“La Liguria è quel luogo dove il blu del mare si mescola con l’argento degli ulivi, e il tuo sguardo è pieno di stupore e gratitudine.”
Lavagna is known as the town of the Fieschi family, an important tourist meeting point in the Gulf of Tigullio and a characteristic village of the East Riviera, in Liguria, it overlooks the River Entella, in a scenic background of an alluvial plane with a wide sandy area.
It is embellished by an evocative frame of olive groves, pines and chestnut trees, sheltered by its very clear sea, it hosts a sandy beach that runs for several kilometres, in one of the most appreciated landscapes of the area. The village, together with Chiavari is almost part of a single residential area, on the opposite shore of the stream that marks the administrative area between the two municipalities.
It borders to the north with the village of Cogorno, to the west with Chiavari and to the east with Sestri Levante, they are divided by Sant’Anna’s tunnels.
Lavagna includes four hamlets, Bararri, Cavi di Lavagna, Santa Giulia di Centaura and Sorlana.
It is at just half thirty kilometres from Genoa and a little bit more from La Spezia, the town is famous for the Blue Flag received in 2008, for the quality of its waters and also for slate mining and its manufacturing, this activity started well before the Roman age in the valley near the inhabited area.
At two steps from Lavagna, the verdant heart of Val Fontanabuona, the shady trails of the Ligurian Appenine and territory rich in traditions that goes from Recco to Moneglia, passing through the internationally known places such as Portofino, Camogli and Santa Margherita.
It takes just a day or even less to visit the whole town, starting from the promenade situated in the medioeval heart, where there is the gate of Santa Caterina Fieschi square, that closes the village to the north, stretching towards the porticos of Via Nuova Italia that lead to the hinterland and where there is the road to San Salvatore, in the municipality of Cogorno. Walking along the old paths of Lavagna you will be brought back n time, in a scented garden or in the sketch of a view of the end of 1800, admiring evovative postcards that you won’t even imagine, behind the famous dry walls and the mediterranean maquis that surrounds them.
Lavagna is divided into several areas that have the name of the old districts in which the town was divided, at the time of the Fieschi family. Starting from the town centre and dividing the areas of the port towards Chiavari, we have the distric Moggia, that is the one of the inner part of the town, the district Ripamare and the district Cavi, that overlook the hamlets located on the hill, Santa Giulia, Solara and Barassi.
A bit of history...
The district of Tigullio has always been synonymous of slate, especially in the plane of Cavi and in the immediate surroundings of Lavagna. First of all it’s a mining activity, bounded by the river Entella and the south west territories of Cogorno and Santa Giulia, that have warmed the history of the village as well as the small but constant maritime trade.
However the true birth of the village, as other Ligurian municipalities, dates back to the roman age, when it was known with its latin name Lavania, which has remained unchanged till centuries later it became the actual Lavagna.
Lavagna devoted to the activity of cutting and manufacturing the grey stone, was in the first period of the Middle Ages, the Longobard age, under the jurisdiction of the monks of the abbey of San Colombano di Bobbio, then it became part of the Carolingian county and subsequently to the episcopate of Genoa, we remember it as a feudal fortress of the rising Fieschi family, responsible of a wide noble dominion in the estern territories and in the hinterland of Chiavari. The Fieschi family opposed to the Doria family of Genoa, did their best to obtain the independence of the village from the Maritime Republic, providing relevant constrasts.
Evidence of its fervent Medioeval period, apart from the oratory, the many churches and the buildings, can be found in every corner, starting from the embellished columns of the porticos with the carved capitals, up to the bridge Maddalenna, on the river Entella, built in 1210 by Ugone Fieschi. Lavagna became an autonomus municipality around the XII century.
The Fieschi family were now part of the Genoese nobilty, when in 1547 Gian Luigi Fieschi failed a plot against Andrea Doria and died, it is in this period that there was a progressive political obedience to the close town of Chiavari, that was a loyal supporter of the Superb.
Nevertheless without forgetting its past, each year, Lavagna remembers it, with a big historic procession, a knightly tournament in honour of the wedding of the Count Opizzo Fieschi and the Sienese countess Bianca dei Bianchi, there is a distribution of the huge and famous cake in town. The costume party is called “Torta dei Fieschi” (Fieschi cake), it is held on 14 August in the evening and attracts visitors from all over the world.
In 1564 Lavagna underwent a robbery and a devastation by the Turkish pirates, lead by the fearful Dragut.
When the vicissitudes passed, in 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte included this area in the Entella area, with Chiavari as Administrative seat.
From 28 April 1798, with the new French laws, Lavagna was added to the II District and became the Administrative seat, in the District of Entella, subsequently it was included in the Appenine District with Chiavari as Administrative seat.
From 1859, the territory was part of the VIII District having the same name, of the area of Chiavari, part at the time of the Province of Genoa, it became a town on 12 May 1889.
Despite the modest dimensions Lavagna, boasts a past of rich and epic battles, leaders, painters and poets. First of all, with no doubt, the less known Paul Valery, whereas Lord George Byron, used to plant sea lillies on the beach of Cavi, that still grow along the shore. Dante Alighieri, during his exile from Florence, worked for the Malaspina family and stayed with the Fieschi family when he passed through Tigullio and even Cristoforo Colombo’s family was tied, by a strong relationship, to the Counts of Lavagna, thanks to Bartolomeo Fieschi, nephew of the future Santa Caterina and great friend of the explorer.
Lavagna is today, at a first glance, a small town that has evolved from the ashes of an ancient coastal village, it has a well known tourism and is a strong point of the Ligurian navy. As well as Chiavari, it is famous for safeguarding the old traditional crafts of the campanino chairs and macramè laces.
Despite being a rather small town, there are different landscapes and environments in its territory, shaped by the seasons and sometimes by man.
Far from the rocky fortresses of the Cinque terre, the landscapes in Tigullio slope down from the hills inland into milder landscapes reaching the sea with its sandy and pebbles coasts.
You will then find the beaches, unlike the rest of Liguria, they are mostly flat and easily reachable for big families, impressive are the beaches in Sestri Levante, which houses the loops of the Bay of Fairy Tales and the Bay of Silence – not to be missed – as well as the seaside resort Riva Trigoso. The beach in Lavagna is about four kilometres long, it is one of the largest on the East side, while Chiavari is more cosy and is partly made of gravel, protected by breakwaters. The coast changes and becomes rugged in Zoagli.
You must drop by on the seafront promenade of Lavagna, either early in the morning or at sunset, it has been recently renovated, especially as concerns the paving which has also improved the landscape.
The atmosphere can be easily confused with that of the villages of the French Riviera, the journey starts from the railway station of Cavi, if on one side you have the sea on the other side you will see the railway, which separates it from the rest of the town, that can be reached through handy subways.
The cycle path that goes from Chiavari up to the river Entella, passes through Lavagna, Cogorno and Carasco and is called Ciclovia dell’Ardesia, a true quiet shelter that can be can crossed by bike or on foot.
The track starts exactly from the tourist port of Lavagna and winds its way along the river, on the road that leads to Val Fontanabuona, Valle dell’Ardesia, up to Tribogna, for about 40 km.
As you reach inland, the place becomes wilder, offering glimpses and corners almost entirely with woods, during the journey you can take a deviation to visit the Basilica of the Fieschi. A trick is to pay attention, when you cross the most difficult areas in autumn, to the flood alerts of the river Entella.
Where the minor streams Sturla, Graveglia and Lavagna meet, the short strectch gives birth to the river, it is one of the most important ornithological observation areas of the Ligurian coast, it is the site of Oasis wildlife, naturally protected, it was established by the Province of Genoa.
For bird watching lovers, LIPU, with premises in the administrative centre of Genoa, organizes free day trips during the migrations, taking advantage of the observation points to approach the local birdlife that hides in these places or in spring when the birds make their nests.
Especially along the coast of Lavagna it is possible to admire different species of birds that inhabit the area, thanks to protective shores and equipped, manageable areas, where jt is possible to stay even for a quick snack.
Near the river mouth there are different species always present, seagulls, coots, ducks, swans and also some crested grebes, cormorants and belted kingfishers that hide among the vegetation protected by the inner flow, when the evening arrives, we find barn owls, owls, tawny owls and night predators.
The river is an ideal place for a stop during the long journey of the migratory birds towards Africa, you can discover their secrets together with the volounteers and the experts that will accompany you in this unforgettable day. Undisputed is the heritage of the whole Gulf of Paradise, home of sea villages such as Bogliasco, Pieve, Sori, Recco and Camogli, all villages that incourage you to take a snack and enjoy the weather.
From the very panoramic road (remember that via Aurelia is a constant presence) to the outskirts where there are farmhouse villas, covered in bougainville, we reach the hills where the first maritime pines, the holm oak woods and the scents of the undergrowth are the background of the blue Ligurian sea.
Between Camogli and Portofino, sheltered in a cove among rugged coasts, we find the beautiful bay of San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte, reachable only on foot or from the sea. Inside this unique landscape, it is hosted an abbey dated year 1000, at present it belongs to FAI, a free beach is waiting for you and a tower that belonged to the Doria family, a handfull of fishermen houses with a pine grove at the back.
For trekking lovers, the Natural Regional Park of Portofino, San Fruttuoso is part of it and is conveniently located at about thirty kilometres east from Genoa, under the flag of west Tigullio, is waiting for you to lose yourself into fairy paths among woods of hornbeams and kernels, discovering those landscapes near the promontories that hide to the most indiscreet eyes, hawks, buzzards, badgers and even roe deers indicators of a happy ecosystem.
The excursions and guided tours take place all the year, mainly during the weekends, the most important are Sentiero dei Tubi, along the old aqueduct that supplied the near village of Camogli, or birdwatching on the coast, at the parking of San Rocco, the tours end at Centro Visite Batterie. In Chiavari you will find the Botanical Park of Villa Rocca, a green area dedicated to relax, where there are many rare plant species also typical of the place.
Going along the liberty building that is part of the property, at a ridiculous price, you will benefit of a deserved stop, admiring from above the nearby town, among orchids, greenhouses and ornamental lakes.
More generally speaking the well established ecosystem of Lavagna and the act of men have created a strong couple, that is the source of an experiental tourism suitable to the landscape called “terrazzato” “terraced”.
The terraces in fact have been representing the main feature of the Ligurian lanscape for centuries, testifying antique building techniques and manual skills that have enabled the development of agriculture practice in an environment mainly hostile to farming, just like the slopes of the mountains.
The hilly territory of Lavagna overlooks the evocative gulf, and is rich of these centuries old works, still used and in good conditons, that together with the strong bond of the local communities to the land and the traditions, provide evidence of its history.
In particular, the hill of Santa Giulia and the hamlets of Sorlana and Barassi, are still territories with strong rural features, which have survived the process of intense urbanization of the postwar.
The local works for building dry walls is still active, this has a low impact on the surrounding nature and it is done following old techniques and knowlege passed from fathers to sons.
The steep and hidded paths, the windy steps, artfully built, are the elements that distinguish the landscape of Lavagna as well as the dense paved paths, bequest of the hard work of the farmers that crossed and continue to cross up and down their lands that overlook the sea.
Finally just two words on the constant partner of our journey, the slate, known by the majority of the people with the name of the village, that is lavagna, a typical stone used for different purposes, wether for building dry walls or the shingles of the roofs, as well as for the paths and the windowsills of the houses.
It is used for the “creuze”, the roads that connect the sea to the hamlets, we find evidence of the division of the properties by the use of the slate, placed vertically above the omnipresent dry walls, made with clay schist material of the area.
Places of interest
An austere and imposing building in its kind, is the wonderful abbey of Santo Stefano, it is situated above Piazza Marconi, it was adequately built up after the demolition of the adjacent buildings, renovating the access and creating a scenic effect on the ruins of the pre existing church, by Giovanni Battista, which followed the project of the well known Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is a very old place of worship, perhaps dated VI century, the access is through a slate staircase: it is divided in three naves, with columns that hold the curved archade, the facade is made with white marble, the building is the seat of the church of the same name of the vicariate of Chiavari, it is the true symbol for Lavagna and the whole Gulf of Tigullio. Inside the church there are two paintings by Domenico Piola, “Gesù in Croce” and “San Nicolò di Bari”.
The monumental cemetery, placed on the hill behind the cathedral of Saint Stephen, is considered one of the most important places of the province for the beauty of its graves.
Master sculptors have created the statues, busts and great part of the chapels that are in the two big areas of interest of the cemetery. There are masterpieces by sculptors such as Brizzolara, Ersanilli, lately works by Francesco Dallorso have been added.
Casa Carbone is a wonderful fin de siècle snap shot, thanks to Emanuele and Siria Carbone, who wanted to tell people how the bourgeois lived at the time, so they decided to entrust the bourgeois building of Via Riboli to FAI.
The Carbone residence keeps safe the domestic atmosphere of 1800s and 1900s, it is rich in art objects, china and furniture as well as paintings of the seventennth century.
The building is on three floors and has a garden: on the ground floor there is a show room, whereas the main floor is the seat of the museum, where typical situations of a family from the Riviera have been recreated. We can find a rich library that is on show together with every day objects of a cosy and domestic setting, as well as hand carved wooden puppets.
The church of Nostra Signora del Carmine dated seventeenth century, was built by the Carmelite monks, who however had to leave the place in 1799, due to the Napoleonic events. When the monks moved to the area of Genoa, the place lost its original purpose, which was later regained. It is situated in the centre, it has a simple facade, it is airy with only three windows and one aisle, inside there are some paintings by Domenico Fiasella, Del Pianetto and De Ferrari, besides two antique wooden crucifixes.
Time passed and the building underwent some renovations, the first one in 1835, to help mark the road named after the Sanctuary, the cloister hosts the present library.
In July there is the celebration of Festa della Madonna del Carmine, with a glorious procession.
Going back to slate, which was used since the dawn of time (just think of the necropolis of Chiavari, dated VIII-VII a.c., with carved graves made with this precious stone) we cannot forget the art collection inside Torre del Borgo or Torre Saracena, that host the museum dedicated to the archeologic museum Alloisio.
It is situated right in the historic centre, in the inner courtyard can be distinguished by flowerbeds alternated to risseau paving, it is believed that the tower was a sighting point that belonged to the Fieschi family.
During the centuries this jewel was used as seat of the museum and also for private initiatives such as congresses and wedding receptions. Inside the inner courtyard the Associazione Amici Do Bronzin also organizes concerts. As concerns the museum area, the art works of the local sculptor Francesco Dallorso are on display, they belong to the above mentioned archeologic collection donated to the town by the teacher Rodolfo Alloisio, great part of the objects on display are archeological finds from different areas, among which the slate art works of Dallorso, Tuscan and Ligurian majolica, oil lamps from the hellenistic period and several Punic potteries
In this collection it is also mentioned a jar with a mouth in the shape of a four leaf clover dated around the Neolitich age.
The landmark par excellence is the tourist port of Lavagna. It is protected by a pier parallel to the shore, that stretches for over a kilometre inside an area of 290000 smqs, it has 23 piers and is equipped with modern facilities on land, there is also the possibility of assistance and repairs during the day.
The accomodation facilities satisfy the great number of requests, with hotels, residences, shops and restaurants.
Accommodation, tourism and events
We know that Lavagna is not just only a seaside resort and a fishing village, but also the right place for experiental tourism. We must also point out how this village will let you be part of every day life and enjoy a day or more in its territory.
You can take part to the activities with your kids, trips or educational workshops inside the agritourisms, the adults can help pick the olives during the autumn months or tree pruning in the winter.
You will also be invited to build the dry walls during spring, at 300 metres above the sea level, following the rhythm of the life of the past: The result of the work can be rewarded with a gourmet product , with the preciuos olive oil or with the gratitude from the family or the farm involved, according to the usual sustainable development.
You will be completely involved by the local atmosphere and even a simple day at the beach, for example the free and equipped beach in Cavi di Lavagna, where there are professional lifeguards , a small oasis of peace for the family and the teens, will give you the opportunity to meet a lot of local young people.
If you make a request it is possible to rent one of the many boats that belong to Golfo Paradiso SNC, to visit one of the evocative places of the coast from Sanremo to Portovenere.
After a day spent under the sun, swimming or playing volleyball on the foreshore, the bars and the kiosks are ready for you with an aperitif, waiting for the happy hours of the movida, and in one of the bars particulary appreciated, let’s say unique in its kind, you may taste craft beers at competitive prices in a spacious place fit for greedy people.
The historic march of San Leonardo march in Cavi, will commit you in a healthy race run on Easter monday, while on the first day in August the patronal feast of Saint Stephen takes place together with the Agriculture Fair with hundreds of stalls.
In mid May Lavagna waits for its worshippers for the traditional Ascension Fair, in Piazza Podestà and on Ponte della Maddalena, dinner for everyone with typical Genoese specialities. Focaccia with sage fair in Santa Giulia goes from the end of July till the first week in August.
Stop over in July for “Musica e Gusto” which offers creative dishes along the streets of the town accompanied by musical events, “Medioevo con Gusto” is waiting for you to drink and eat surrounded by the tastes of Middle Ages, games, arms and flags shows as in the past.
At Christmas the celebation of “Presepe du Brunzin”, arts and crafts are represented along the main streets of the town. Since 1949 on August 15th the unforgettable feast that has made Lavagna known all over the world and attracts tourists every year from all places, to remember its glorious past, all people dress in costumes, it’s the right moment to taste a slice of the majestic Torta dei Fieschi that has the same name given to this day.
Thirteen tons of delicious cake, a historical procession with one hundred and fifty people dressed in period style costumes, dozens of dances, arms and flags games, dedicated to the biggest and oldest historical event in Liguria.
It is less peasant than the one of the extreme east promontory, for its ingredients, influenced a bit by Occitan tastes, the cuisine in Lavagna is based on two foundations of slow food: the seasons and the territory.
From the daily catch to the fresh products of the inland, such as asparagus, artichokes, pumpkins and the spontaneous courgettes, the quarantina potatoes and the herbs of the season, thyme and borage above all, wine and food well meet all tastes.
You may taste sea food already shelled on the fishing boats of Cavi, or San Stè’ cheese and the chestnut flour up on the hills.
From the olives of Deiva Marina to the well known basil, used to make pesto sauce, that the whole Liguria produces in abudance, in Lavagna there are many additions that help the risult of wine and food experience passed on by generations.
Bagnum with anchovies, with fresh tomato, garlic, parsley, white wine is the fish dish of the area par excellence, it is a sort of sauce enhanced by natural scents and served hot on bread crackers.
An admirable example of a cuisine that has a lasting bond with the sea, is cappon magro, a fish starter laid on boiled vegetables, another dish which is usually made the days before Easter, is the whitebait omelette, the mackerels with peas sauce, the stockfish, stewed or served with cornmeal mush, garnished with pine seeds and olives, or burrida, zimino with stewed fish or meat served with chards or spinach, risotto with octopuss, roasted gilthead bream.
Also soups and minestrone a happy sharing between the fruits of the land are unmissable on the tables in Lavagna, the king of the main course is the minestrone, a vegetable soup with its soft taste of vegetables, enriched by borlotti beans and “good” olive oil from the Riviera; legumes soup, called mesciua; tocco, the thick sauce made with mushrooms, stew made with tripe and served with broth.
The plentiful mushrooms which can be found on the hills, are offered in the most varied ways, in the pan served with potatoes, with a sprinkle of garlic and basil, “alla Genovese” that is according to a Genoese recipe, cooked on the embers, fried or stuffed.
Fried black salsify and courgette flowers stuffed with potatoes open the list to the true main dishes. They are easy to prepare but there is a secret, well kept by the housewives that adds more taste, we start with stuffed cabbage, known as gagette, inside the dough there are eggs, majoram, onion, grana cheese and just a bit of butter, olive oil and salt, ready to be put inside the rolled dough to make delicious pastry pockets.
We can find tripe “accomodata”,cooked with onions, pine seeds, butter, tomatoes, potatoes and olive oil, it is a very tasty stew to be eaten with bread or cornmeal mush with black cabbage is excellent in the winter.
Testatoroli are a sort of thin crepes, very typical in the east Liguria, made with white flour, water and salt, it is a versatile dish that can be eaten with pesto sauce, waltnut sauce, olive oil and grana cheese, they are usually served cut in a diamond shape, testaroli are not to be confused with the thick panigacci, excellent to eat with salami of the region.
A complete dish is farinata, adopted by Tuscany, it is a dish made with chickpea flour, cooked in a thin copper baking tray called “testo”, essential for its use inside the wood burning oven, this makes farinata crispy, tasty and hot.
Castagnaccio or panella is a small autumn pie made with a dough of chestnut flour, pine seeds, sultana, olive oil and salt, it is a complete dish for its taste, it is half way between a dessert and anything thay goes with bread.
Something salty is the rice pie, with its soft pastry, it is a rustic dish with a strong taste, made with eggs mixed with parmigiano cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper and grated nutmeg, it is served warm or it can be a tasty snack for your excursions.
We can describe cima as the most emblematic Genoese dish, it is a sort of roast veal stuffed with the ingredients that farmers, once poor, put together from leftovers and few vegetables such as peas, pine seeds, cheese, it closed with thread and needle in the shape of a pocket, Once cooked, the traditional cima has to cool, well wrapped and pressed by two weights.
To finish your meal, pandolce genoese is the right choise for the festivities, in the two versions, the flat one or the tall one, it is a sort of sweet and soft bread, with a circle shape, it is prepared using starter, eggs, raisins and pine seeds.
The legend tells that a slice of the cake must be kept for the poor and another one for Saint Biagio’s day, which is the 3rd of February.
Canestrelli are excellent crumbly biscuits that taste of butter, they are known throughtout Liguria, another dessert is latte dolce, sweet milk which is made boiling milk with flour and the skin of a lemon, then the dough must be fried, it can be served with icing sugar on top.
The local wine producers will be happy to invite you to taste their creations, among the typical products there is a delicious white wine that comes from the hills of Santa Giulia, other wines are Bianchetta, Vermentino, but also passiti and moscati Golfo del Tigullio well defend their reputation, not to be missed the white wine Terre di Portofino and Ciliegiolo, they are appreciated with main dishes and minestrone.