Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

the italian riviera...2 perfect days

Santa Margherita...the perfect home base

On Italy's north-western coast you will find the most gorgeous towns, where the Italian jetset from Milan spend their summers. Some are difficult to see through the wall of yachts filling their coves, but others are, in comparison, more the wall flower towns, ignored due to their glitzy neighbours. For me, Santa Margherita is one of these perfect, 'plain-jane' gems on the Italian Riviera - mostly undiscovered by the masses...and wonderfully situated for two great days of touring.

This area is not called the Golfo Paradiso for nothing.

Day 1: Camogli, San Fruttuoso, Portofino...train, hike, boat


Training around Italy is very easy and affordable. The stations can be crowded, but September is a great time to visit. School holidays in Europe are mostly over, the exhausting heat has moved on, and what's leftover is just dreamy Italian goodness. Let's start with one of my favourites...Camogli.

I have written about Camogli before, and I said I'd be back. Little did I know it would be quite so soon. The train from Santa Margherita to Camogli takes less than 10 minutes, but from Camogli there is a wonderful hike back, which will take you to San Fruttuoso...a hidden cove only reachable by foot or boat.

But first, Camogli. Just north of Santa Margherita nestled amongst the rocky, sea-battered hills, this fishing village, like many fishing villages, has a turbulent past of piracy, shipwrecks, and even Napoleon! His fleet was stationed in Camogli in 1978 according to Wikipedia (the knower of all things true).

But, now Camogli has a peaceful, serene vibe. Sure, there are tourists like me, but it's not overrun. It is quaint; the houses colourful, the cafés outside, and the horizon the bluest of blue.

The trail leading south meanders up many stairs, behind homes dotted along the hillside, towards a chapel high on the hill, San Rocco di Camogli.

As is custom in Italy, the trails are dotted with Christian markers, these here especially large and colourful. I'm not exactly sure of the significance...if they're meant to be signposts towards the a deeper faith possibly, or inspiration, or just symbols of adoration. It doesn't matter to me, I just found them so beautiful among the rocks.

Needless to say, the view back towards Camogli is a treat, but as we kept getting closer to our first goal, I was getting more and more excited. It takes under an hour to reach the hidden cove of San Fruttuoso and I couldn't wait to get there!

San Fruttuoso

Nestled in a deep cove lies the Abbey of San Fruttuoso of Capodimonte, which you reach after many steep, zig-zaggedy steps back down to sea level. The Abbey was built in the tenth century purposefully hidden out of view to protect it from pirates and other sea-faring bandits.

The cove is a lovely spot to bath, drink an aperol and have a bowl of pasta. Most people come and go by boat from Camogli or Portofino, and that is what we chose to do. After a rest, we hopped on a boat, enjoying the view from the water, and jetted along the coast heading south to Portofino.

But, not before passing the site of the underwater Cristo degli Abissi - the Christ of the Abyss. This huge bronze statue (8 feet tall) was placed on the sea floor in 1954, dedicated to an Italian diving instructor, at the place where the first Italian to use scuba gear died. Copies of the statue are located off the coast of Grenada and Florida - Christ's arms and head facing upwards in a blessing of peace.


What is there to say about Portofino? As our boat turned the bend from open sea in towards the bay of Portofino, we were first greeted by a giant of many. I strained to try and make out who was on board: JayZ and B, Bill Gates, Ralph Lauren? I couldn't tell. But, this is apparently the place to be, if you are rich and not currently in St. Tropez or Mykonos.

It is beautiful, absolutely. Portofino has cute, coloured houses surrounding a quaint harbour, and but for the super high-end boutiques among its few streets and the yachts blocking the view of the Ligurian Sea, you won't see much difference from Camogli, in my opinion. The plain fact is all of these towns are gorgeous!

It's also the perfect place for another Aperol! I really need to start including this refreshing drink into my 5 o'clock, after-work routine...if the Italians do it, then everyone should do it.

Apparently, Portofino is still technically a fishing village. But, since the European aristocracy discovered it in the late nineteenth century fishing has slowly taken a backseat to tourism. We were lucky to have visited on a quiet day. It was late afternoon and there were no cruise ships in the area, and so we found the town to be peaceful and pretty. From Portofino it is a 20-minute bus ride or hour's walk along the seashore back to homebase, Santa Margherita....where pizza awaited us.

Day 2: Cinque Terra's Vernazza...train, hike

Pretty much anyone who is on Instagram has the dream of visiting Cinque Terra someday. Any of the 5 villages making up this unique and extraordinary area is grammed hundreds of times a day. 'Picturesque' seems a mundane word to describe Cinque Terra, but nonetheless the term fits.

We chose to visit Vernazza, the second, most northern of the villages, and 1 hour away from Santa Margherita by train. We took our time exploring the little harbour and the narrow the lanes, slowly making our way to higher ground, wanting to get the view from above.

The way people live here intrigued me, and I could've take a million photographs. Whenever a door opened I tried to sneak a peak inside. I'm not sure if the flats are all small and narrow and high, or if beyond the outside walls there are large open spaces inside...something I can't quite imagine.

The homes are built as if among the rocky cliffs, and not just atop them. It is a curious mix of concrete and rock, as if to purposefully blend the two: nature and man. I'm sure this coast experiences some hefty weather and no doubt the rock provides shelter and structure to the many homes and buildings here.

The bright colours and laundry hanging on the lines everywhere can't help but bring joy...again, as if on purpose.

We wandered the narrow trail which connects all of the villages, to the top of Vernazza, and were rewarded with an incredible view. We had perfect weather, as you can see.

 Back to Santa Margherita...swim, eat, eat

Upon our late afternoon return to Santa Margherita we went for a swim and laid out on the beach. It really is the perfect town to rest for a while, while also exploring some fascinating corners of the Italian Riviera.

And don't think for a minute that we weren't enjoying the incredible food. The pizza was to die for, with such simple, fresh ingredients, baked as they should be in a stone oven. We drank wine and ate on outside terraces each evening, taking in all the wonderfulness that Italy has to offer.

If you go:

Training in Italy is easy - book online or on-site for short trips -

Santa Margherita dining - pizza and seafood are excellent options.
Try these delicious options:
-A Santa Lucia Pizzeria
-Trattoria Baicin (Specialty Seafood)

We stayed in a very cute, but apparently illegal suite (common in Italy) and therefore I won't mention it here. The prices along the coast, in the towns along the Golfo Paradiso are higher than inland of course, but for a couple of nights it definitely won't break the bank. Just search and take your time in planning and you will find something perfect.  Have fun! 

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