Finiti gli orti, cominciava l’oliveto, grigio-argento, una nuvola che sbiocca a mezza costa. In fondo c’era il paese accatastato, tra il porto in basso e in su la rocca; ed anche lì, tra i tetti, un continuo spuntare di chiome di piante. (Italo Calvino)
On the eastern Riviera, east of Genoa, lies the small town of Moneglia. The area is of unquestioned beauty, at the end of the Petronio valley; the town has maintained its seafaring atmosphere, the hills nearby can be explored on horseback, and there is a sophisticated bistro to visit at midday.
Not by chance the name of the town is derived from the latin “monilia”, meaning something precious. Situated on the Gulf of Tigullio, it is famous for its pleasant climate, typically Mediterranean, and for the quality of life and tourism, holding its name high, as much as for the quality of its sea waters. This is the same as that of Casarza Ligure and Sestri Levante, and for the uneven rocky coast of Deiva Marina, equally as evocative, which lies near Moneglia , towards La Spezia.
Moneglia lies on a small bay, closed in by two headlands, among olive groves and vineyards. To the west is Punta Moneglia, a wild pine wood, where you have to keep to the foot-paths, and to the east is Punta Rospo, near to the residential area of Lemeglio. The district includes Bracco, Casale, Camposoprano, Corneglio, Crova, Facciù, Lemeglio, Littorno, San Lorenzo, San Saturnino and Tessi.
The nearest airport is Cristoforo Colombo in Genoa, less than an hour away. Alternatively there is Giuseppe Verdi in Parma, or San Giusto in Pisa, respectively 91 and 94 kms. from Moneglia.
By land: the motorway to take is the A12 Genova- Livorno, going towards La Spezia, exiting at Sestri Levante, take the direction for Riva Trigoso. The road goes through the ex-railway tunnel, after the tunnel the road for Moneglia has a traffic light that controls the traffic in alternating directions, changing to green at 15, 35 and 55 of each hour, for about 10 kms. At the exit of Deiva Marina, the traffic light changes at 0,10,20,30,40, and 50 of each hour.
A particular feature of Moneglia is its central position on the coast between the gulf of the Poets and the Cinque Terre to the east, and Rapallo, Santa Margherita and Portofino to the west.
A bit of history...
It is certain that the most ancient costal tribe was the “Liguri”, the tribe which inhabited the coast between Punta Mesco and Portofino was the “Tigullii”. These people lived a seminomadic life on account of lack of open space, and, from the tops of the hills, were hunters gathered, they became later fishermen.
The Romans had great trouble dominating them. The Roman army needed a strategic road crossing the lowland between the hills and the coast, which eventually became the famous Via Aurelia. The district of Lemeglio, near Moneglia, was found on a Roman map, the “tabula alimentaria”, an important historical reference.
In the 7th century, during the Longobard domination, the phenomenon of monasticism was spreading. The monks of Bobbio, having arrived on their mules, developed the economy of the territory, with farms and monastic settlements as far as the valleys of Aveto, Sturla and Fontanabuona.
Charlemagne, with the imperial edict of 774, gifted the territory to the Colomban monks, to whom we owe the abbey of Saint Colombano of Bobbio, founded by the saint in 614. Together with other holdings in Liguria dedicated to the church, we have to thank again the monks for maintaining the first commercial activities, and also for their intensive agriculture on terraced fields, and the connections they established with the northern plains.
In the mediaeval age, as for many costal places, the fate of Moneglia was sealed by the Saracen invasions, who sacked and raided the small town and other places around Deiva and Riva Trigoso.
A local legend tells that an attack in Lemeglio killed all men in town and more than 20 maidens were abducted.
Until 1153, Moneglia was a feud owned and ruled by the counts Fieschi from Lavagna. It passed then to the Republic of Genoa, proving their loyalty by using their ships in the famous battle of Meloria, and in the battle of Porto Pisano, against Genoa’s greatest rival, Pisa, for trade routes. On account of these events, in 1549 the people of Moneglia asked the senate in Genoa to build a defensive tower, and they obtained the construction of the fortress of Villafranca.
Between 1936 and 1939 it was converted into a dwelling house, but was completely destroyed in June 1944 during bombardments, restored recently placing the gardens in front. In 1637 Moneglia became a property of Levanto which gained power in the Republic of Genoa, then passed to Napoleon a century later. After 1815 Moneglia again changed hands, ruled by the Kingdom of Sardinia, and after by the kingdom of Italy in 1861, its last owner.
During the second world war, Moneglia was bombarded on 14th June, 29th June and 1st November 1944, attacks aimed at cutting the supply lines provided by the railway Genoa La Spezia.
Inside the railway tunnels, which today form the road, the population, found shelter and continued to live their daily lives until better times, the re-evaluation of the coast culminated in the 1960s, when the bathing places of Tigullio and the Cinque Terre were most popular.
Between Punta Moneglia and Punta Rospo, the beaches are separated by stretches of rocks going right down to the sea, softened by scented pines and Mediterranean undergrowth.
At Punta Manara along the vertical cliffs, where the backwash rumbles, there are numerous inlets and caves, L’Orto dei Preti, La Valetta, La Ruspea.
During quiet mornings, pedestrian tunnels lead to the beaches, the road runs above and remains behind and doesn’t disturb the siesta. The fine sand, the sun, the quiet seabed, and the rocks which give shelter from the wind, make Moneglia a perfect place for families with children. For bolder bathers there is a shingle beach after the first tunnel coming from Devia Marina it is necessary to park somewhere else, and get there walking along the side of the road, or by bike.
If you feel like going a bit further on uneven ground, you can reach the favourite spot of young people (and not so young) of Moneglia, and find them sunbathing and diving from the rocks.
Inland there are two protected areas: the Regional Park of Porto Fino, and that of Val d’Aveto. The former, established in 1935 covers an area of 18sq.kms. It includes parts cultivated with vineyards and olive groves; foot-paths immersed in brilliant green pines and acacias, in thick undergrowth by the rocky coast, coloured with the fruit of the strawberry tree. The views from here of the open sea, flat as a table top, are incomparable.
The regional nature reserve of Aveto since 1995, is as wild as its sister the park of Portofino, overlooked by the major peaks of the Ligurian Appenines. These are between 1,600 and 1,800 metres, and have mountain resorts, ideal for sporting enthusiasts. The park is inland from Tigullio, and particularly covers the 3 valleys of the area: Aveto – the highest, Sturla with its pastures, and Val Graveglia with its rural countryside, caves and mines.
It has the only active mine in the area, Gambatesa, one of the richest manganese mines in Europe. The forest of Lame and the lake represent a rich endemic area of biodiversity, with wealthy geological and faunistic contents.
Microclimates are perceptible, despite the uniformity of altitude, and include the pastures and the cultivated terraced fields east towards the Cinque Terre.
In Tigulio there are golden eagles, the pride of the parks, and in some higher parts there are wolves which breed in holm oaks and chestnut woods. There are many other birds of prey such as the goshawk, the kestrel, the short- toed eagle and the buzzard. With more than 60 breeding species, enthusiastic bird-watchers will have plenty to do.
Places of interest
One of the most important places wis the Castle(or fortress) of Monleone, on the lower hills, west of Moneglia. It was said to have been built in 1173, when it was named in a Genoese edict that ordered the construction of various castles for the defense of the Republic against attacks of the rival Malaspina and Saracen pirates.
It was repeatedly attacked in the following years, and in 1397 it was ordered to be abandoned. On the spot where the mediaeval fortress laid, today you can admire the small castle De Fornari, built at the beginning of the 20th century in the liberty style, now it is a functional bed and breakfast hotel.
There is also a beautiful park overlooking the sea, where you can see traces of the original castle. Villfranca tower, built on the slopes of a hill overlooks the town from the east.
n the right it is coasted by the Bisagno stream it was restored in the 30s by Luigi Burgo, who was the owner. During the second world war, however the fortress was seriously damaged. Only recently, after the renovation of the building it was reopened to the public, which can enjoy, not only the ruins of the pentagonal complex, but also the splendid view of the gulf of Moneglia. Both the keep, with a square plan, and the battlements can be visited, as well as the only watch tower surviving. The main tower, originally with two floors, is now head office of Study Centre Felice Romani.
The Church of Santa Croce is one of the oldest buildings in town, rising in its centre, a short walk from the town hall. It dates from 1030. A century later in 1143 we find it enlarged and established as a large religious place of worship, or a parish. However, nothing remains of the mediaeval church. It was said to have mysteriously collapsed in the early years of the 18th century. The parish church as we now know it, was built in 1726 in the baroque style, and decorated with works of Anton Maria Maragliano, and by a precious Last Supper from the school of Luca Cambiaso, who was born in Moneglia. The last remains of that age which saw Santa Croce as it was, is the Oratorio dei Disciplinante, which, although changed during the Renaissance, can still be visited.
The walls of the hall offer another attraction to the visitor. The frescoes date from different times according to recent studies, and cover the walls with the Virgin’s cycles of life to whom the complex is dedicated, and the Passion of Christ. Another thing to see in Santa Croce are the remaining trophies conquered in the battle of Meloria, fought between Genoa and Pisa, and won by the former. Hanging from a stone on the façade of the church, you can still see two links of the chain that closed the gates of Pisa, carried off and hung up as a souvenir.
And last but not least important, the church of San Giorgio built in 1396 near the fortress of Monleone by the Benedictine monks, who chose the Gothic style. It was heavily restored at the beginning of the 18th century, in the baroque style, transforming both the façade and the three naves inside.
The bell tower on a square plan, retains features of its original style, such as the two coloured marble decorations and the three mullioned window that decorate the top. It became a parish church in 1414 and thus separating itself from the jurisdiction of Santa Croce, it was enlarged by a cloister built in 1484 by Franciscian monks who, ten years later bought the sanctuary thanks to an endowment.
As the years passed it was enriched by numerous valuable works of art, among which the most important are a group of wooden carvings that represent Saint George, to whom the church is dedicated, while he fights the dragon, or the Adoration of the Magi, by the local painter Luca Cambasio. The most important canvas, however is, without doubt, “Saint George killing the Dragon” that hangs in the upper volt of the presbytery and is attributed to Peter Paul Rubens.
Peaceful and blessed are the walks you will find in Moneglia, in its mesh of medieval streets which cut the centre in two, parallel to the shore and narrow alleys closed in by between the highly coloured walls of the houses, most of which are very high with renaissance facades. The street Via Vittorio Emanuele combines as a night meeting place and a shopping street, but if you want to live it up, it’s best to go to Sestri Levante.
Accommodation, tourism and events
The association Felice Romani is named after a poet and literary figure, librettist writer loved by Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti.
It organizes the principal cultural events in Moneglia which are classical music concerts, well known locally and also in the rest of the Region.
The association has contributed to the restoration and valuation of the principal cultural locations of the district, for its own and other initiatives.
Great attention must be given to the Festivity of Santa Croce, during which people follow a procession of marvelous and very heavy “Cristi Liguri” through the winding streets and paths.
Don’t miss the Palio Marinaro at the end of August where numerous teams of the Gulf of Tigullio participate to a rowing race with traditional boats called “gozzi” made of fiberglass with seats.
On Easter Monday, the City Hall in collaboration with the olive producers Du Facciù, hold the market show of Olive Oil.
Every year in February, as well, there is the carneval of the pumpkin, a historic festival which keeps alive the memory of the popular legend which claims to explain why Moneglia is defined as the capital of the pumpkin. There is a procession of allegorical floats. The story goes that in past times there was an argument between two local farmers who were standing the border of their land when they found a growing squash plant.
Following is a short summary of events in the area:
- PRESENTATION MARKET OF OLIVE OIL OF MONEGLIA every Easter Monday.
- PRESENTATION OF ARTS AND CRAFTS OF MONEGLIA every Easter Monday, every Saturday in July and August, and over the Christmas period.
- BARCAROLATA one evening in the middle of August.
- ST. PETER and ST. PAUL’S DAY on 29th June.
- DOPPIO GIALLO a festival of mystery literature and cinema in an evocative setting among the ruins of the Castle of Villafranca and the beautiful terrace of Hotel Moneglia.
- THE PATRON SAINTS’ DAYS of the various neighbourhoods in the summer season.
- THE PUMPKIN FESTIVAL one Sunday in February every year
- CHRISTMAS, NEW YEAR, presentation of CRIBS, the day of Saint Antonio D’Abate 17th January.
The first courses in Moneglia are close to the Genoese tradition, the king of which is pesto.
This is a sauce made from pinenuts, basil, olive oil and sour cheese added first, and later parmesan cheese. It is eaten with homemade pasta, in particular trofie, a local speciality. Also home-made pansotti are very good, a sort of large ravioli stuffed with borrage and wild herbs served with butter or walnut sauce.
Smaller ravioli, stuffed with lean meat or vegetables, linguine and trenette with sea food sauce, regal servings of spaghetti, compete with farinata, pancakes of chick-pea flour baked in a wood oven and served with cold cuts and fresh cheese, or boiled for at least an hour, eaten cold, called panissa.
Of uncertain origin, cuculli, small round fritters, made with borrage and herbs, are ideal as an aperitif and to be eaten in company. The second courses in Moneglia are based on simple dishes, divided between the richer part from the sea, and the humble part from the hills.
From blue fish to vegetable pies, much of which was considered superfluous, or unsuitable for finer cooking, today stays on the table. Fish left overs are fried, a simple cold soup of bread becomes a caponada; tripe, salted codfish and stockfish are now popular in restaurants which serve them on a plate of polenta, or cooked in sauce with olives and pinenuts.
The second courses of meat are preferred in the valleys, with a particular preference for wild boar, used also to make meat sauce and salami, and also soft sheep milk cheeses like ricotta, or cows milk cheeses like stracchino and robiola.
Local produced food gives us the best natural products of Val Graveglia and d’Aveto, and in different places along the roads one can buy jams, mushrooms and artichokes in oil, honey and very fresh milk.
Moneglia boasts its production of good quality olive oil, extra virgin from the mills: DOP Riviere di Levante, is kept in cellars inf Razzola, Pignola and Lavagnina.