Santa Margherita Ligure
“Dietro la Liguria dei cartelloni pubblicitari, dietro la Riviera dei grandi alberghi, delle case da gioco, del turismo internazionale, si estende, dimenticata e sconosciuta, la Liguria dei contadini.”
From the promontory of Portofino, that divides the Gulf of Paradise from the Gulf of Tigullio, the second place we bump into, just after Punta del Pedale, is Santa Margherita Ligure, one of the most important tourist sites of the Eastern Riviera.
Santa Margherita Ligure is set in a natural cove, people oriented, the town centre stretches along two natural inlets and is divided into two parts: the ancient fishermen’s hamlet and the modern part, where there are luxury hotels surrounded by silent pine groves, some villas and gardens, that gave birth to the small “Costa dei Delfini” (Dolphins coast), the last part of the area connects the town to Portofino. The town borders to the north with the municipality of Rapallo, to the south with Camogli and Portofino. Part of its territory are the hamlets of Nozarego, Paraggi and San Lorenzo della Costa.
Part of the territory of Santa Margherita Ligure is included in the Natural Regional Park of Portofino and in the Protect Marine area.
Santa Margherita has an ancient liberty style town centre, with an artistic, multicultural heart; it is not by chance that it is called the Pearl of Tigullio, it has a sort of timeless atmosphere, that you can breathe while walking along its characteristic seafront, following the footsteps of famous people like Nietzsche, Hemingway, De Amicis and many more. The town owes its celebrity to the many luxury places, and to its priviledged position, as it is located in the inner part of the coast, without forgetting its luxurian vegetation that has surely helped increase its charm, a stone’s throw from elite tourism and jet set.
The historic centre of Santa Margherita Ligure is the true melting pot of the activities of the village, your reference point for moving on foot or with your own means of transport, if you are willing to find a parking , usually quite expesive and far from the centre.
The main features of the village are the narrow Ligurian caruggi, small alleys surrounded by coulored buildings and porticos with slate stone. The main caruggi are in via Cavour and via Palestro.
On friday morning there is a weekly market in Corso Matteotti. There is no shortage of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants that close late in the summer. A place for gatherings par excellence is Piazza Martiri della Libertà, in front of the gardens near the pier. In this characteristic small square, there are plenty of bars that offer music entertainment and “happy hours”.
Santa Margherita has a prestigiuous seafront promenade, that stretches from via Antonio Gramsci to the tourist port, it was built in the mid 1800s, thanks to Camillo Benso Count of Cavour. Those who walk along the pier in the afternoon, after 5 p.m. may often see the fishing boats mooring, ready to unload their treasures. Along the promenade you can also admire the sixteenth century castle of the town.
The coast of Santa Margherita Ligure is marked by bathing resorts, all open in the summer; there are equipped beaches and free beaches, the landscape varies, we can find rocks or small sandy strips along the road that leads to Portofino.
A bit of history ...
Santa Margherita is an ancient maritime hamlet inhabited since Roman times, there is evidence of its past thanks to the discovery of a cinenary urn, a latin inscription of the third century, which is kept inside the church of Saint Margareth.
The oldest part of this neighbourhood is known as Pescino, (small fish) as it had been the home of fishermen, who suffered for the many invasions by the Saracens until the tenth century.
Later it became part of the feud of the Fieschi family, at least until 1229, when the Republic of Genoa spread its borders and included this area under the government of Rapallo.
There is evidence of the presence of the monks of San Colombano, who came here from Bobbio, in the province of Piacenza; their order had its premises in the abbey of San Fruttuoso, they were the former owners of this area that was then sold to the chaplain Ottone Lanfranco, who supervised the construction of the Abbey of Cervara.
Since Middle Ages the built up area was divided into two main hamlets Pescino and Corte, that often fought one against the other. A sequence of terrible events accompanied these two areas up to 1432, when the naval fleet of the Republic of Venice attacked them, and then the raid of the pirat Dragut in 1549., similar events happened to many other villages of the eastern coast.
In 1798 the territory was divided into two cantons: the Canton of Santa Margherita, with the two municipalities of San Siro and San Lorenzo and the Canton of San Giacomo, with the municipality of Nozarego and Portofino; both areas were part of the jurisdiction of the Gulf of Tigullio, that was part of Rapallo.
The relationship of the two hamlets and of its inhabitants, Margheritini and Giacomini became strained, there were political and religious differences. On 5th April 1799 the municipalities of San Siro, San Lorenzo, Nozarego and Portofino were included in the municipalities of Santa Margherita and San Giacomo. Once again the cohabitation of the inhabitants of these areas of the coast was not peaceful, there were many fights unitl 27th April 1800, when a document was issued by both parts Margheritini and Giacomini, this ended the fights.
The Reign of Sardinia under which Liguria was included in 1818, riunited the two communities in the municipality of Santa Margherita of Rapallo, the administrative power was in the hands of a group of senior men, guided by Gerolamo Costaguta. Only in 1863 the area achieved its actual name, thanks to a decree issued by Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia.
A wealthy period started for Santa Margherita Ligure after the construction of the carriage road to Portofino and the railway. A wonderful lapse of time when the town was on everyone’s lips in Europe, acclaiming the beauty of this area of the Gulf of Tigullio, with its many liberty style villas , hotels and parks.
After WWII, Santa Margherita, Portofino and the hamlet of Paraggi became the most known tourist resorts, rich in nostalgic charm linked to the “dolce vita” that still lasts.
We have already mentioned the continuous presence of important people such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Guglielmo Marconi, the painter Vasilij Kandinsky and even Evita Peron, just to mention a few.
Young people used to gather in front of cinema Centrale for a chat in the 1960s, since then Santa Margherita Ligure has gained popularity among people of different ages in a flash, they liven up the atmosphere of this wonderful place every year, and have elected the town as a highly appreciated place.
Santa Margherita Ligure is plunged into the Regional Park of Portofino, offering about 80 kms paths to cross on foot or by mountain bike, at a stone’s throw from the crystal blue sea of the Marine Protected Area of Portofino. One of the most sought after destinations for divers keen diving, A true paradise for nature lovers, a unique offer that combined with a mild climate, makes Santa Margherita Ligure a perfect tourist place throughout the year.
Emblematic for such a small place are the seventeenth century villa Durazzo and the Abbey of Cervara, right out of a romantic tale. The first located on the hills right in the centre of the village, surrounded by a shady park, with palm trees; there is a fee to visit the villa, it is worth to see the rooms with frescos and enjoy the collection of paintings of the Genoese school (Piola, Vaymer and De Ferrari).
The second important protagonist is the Abbey of Cervara, a monastry under false pretences overlooking the sea, surrounded by a charming historic Italian style garden, you can reach it through a small road that starts from the seafront, just before the bay of Paraggi.
Thanks to an agreement between the Regional Park of Portofino and the Abbey of Cervara, it is possible to visit this enchanted place on the second and fourth sunday from March to October, walking among exotic plants, boxwood bushes and the huge wisteria in the courtyard. The cozy small garden with medical plants, is just as it was centuries ago, an ancient tradition of botanical knowledge.
In the area close to Portofino, we find modern beach resorts, with sun beds and deck chairs. Near the beach of Paraggi, you can still breath the same atmoshere of the ancient village of fishermen and millers, evocative stretches of coast overlooking the clear blue sea, protected by pine trees.
For those who love diving, very close to the coast there is a relict of a merchant vessel that sunk in 1917, the seabed offers extraordinary possibilities thanks to its turquose waters, an ideal place for taking high definition photos.
We have often mentioned the Natural Park in Portofino and its Marine Protected area, here more than ever enhance the typical atmosphere of a village plunged into the very scented Mediterranean maquis.
But once again we sing the praises about the care and protection for biodiversity, that dates well back before the last world war.
Fir trees, holly oaks, small areas of horse chestnuts and maritime pines, cling to the steep rocky slopes that will keep you company during your walks or cycling among the thick net of paths.
The Park of Portofino offers the possibility to practice trekking throughout the year, surrounded by enchanted villages and thick woods, at a short distance from the completely different marine landscapes.
The paths are different in lenght and difficulty, suitable for guided or free excursions according to your own ability. The Marine Protected Area opened in 2000, its aim is to safeguard the wonderful coast, the waters and beds rich in flora and fauna of Santa Margherita and the near town of Portofino, a unique opportunity to discover the sea and its beauties not only from the coast, but also underwater. There are many diving centres and associations that provide diving equipment, sailing and kayak lessons, snorkeling, SUP and environment education courses, in the Marine Protected Area.
Diving with or without equipment depending on the situation, known as “free diving”or “scubadiving” are the crown in the jewel of the most popular sport activities of Santa Margherita Ligure.
There are proper courses, for couples or groups, in natural swimming pools or in the sea, among the rocks hit by the wind, in an area where there are many diving sites studied by biologists and admired by divers from all over the world.
In the summer, in the area of Paraggi, where the marine traffic is forbidden, there are many activities, that stress the importance of environment education, made especially for children and adults, focusing on how to recognise the marine flora and fauna, an ideal place to learn safely, how to become familiar and gain confidence with the sea.
Generally speaking the coast of Santa Margherita Ligure varies from sandy to rocky, there are small, wild coves, its nature is probably the most important glue, that makes it so special.
Among the landscapes available to every kind of tourist, the magnificent views of “Ghiaia” and “Piazza del Sole”, where there is also a free beach for dogs, frequented comfortably by the owners and friends.
Places of interest
Like any other village in Liguria, Santa Margherita Ligure has a past of faith and devotion, in fact there is an incredible number of churches to visit. The parish church of Santa Margherita Ligure, located in Caprera square, is also known as the Sanctuary of our Lady of the Rose, it is the main church in Santa Margherita Ligure. The actual building, in baroque style, was planned by the architech Giovanni Battista Ghiso, and built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on an existing building. It was consecrated in 1770 by the archibishop of Genoa.
The map of the church is a latin cross, with a dome above the transept, that defines the building. While the facade is divided into two parts, with gothic decorations and two twin bell towers, one of which was built later on the side. The yard in front is very beautiful, enriched by black and white pebbles, built according to the characteristic Ligurian technique “risseu”.
The devotion to the patron saint of the town Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, dates back to Middle Ages, on 20 July there is a procession along the historic centre of the town, folllowed by fireworks on the seafront promenade.
The church of San Giacomo di Corte is also known as the Sanctuary of our Lady of the Letter. It is situated in the centre of the district of Corte, in via San Francesco D’Assisi. The building, located on a panoramic small hill, is the premises of the vicarage of Rapallo-Santa Margherita Ligure, of the diocese of Chiavari.
The origin of the name probably comes from a wooden statue, according to a legend a fisherman noticed the statue in the sea, he managed to lift it and took it to the beach, then when he reached the shore, he agreed with the other fishermen to donate the statue to the local church.
It was found out that the statue had travelled from the far Mesopotamia, the statue had fallen in the sea after a terrible earthquake, and the currents brought it to the Ligurian sea in the waters in front of the village. The church was built in the seventeenth century, it has a white facade with three orders in baroque style, three portals with a semicircular lunette. The church, richly decorated has three naves separated by arches and Corinthian columns.
The small church of San Siro is in the distric that bears the same name, it dates back to 1200. It has been restored many times during the centuries, it has the characteristic facade with a double style, neoclassic style outside, two orders and a tympanum held by two columns, three portals, the baroque style is inside the church, there are three naves with Corinthian columns, decorated with angels and cherubs. The apse as well as the barrel vault have rich frescoes.
Inside the Oratory of Madonna del Suffragio, located between Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini and via Fratelli Arpe, near the actual building of the Town Hall, there is a pipe organ of 1686, which is considered as the most ancient in Liguria, it was previously kept inside the Albergo dei Poveri in Genoa.
This elegant Rinascimental style building is also known as Oratorio della Buona Morte e Orazione, it develops in height, the facade shows two portals, divided in three order, the central one has a statue. Of particular artistic interest is a painting, inside the church, that represents Jesus Christ in chains, it was probably made by Domenico Piola.
We have already mentioned Villa Durazzo, with its particular risseu flooring and the lively Ligurian colours, you wll be amazed to discover that there is also another villa, Villa Giacomo, apart from its beauty, it is also surrounded by paths , green magnolias, palm trees and much more.
An artistic museum, of great importance, the museum “Vittorio Giovanni Rossi” and the “Bellometti” collection, the flats of the Princes Centurione can be visited, enriched by neoclassic statues that are placed in the garden.
Inside both villas several cultural and artistic events take place, it is also possible to book the location for private events.
The Castle of Santa Margherita Ligure is all worth to be photographed, it is located on the waterfront close to the gardens. It was built in 1500 by the Genoese as a defensive building, for the frequent raids of the Saracens, it is quite small, with a rectangular shape, its tower is placed on the south west corner, where there is the entrance.
At present it is a private property open only for art shows, receptions and civil ceremonies. In Pareggi there is another private castle, used as shrine and history museum in memory of war victims.
Accommodation, tourism and events
Santa Margherita Ligure lives mainly on seaside tourism, thanks to the many beach resorts, nature and the relevant activities for its protection.
The symbol par excellence of the bond with the sea, is the district of Paraggi, where there is also room for the farmers’ fervent production, there were twelve mills along the actual “mill road”. There is a wonderful free beach and an equipped beach, which is inside the coast of the Dolphins, half way from Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino. At 3 km from Santa Margherita, which can be reached easily by bus. Santa Margherita Ligure is well known in the field of cruise tourism, an ideal place for boats and ships of certain dimensions, that come here from all over the world.
The terraced hills with olive groves that go down towards the sea, look strange near the luxury hotels, but there are also agritourisms surrounded by the silent hills, or b&Bs ideal for the youngest, which always offers excellent prices. The local crafts are mainly laces and macrame laces , just like in the other villages of the coast.
As regards events, the 80th birthday of the Palio Marinaro of Tigullio took place this year, in Santa Margherita Ligure in front of the beach Ghiaia, thanks to the collaboration of the association Amatori Palio Tigullio. In this competition which can be seen in the villages of the Gulf from May to August, rowers and helmsmen fight for the victory, on board 22 span wooden boats. Between January and February, a marathon takes place, it’s the “Mezza Maratona Internazionale delle Due Perle”, a sport event that attracts thousands of people, fans and athlets that compete in one of the most beautiful road circuits .
In March “Festa della Primavera”, the Spring fair welcomes the season wirh bonfires on the beach and thousands of San Giuseppe’s fritters and local wine for the many customers.
During Easter, Villa Durazzo hosts the market show “Erba Persa”, a popular name in Liguria for majoram. The event is promoted and sponsored by the municipality of Santa Margherita Ligure and organized by Progetto Santa Margherita s.r.l., it focuses on the quality and the rarety of the products, and gathers selected exhibitors from different Italian regions. In April a well established event, the cup Carlo Negri – Regate Pirelli an international competion with sailing experts. The event is organized by the Yacht Club and by Circolo Velico, just in front of Santa Margherita and Portofino.
In summer Estate in festa, between July and August, there are seven big events in honour of the Saints of “Santa”, besides the patron saint fair, Santa Margherita d’Antiochia in July, there are the celebrations of Santa Madonna della Lettera, Sant’Erasmo, San Siro, San Bernardo and San Lorenzo della Costa.
In September don’t miss Palio dei Quartieri, the whole town fights for a trophy: there are six teams, just as many as the districts in “Santa”, on this day, the inhabitants compete in eleven different sport disciplines to win a sort of fake citizen predominance.
The traditional cuisine in Santa Margherita Ligure is mainly focused on the daily catch. The sea offers green fish, snappers, sea breams and big tunas, but also small fish to fry in “good” olive oil. The smell of genuine fried food mixes with the scent of hot focaccia, stuffed with simple but not poor ingredients, there is great attention to the ingredients, in all the dishes including the starters, this also means that the food is healthy , as it comes from a “poor” cuisine, with a strong use of vegetables.
Chard, beans, green beans, peas, cereal, and aromatic herbs such as thyme, basil, sage, mint, majoram are the masters . Among the main courses the usual Genoese pesto stands out, prepared in a stone mortar and used to dress “trofie” or “trenette”.
Other unmissable main courses are the Genoese vegetable soup, minestrone rich in ingredients, “pansoti” a pasta stuffed with vegetables and served with wallnut sauce, “ciuppin” a fish soup, made with rockfish and other deep sea fish, served with bread to dip.
Rhombus fish with mushrooms, a delicate sequence of sea and mountain flavours, octopus with potatoes, stuffed sardines, mackarel with fresh peas, white bait with artichokes, roasted sea breams, grouper and swordfish.
In the area near Portofino, you will find a dish with a curious name” Pisciadela”, which is a focaccia stuffed with pealed tomatoes, anchovies , olives, garlic, similar to the Pissaladère Nicoise.
Other excellent products are the red prawns of Santa Margherita Ligure, well appreciated for its qualities and taste.
As second course you must order “polpettone” – meatloaf or a Genoese “cima”, with its delicious stuffing. A unique dish is “torta Pasqualina”, a vegetable pie made with eggs, wild herbs and cheese, or “Cappon Magro”, a mix of lobster, mussels, and other seafood with vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower, the food is placed one on top of the other to create an impressive dish, decorated with shiny boiled eggs and sour sauce.
You will appreciate the vegetables in oil, above all courgettes, artichokes and dried tomatoes. The vineyards produce with generosity white, red and rose wines, Golfo del Tigullio-Portofino or red or white Portofino DOC, or as an alternative spumante or passito, obtained from Ciliegilo or Vermentino grapes. They match well with pesto sauce or meat sauce, fish dishes and in particular stew stockfish, accompanied by cheese from Santo Stefano d’Aveto. Rosè wine suits well vegetable soups or shellfish, it must be served at a temperature between eight and 10 degrees.