Golfo del Tigullio
“La mattina andavo verso sud, salendo per la splendida strada di Zoagli, in mezzo ai pini, con l’ampia distesa del mare sotto di me; il pomeriggio, tutte le volte che me lo consentiva la salute, facevo il giro di tutta la baia di Santa Margherita, arrivando fin dietro Portofino. Su queste due strade mi venne incontro tutto il primo Zarathustra, e soprattutto il tipo di Zarathustra stesso: più esattamente, mi assalì…” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
There are places, of memory, where the faces of unknown people appear to us as in a dream. They bring with them the memory, bittersweet, of summers too short, but intense, and of winters that are not worth to scratch the heart, that heart of those who are accustomed to talking with nature and follow its wishes, shaping it in the case to make it even more pleasant than it already is.
Imagine these people, and their homes. Imagine them, fly with imagination and you will find yourself, as if by magic, in a strip of the Genoese Ligurian Levante: the Gulf of Tigullio (“Golfo del Tigullio”).
A magical territory where a sigh can only disturb the quiet of its streets, paved as in the palaces of the ancient kings of fairy tales. Places that remind how man and nature can merge in a combination full of charm where emotions hover in the air, and breathe the breeze of the mountains that meets the cleanest sea light.
Il Golfo del Tigullio
Untouched by the hatred of the great cities, closed in their traditions and in their almost pearly perfection, these villages that form the territory welcome us giving their radiant welcome in summer, with a sun that burns the rocks, and is reflected vanity in the pools of turquoise bays, all formed spontaneously over the centuries.
Within the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio), there are many creeks including, to the west, the bosom of Paraggi, between the municipalities of Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, the bay of Santa Margherita Ligure, the breast of Pagana with the three internal bays of Prelo, Trelo and Pomaro (San Michele di Pagana) and the Gulf of Rapallo, where the coastal town extends in an arc and, in the eastern part of Sestri Levante there are two famous bays: the Baia delle Favole and the Baia del Silenzio divided by the sandy isthmus of the promontory. Especially the latter, the feeling that transmit, when you see them for the first time, has something special, magical, because they present, both, transparent waters, almost glass: the sea of the Bay of Silence, In particular, it is surrounded by pastel-colored houses that make the landscape enchanting, just like in fairy tales, or in quiet days.
A beautiful landscape that, at sunset, becomes the emblem of the name it carries, enriching itself with the loud cries of seagulls that return to the mainland, after a day of wandering.
To enter from the Riviera spezzina to the Genoese, among the various paths, the most evocative involves crossing the mountains passing through them, as in the most utopian of dreams… go through those tunnels that once only the train dared to cross, protected with its armor of iron and fire, from the weather and adversity. He was the exclusive master of those places, but the man, after all, not being able to be inferior, managed to supplant him… and now, since the train no longer passes by those parts, the only ones who continue to challenge the dark are us: compete with those cramped spaces alone, in the days of intense rain and with the stormy sea causes unparalleled emotions, and each word may become little descriptive in outlining its greatness. Only about four kilometers one-way alternating. But it’s four very exciting kilometers, in all respects, put there to test our nerves and our discipline, if not in driving, in dealing with elements that have been there long before us. The beginning of the test is dictated, as in a medieval carousel, by the green light, and its end consists in being able to see the light at the end of those tunnels. So between metamorphosis and philosophy of gender we have now arrived in the territory of Genoa.
Moneglia appears to us a bit like a promised land, as a stage of a deserved rest after the challenge… Located at the mouth of the Petronio Valley, a few kilometers from Genoa of which is the last town in the province, the village is located within a bay bordered by two headlands, both rich in Mediterranean vegetation: To the west lies the promontory of Punta Moneglia and to the east that of Punta Rospo. While the first is entirely wild, the second has several residential areas until you reach the town of Lemeglio. The streets are clean and tidy, often enriched with mosaics and gushing fountains. The calm and quiet that you breathe, walking along the streets, have something mysterious, out of place, and reconcile the rest, if not the inner peace of the spirit that seems to renew. You wouldn’t expect so much discretion, from a town that lives by the sea, and par excellence caciarona. And yet it is just like that, it almost seems to find itself inside the ruins of a very well rebuilt temple. Juxtaposition, the religious architectures are numerous (we mention the Church of San Giorgio and that of Santa Croce) and their imprint is late Gothic. Given their beauty, they are a valid alternative to the paths in the woods that, as always, are definitely more numerous than humanly possible to think. Mandatory stop in February for the Carnival of Pumpkin, with delicacies and floats throughout the village.
We resume the walk to West returning to other tunnels and after six kilometers opens the bay of Riva Trigoso, a village formed by two separate parts, one older and the sea called the Ripa from which Riva Trigoso and the most internal and recent. Riva overlooks a large gulf bordered by Punta Manara to the west, behind which stretches Sestri Levante and Punta Baffe to the east, behind which is Moneglia; in the center of the gulf flows the stream Petronio, often dry, which divides the fraction into two parts: The area of Ponente is in fact a small fishing village that for some years has greatly renovated its tourist infrastructure, while in Levante there are shipyards. Inevitable walk here well taken care of. July is the month of the Sagra del Bagnun, a typical seafood dish packed with anchovies, garlic, oil, tomato and bread, which replaces the biscuits used by fishermen in boats. The festival is one of the oldest in Liguria.
Close to Riva we find Sestri Levante which, in ancient times, consisted of an islet that possessed the present promontory, which, to the south, now slopes overhanging the sea. This island was, only in the modern age, joined to the mainland by a very thin isthmus formed by the deposits of the numerous and periodic floods of the Gromolo and Petronio streams and by the constant action of the sea. Between the two bays, that of the Silence and that of the Fables, and the isthmus, the old town develops, while the more modern part occupies the plain that, extending between the sea and the hills of the hinterland, divides Sestri to the north from Val Graveglia with Mont Blanc and to the north-west from Val Petronio with Mount Caddio, Mount Bomba and Mount Incisa, reliefs that are just a frame to the timeless beauty of the town. And always on the subject of beauty, there is no comparison that holds with the churches of the other villages, as Sestri seems to have an incredibly large number; in the heart of the city you can also see the many portals of slate of the fourteenth century especially in via XXV Aprile, the carruggio preferred by the inhabitants and still today important commercial axis of craft activities.
It follows, towards West and in the heart of the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio), smaller, but equally composed the town of Lavagna. Geographically to divide from the nearby Chiavari is the Entella stream, which flows into the sea right on the border of the two coastal municipalities. Beyond the aforementioned calm that pervades these places, even Lavagna seems to stand out more in this feature thanks to the impressive religious and monumental architecture such as the Basilica of Santo Stefano and the Church of Santa Giulia, in which it is said that the relics of the Saint are kept. The town is often awarded the Blue Flag for the quality of its beaches very well maintained, equipped and quiet. But what makes a visit to Lavagna highly recommendable in the middle of August is one of the most expensive Traditional Festivals in Liguria. On August 14 (regardless of the day of the week in which it falls) the “Torta dei Fieschi” is celebrated, a series of events that recall a historical episode of 1230. On that date, Opizzo Fiesco, Count of Lavagna, married the Sienese noblewoman Bianca de’ Bianchi and wanted to involve all the population by offering a monumental cake. Since then, and until today, continuously, the episode is recalled with a lavish parade of over one hundred characters in medieval costumes that runs through the historic center of Lavagna, taking up the ancient subdivision into districts: Borgo, Cavi, Scafa, Ripamare, Moggia and San Salvatore. Arrived at the foot of the Torre dei Fieschi in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the procession listens attentively to the proclamation of the wedding; at the end the cake is cut (a dessert of fifteen tons packaged on a secret recipe dating back to the Middle Ages) and the subsequent, equal distribution among the participants.
Chiavari, on the other hand, is the commercial center of the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio) and is the second most populous municipality of the district, as well as the third town – by number of inhabitants – of the province after Genoa and Rapallo. Entering the village and made just a few kilometers in the middle of the street flanked by windows, we find ourselves in the main square where stands the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Garden, majestic, and of an almost disarming purity in those bold shapes. The sea and its marina and its famous markets in the streets, which surely everyone knows, this time we will not talk, turning, instead, a note for the lush hinterland that is worth visiting. This area is between the low and middle Val Fontanabuona, the Sturla Valley and the Graveglia Valley and was historically linked to the Captaincy of Chiavari, established in the thirteenth century by the Republic of Genoa in the Ligurian East. We can find the typical Mediterranean scrub, woods of beech, chestnut, hazelnut equally common, alternating with impenetrable wild spots. Excursions and gastronomic stops, here, are almost obligatory.
As an appendix too grown, of the mysterious woods around Chiavari, we find Zoagli, a rare gem of the coastal landscapes, dotted with glimpses that cut out a thick glass sky, how clear it is. In the territory of Zoaglia there are also several natural paths, the characteristic “creuze” Ligurian and mule tracks that allow, from the city center, to reach the hamlets and towns of the town. Paths that often go steep in the hills, overlooking the sea, and catapult us into rural realities that we believed lost in the centuries before the great wars. One of the most famous routes, recalling the ancient Via Roma, is called “dei Cinque Campanili” because it connects the ancient fractional Churches of San Pietro di Rovereto, Semorile, San Pantaleo, Sant’Ambrogio to the central one of San Martino for a total of about twelve kilometers, always glancing a good slice of the sea in the middle of the trees.
Rapallo, to follow, is located in the western part of the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio), set in the inlet that takes its name, between the plain of the two main streams such as the Boate – historically called Bogo – and San Francesco in the eastern part of the city. The municipal territory is crossed by numerous streams and minor rivers where, over the centuries, the first settlements corresponding to today’s rapallesi fractions have developed. Also here the hinterland predominates, as, given the tightening of the coast, we lose the wide sandy beaches to fall back on bathing establishments perched on the sea, however always worthy of note. Rapallo is perhaps the most refined town in the Gulf, there are sunsets not to be missed, in the terminal part of the town, which flows into the sea as if it were the extreme end of the known world, which take your breath away. Red, carmine, purple and soft shades of orange, Striano the sky confusing the shadow of the buildings with the motionless surface of the water, thanks to the urban conformation that seems to truncate sharply on the sea. Do not miss, in the first three days of July, the celebrations dedicated to Our Lady of Montallegro and the fireworks Palio organized by the “Sestieri” (districts) of Rapallo. The fires are spectacular and unmatched and each district hires the best “stokers” on the market. The climax is reached with the simulated “fire” of the Castle, on the seafront Via Veneto, which is surrounded by all the fireworks that, lit at the same time give the illusion of a real fire.
Santa Margherita Ligure
Santa Margherita Ligure, is the penultimate inhabited Tigullio, and is just 32 kilometers from Genoa. It is surrounded by hills covered with Mediterranean vegetation on which there are villas and gardens overlooking the Costa dei Delfini, which connects the town to the village of Portofino. In addition to the sea, a chrome board around the cliff of the Punta di San Michele di Pagana, where the beach consists of fine sand, are very interesting to see, and to do, diving, thanks also to the variety of marine fauna and the presence of a wreck of merchant ship sunk in the early twentieth century. From architectural attractions to leisure, there is plenty to choose from, and it is a rigorous walk in the center, full of flowers and colorful balconies, quaint shops and typical trattorias. Also a walk along the port, between the docks and the pier that juts out in the middle of the gulf, for an overall image of Santa Margherita Ligure.
To conclude our quick panoramic tour there is Portofino. According to Plinio il Vecchio, the village was founded by the Roman Empire with the name of Portus Delphini due, perhaps for the large population of these marine mammals in the Gulf of Tigullio. The view is characteristic, walk to the sea, painted houses overlooking the beach, in this case small and collected because of the coast that thickens pine trees and maple patches, jagged, and the usual talk of tourists, in the background, the evening the streets come alive with life. Perhaps Portofino is the oldest that we have, in Tigullio, as available to the shapes and colors, still linked to the past. Arriving by sea, it almost seems to dock in a marina of minions of the worst Puerto Rican coasts, with the menacing jungle lurking all around, except that Portofino has very little threatening. The sea at dawn is tinged with the colors of the houses, like an impressionist painting left to chance, in the beach of the waves. However, everything recalls the worldly life there, despite the ethereal calm and the serene atmosphere that you breathe in the streets.
It is the common point that all the villages of Tigullio have, their unconditional desire to give without receiving, to give fun. In addition, the careful selection of social events, specifically designed to enhance the beauty of the Gulf at night as well as during the day, are like lighthouses in the night for tourists looking for emotions.
The coast is populated, especially in summer, many event: village festivals, concerts, art exhibitions, dance, theater, regattas. The program is different from year to year, so it is advisable to contact the tourist offices of the various locations. But we remember the sailing regattas, the Tigullio Exhibition, in Chiavari, generally in May, an important fair that showcases the best of ancient Ligurian craftsmanship, excellent in different products from wood to fabrics, from lace to slate, to finish with the renowned gastronomy; the Palco sul Mare, the most awaited traveling festival of the summer that offers great concerts and the most beloved protagonists of Italian cabaret. And the touching representation of the Christ of the Abysses, in Camogli in the nearby Golfo Paradiso. In the depths of San Fruttuoso twelve meters deep, stands the huge bronze sculpture… the night of the last Saturday of July, thus comes to life one of the most spectacular processions of this territory: dozens of divers descend with special torches to the statue to lay a laurel wreath on the head of Christ. The descent is preceded by a procession of boats in the light of the torches and the show is really worthy of the time it takes to finish.
In the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio), just like in the other areas of Liguria di Levante that we have treated, the cuisine is always up to the region to which it belongs. Among the various meat dishes that go here for the most remember tomaselle, veal rolls stuffed with meat, eggs and herbs, and then lamb stewed with artichokes. Mushrooms are the protagonists of the hinterland, they flavor meat dishes and are even combined with fish. And the latter has a place of honor in the menus of the restaurants of Tigullio. There are many recipes: fried food, fish salad, mullet genovese, stockfish in sweet and sour with pine nuts and raisins. The “muscles” are omnipresent, made marinara or stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs, marjoram. We certainly can not forget the queen of the Ligurian seas: anchovy, which is eaten fresh, excellent stuffed, but lends itself very well to be preserved.
What else can we say about the Gulf of Tigullio (Golfo del Tigullio) ? If it is not enough the delicate drape of chiaroscuro of the Baia delle Favole (“Bay of Fairytales”), at sunset, nor the restaurants overlooking the seaside of the villages, with their thousand lights that shine languid in the young night, and the narrow streets of the carruggi that taste of thyme, sage and open sea, well, probably the dream of such an experience is not for you.