted with salt), until we reached Spiga D’Oro Panificio Pasticceria where there was a queue of locals ordering pizza, focaccia and bread. Around the corner at the nearby Piazza della Repubblica, we nibbled on warm, crunchy, golden rectangles of focaccia and soft focaccia topped with fresh tomato while watching kids kick around a soccer ball.
Reenergized by our Ligurian snack, we took a leisurely stroll along Viale Dante Alighieri lined with coffee bars, fruit and vegetable vendors and bakeries. We happened upon the alimentari Danieri Giuseppe Salumi e Formaggi at Via Dante 14/16. The closet size deli is packed with pastas, dried beans, cured meats and cheeses like u cabanin, a medium-intense cheese made with raw milk from the Cabannine breed of cattle that graze in the mountainous pastures near Genoa. Order a sandwich or for a tasty souvenir order a chunk of u cabanin cheese vacuum packed to travel.
After our savory snacks, we popped into Rossignotti for a sweet treat and a bottle of Sciacchetrà, a local dessert wine, to go. Stepping into Rossignotti, with wood accents and marble counter tops, brought me back in time. My eyes were immediately drawn to shelves of cakes, cookies and delicate glass containers full of colorful candies. Rossignotti opened its doors in 1840 and became known for its pastries, cookies and Pandolce Genovese, a traditional cake. We tried the Baci di Sestri (kisses of Sestri) cookies made with chocolate, hazelnuts and rum and a mini-torta di San Remo (mignon cake filled with lemon cream and covered in pine nuts). What’s dessert without a caffé? Ten steps from the pastry shop, we nipped into coffee bar Gelateria Centrale for a creamy caffé macchiato served in cobalt blue and white porcelain espresso cup.
Close by, we window-shopped at Rolandelli, a quirky store with bejeweled summer sandals, hats and flowing shirts, skirts and trousers. For luxury shopping check out AMR which was started by three sisters, Alessandra, Maria Luisa, and Rita Torre, in 1981. They opened the Sestri Levante shop in 2005 featuring brands like Bottega Veneta, Prada, and Valentino, all carefully selected by the owners.
After walking, shopping and sightseeing, we went to Pelagica Bar & Restaurant for a delicious plate of frittura di alici (fried anchovies). Owned by a former fisherman, the restaurant looks onto the Baia delle Favole. Talented barmen suggest daily creative cocktails at the outdoor bar on the second level. Gin lovers will appreciate the selection of top notch labels. Frequented by locals, Pelagica serves simple fresh fare including fried fish, trofie pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans, and grilled catch of the day. They are open for lunch, dinner but you can stop by even for just a drink and appetizers.
We ended our day with a second apertivo before heading home. With a glamorous setting overlooking the Baia del Silenzio, the terrace bar at Hotel Helvetia was the perfect spot to toast to our fantastic day trip, sipping on a negroni sbagliato and watching the sunset. Gracious waiters served us cocktails with snacks including olives, cheese, and grilled prosciutto and cheese sandwiches. The hotel offers magnificent accommodations, and an infinity pool with a view of the bay.
Gina Tringali – food lover, certified sommelier, coffee connoisseur, and passionate home cook – is a successful freelance food and travel writer and blogger based between Rome and Southern Italy. She is committed to discovering and sharing with fellow food enthusiasts Italy’s best culinary and wine experiences.