C’era una volta un posto incantevole affacciato sul Mar Ligure, un angolo dove il mare era più azzurro e dove il sole si specchiava più a lungo. Qui le sirene, incantate da quel magnifico scenario offerto dall’Isola di Sestri Levante, elessero la loro dimora e si adagiarono sugli scogli che, come piccoli troni, emergevano dall’acqua.
Sestri Levante is a little seaside town on the Italian Eastern Riviera a stretch of coast which starts on the Magra estuary, near La Spezia and continues as far as Genoa, the provincial capital of Sestri Levante.
The town is the last locality to face east on the gulf of Tigullio, which is home also to Lavagna, Chiavari, Rapallo, Zoagli, Santa Margherita and Portofino.
To the west of Sestri Levante lies Lavagna, and to the east Casarza and Moneglia. Riva Trigoso is close by to the south east, appreciated for its characteristic views, its tasty fish soup Bagnum and its vast shore.
The beaches and the little port of Sestri, internationally known for its craftsmen and its trading history, is also known as the “city of two seas”, the old town being situated between two small bays, known to the locals as the bays of “Fairy tales” and of “Silence”.
This sunny place originated from the alluvial plain of the river Gromolo and lies behind a rocky promontory, “l’Isola”, the area that divides the Bay of Fairy Tales from the Bay of Silence. The former houses the tourist port, and the latter, smaller, is famous for its beautiful sunsets.
Between these two bays is the ancient centre of Sestri; the new town occupies the plain of the Gromolo. It stretches between the sea and the woods and hills, over the lower valleys of Graveglia and Petronio.
The faithful visitor of the 1800s, Hans Christian Anderson, named one of the two bays, Sestri Levante has bestowed his name on the literary prize, created for children’s literature. From this arose the prestigious name “the City of Children”.
Leaving the centre of Sestri Levante there are numerous footpaths for excursions. Starting from Via XXV April and walking east, in a couple of hours one arrives at Punta Manara, the end of the Gulf of Tigullio.
Monte Castello and Punto Baffe are both worth a walk, and give way to the road that leads to Moneglia. In the ancient centre of Sestri it is best to walk, being mostly a pedestrian precinct, well kept, with many shops hidden in the narrow Genoese style streets.
A bit of history...
The first settlements of Sestri belong to the ancient Liguri, in particular to the Tigulli tribe, who gave the area its present name.
Confirmation of this comes from archeological findings in the areas of Loto and Libiola, which have shown us that there was mining in prehistoric times. Of no lesser importance are the dating and construction of paths on the hilltops and lower down, which led to the coast, helping these people in their fishing and hunting activities.
In Roman times the town is mentioned with the name Segesta Tigullorium, or Segeste. It had long been an important commercial centre, particularly for sea traffic; also the road network, improved and enlarged by the Empire, allowed a considerable trade of raw materials going inland to Val Petronio, Graveglia and Vara, but above all to the outpost of the Lunigiana.
With the fall of the Empire, new territorial and civil organization took over in mediaeval times.
The centre Sestri was sheltered by the promontory in the guise of a natural fortress, the town started to expand its territory to the mainland. Around the turn of the millenium, Sestri, with the other towns of Tigullio, was envolved in the conflict between Genova and its rival Pisa in 1072. Thanks to the alliance between the Malatesta and the Fieschi, the feudal property passed to these families, taking it away from the influence of Genoa.
Under the Fieschi, the counts of Lavagna, Sestri became a deposit for goods and agricultural products, due to its favourable position, the overlords began to take over political and administrative power. Not until 1134 did Sestri returned under the power of the Republic of Genoa. In that year Genoa bought the Abbey of San Colombano of Bobbio, situated on the highest ground of Sestri.
There Genoa started to fortify the town, and built its castle, marking the beginning of the end of the influence of the Lavagna counts. Under the Genoese rule, Sestri was divided into three parts: Borgo, San Giovanni and Santa Vittoria. The neighbourhoods were called “ville”.
Under Genoa, Sestri had more autonomy than before, because it was considered a military ally providing reinforcement, with this autonomy the local economy was put on its feet, thanks to its trade in oil, wine, salt and slate. From a political point of view, things changed around 1300, when Sestri sides with the Ghibellini, on the opposite side from the Genoese. Under Castruccio Castracani, after the peace treaty with the Guelfi in 1327, Castracani, loyal to the Pope like Genoa, chose a representative, assuring peace to all who wished to remain in Sestri.
The question of the Visconti happened to both Guelfs and Ghibellines, the Duke of Milan extended his ambition towards Genoa, and to fulfill this he took the whole Riviera of Levante, including Sigestri, which thus fell under the rule of Milan. After changing fortunes under the Visconti, between 1454 and1478 there were further conflicts between the Sforza and the Fieschi when the latter, an ancient powerful family got the upper hand. In 1542 and in 1607 Sestri was a victim of the terrible invasions by Saracen pirates.
Under French domination in 1797 a plebiscite saw the Republic of Genoa change into the Ligurian Republic, the power went from aristocracy to democracy. Sestri was in the first canton the principle town with jurisdiction over Gromolo and Vara, and in 1803 become the principle town of the seventh canton of Gromolo with jurisdiction of Entella.
Thus bound to the first French Empire from 13th June 1805 to 1814 the town was included in the “Dipartimento degli Appennini”. From 1859 to 1926 the territory fell within the 3rd “mandamento” of the area of Chiavari and became part of the province of Genoa.
The railway was built after the first world war, as well as the tunnel of St. Anna. In the second world war Sestri became an outpost for the SS, and not until 1944, after a terrible bombing raid by the English, did it manage to free itself from the German occupation.
After 1973 Sestri was part of the Mountain Community of Val Petronio, until it was disbanded 31st December 2008.
The abundance of typical Mediterranean vegetation is the key feature of the area, as are the pines leaning over the rocky cliffs going straight down to the sea. They soften the colour of the strawberry trees and blend with the paler colours of holm oaks and chestnut trees.
The landscape of the Levante Riviera, however is not all the same. Over the centuries man has taken up the cultivation of olive trees and vines which needed terraces to survive on this steep coast located towards the east and the Cinque Terre.
Moving west towards the Ponente Riviera the landscape changes, and the hills and greenhouse cultivation lie close to a gentler inland.
In the woods and forests the vegetation includes broom, myrtle, locust tree bushes and wild flowers dance in the breeze. In the drier, sunnier places grow wild herbs like rosemary, thyme, borage, carob and spurge. Maritime and Aleppo pines are common.
Where you see a rocky mass dividing the Gulf of Tigullio from the Gulf of Paradise, that is the boundary of the protected sea area of Portofino, ideal for outdoor sport and a paradise for scuba diving.
Sestri is very close to the Gulf of Paradise, but also to Val Bisagno, and on to Val Trebbia and Val d’Aveto in the north, and to Val di Vara and the Levantine bay to the east.
Val Graveglia, an integral part of Tigullio, is the closest and best loved by the people from Sestri.
It is bound to the historic identity of the territory of La Spezia in the east, and to that of the territory of Genoa in the west.
Val Petronio has an extraordinary biodiversity caused by the humidity of the streams flowing down towards Sestri. It is mysterious area with ancient Roman paths and wild fluvial vegetation.
The presence of heron, water hen, and birds of prey like the Peregrine Falcon and the Short-toed Eagle are evidence of the uncontaminated nature around Sestri.
Places of interest
There are many churches in Sestri Levante, but we will concentrate on the most important ones.
The basilica of Santa Maria of Nazareth is of unquestioned beauty, an excellent example of a renaissance building, situated in the town centre next to the town hall.
The construction of the basilica took place after the final consolidation of the Isola, when the expansion of Sestri made the old church of San Nicolò too small and unsafe. Restoration took place in the first building in 1600, traces of which are still visible in the present day sacristy, especially in that of the bishop. They were completed by the architect Gio Batta Carbone. The floor design of the church is that of a basilica, respecting the canons of the counter-reformation, while the inside is divided into three naves with square pillars and rounded arches.The central nave ends in a deep apse. The decorations, begun in the 17th century, and continued in the 18th century, give it a very intimate atmosphere, accentuated by the luminosity of the complex, and by six very precious altars, four on the left and two on the right, and by the baptistery, and by hangings and frescos that decorate the vault, by well-known Genoese artists.
The Romanic church of San Nicolò del’Isola, built in 1151 on the isthmus, is the most ancient building of Sestri Levante. It was partly transformed before the 15th century, and later in the baroque period. The façade is 15th century with a great door surmounted by a three mullioned window. Plaques and mediaeval epigraphs are fixed in the walls, and other parts of preceding structures from the 8th century are visible, the work of “Columban” monks from Bobbio. The bell tower has a pyramid spire, with two light windows on all four sides.
Another place of worship not to miss on any account is the church of the “Immacolata” to which is connected the convent of Cappuccin monks with their large church yard. Previously established in the centre of Sestri, the friars moved to higher places to pray better in solitude inland, east of the bay.
Inside the church, on the principal altar, is a statue of the immaculate virgin, wood carved in the 18th century, as well as a picture of Domenico Fiasella depicting the miracle of Saint Antony of Padua.
The style of the church is Mediaeval with only one nave and with the characteristic façade of black and white stripes, all immersed in the Mediterranean vegetation of the inland areas, and an ideal resting place for your shady walk.
In the historic center, finally, there are many renaissance buildings and villas. It’s impossible to miss “Fascie Rossi” in Corso Colombo, with its tower and battlements, now a library and museum, the museum of the town and the territory; or Villa Brignoli- Balbi, with its coloured façade looking over the sea front, and don’t forget Durazzo-Pallavicini building which is now the town hall, built in the later 17th century in the central square Giacomo Matteotti, and villa Durazzo-Solari-Serlupi renamed Rimassa which gave hospitality to the Emperor Federico II, in 1784.
Accommodation, tourism and events
A holiday in Sestri is a holiday at the sea. One of the most loved beaches is Rena, the first after “Galleria di Moneglia” looking towards the town. The proximity of the ship yards doesn’t interfere with its beauty and is frequented by traditional families, who like its sandy beach, and more adventurous people who go to the sun soaked rocks.
Most of the beaches is free, and equipped with toilets and showers, umbrellas and sun-beds to rent, pedal-boats and canoes. In Riva there are two beaches in one: Riva Vecchia and Nuovo (the old beach and the new) divided by the dry estuary of Petronio. The sand is coarse, and towards the promontory the rocks begin.
The beach of the Fairy- tale Bay, along the town’s promenade, has a large stretch of soft sand and is suitable for bathing, the water is shallow a long way out. It stretches as far as the tourist harbour of Sant’Anna, where it is mainly shingle, and rocky. There are many bathing resorts, some equipped to attract young people.
Then there is the Bay of Silence, almost all free beach. It is one of the most wonderful places in Sestri, and coloured with lights like an impressionist painting, both at sunset and at night.
If you prefer walks in the woods, in the valleys around Sestri there is an interesting network of paths and excursions; there are numerous green areas equipped for families, ideal for camping, barbeques and outings with friends.
The centre of Sestri is an ideal place if you want to enjoy some shopping, or night-life in the summer, among the narrow streets, or simply have a cappuccino in a bar. Don’t miss the craftsmen creativity market in July and August, all day till midnight, where you can buy local made articles, engraved wood lace, macramé and original mosaics.
In Piazza Bo there is the “Vela per Colombo” monument, composed of a mast, a boom and a sail in bronze, placed on a pedestal made of two circular parts of white marble and “bardiglio”. Inscribed in the middle part of the base are the words of the poet Mario Luzzi, ”Which journey gave you the winds…..” The sculpture is by the artist Giò Pomodoro and is one of the last large public works made by him before his death in Dicember 2002. This monument, dedicated to the memory of Carlo Bo, is in the old centre of Sestri, on the sea front.
On no account to be left out is the Millelire tavern, a glamourous, popular place, where you can hear good music, taste an exceptional cocktail, or a very good beer.
Among the main events we must remember:
– ANDERSEN FESTIVAL – first weekend in June
– RIVIERA FILM FESTIVAL – April
– SAGRA DEL BAGNUN – BAGNUN FESTIVAL third weekend in July
– BARCAROLATA – last Sunday in July
– PENISOLA DI LUCE – PENINSULA OF LIGHT June, July, August
– MOJOTIC FESTIVAL – SILENT DISCO – June, July August
– PREMIO BACH – BACH PRIZE- SUMMER CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL – May – end July and August
– SESTRI L.IVE FESTIVAL – every thursday in July and August
– PANE E OLIO – November
– MUSEL: the history and identity of Sestri Levante on display in two separate areas, 16 rooms with multimedial, interactive thematic exhibitions also of the territory, guided tours and educational workshops. For opening time and events: www.musel.it – 0185 478530 – [email protected]
And finally let’s not forget the festival of Madonna del Carmine, in July, an age old procession of crosses and statues of the Madonna, and to finish the year the fair of Santo Stefano on 26th December with a variety of stalls and local produce.
At Mandela Park, every Friday, from March to September, from 21.00 to 23.00, free entrance, it is possible to observe the stars, moon and the planets, using the telescope of the cultural association The Sestante, and also watch related video projections.
The observation point is also accessible for disabled. There is a detailed programme www.ac-ilsestante.it.
Real Estate market
Sestri Levante, has always been, in the last 30 years, one of the best estate markets in Italy, the right place where to invest; the demonstration can be found if we look at the market trend as from 2011, practically when the global financial crisis started to date.
Statistcs published on “Il Sole 24 Ore”, show our small town in the 14th position in Italy as regards average prices, 8.400,00 € per sqm.
A demonstration of the trend of the last years, a respectable position, as just a few steps above us, we find well known places such as Capri, Forte dei Marmi, Porto Cervo, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Porto Rotondo.
But the best strong point of Sestri Levante is that since the beginning of the crisis to date, tourist estates, or near the sea or in the historic/trade centre haven’t been depreciated.
To put it simply, people who invested in Sestri Levante in 2010, today have a property worth at least as much as it had been paid.
For us this is a very important result, because throughout Italy the prices of the estates have decreased from a minimum of 20%, and have even lost 40% of its value, in places near us.
To date the average values of the houses are as follows:
Central area from € 3.000 to € 5.000 smq
Historic central area from € 5.000 to € 7.000 smq
Seafront area (with view) from € 8.000 to € 12.000 smq
Baia del Silenzio/Peninsula
from € 14.000 to € 20.000 smq
On the hills with partial or total sea view
from € 4.000 to € 6.000 smq
On the outskirts but in an easy area
to reach the town centre
from € 2.500 to € 3.500 smq
On the outskirts (Lapide and via Sara)
from € 2.000 to € 3.000
In spite of its harshness, Liguria is known to be rich in produce, overwhelming us with its Mediterranean tastes and scents. In Sestri Levante it is easy to discover them in the traditional Genoese cooking.
When thinking of Liguria, we have to start with focaccia, either plain or filled, or the variation with cheese from Recco and baked in a wood oven. The other essential is “farinata” made with chick pea flour, water and oil, to be baked in a copper tray. Also “panissa” is made from chick pea flour. It can be served cold, cut in diagonals, with extra virgin oil, pepper and onion, or fried. It is the forefather of the modern crisp, but better. It is fried in deep oil.
In the west of Liguria it is put inside a type of white bread, and is called “fugasette”.
The first courses you can find in the restaurants of Sestri are vegetable soup, “pansotti” with walnut sauce, stock fish ravioli, “corzetti”, “troffie” with pesto, the most typical Ligurian sauce made with basil, oil, pine nuts, garlic, sheep’s cheese and parmizan cheese. Pesto is a direct descendent of the ancient Roman “moretum”.
From the area of Sestri we can taste it with the characteristic “testaieu”, which are also very good with garlic sauce, or simply with good oil and parmesan cheese.
The second courses are the “Bagnum” of anchovies, the famous dish of Riva Trigoso. This soup simply originated with the daily catch. It was cooked on board the “leudi”, typical Ligurian boats on charcoal stoves. Over time, onion, tomato and crostini were added to the original recipe.
There are also anchovies marinated with lemon, anchovies preserved in salt, dried cod in garlic sauce, “capon magro”, fried whitebait, “avannotti” of sardines( unfortunately banned today). Still thinking of fresh fish but more costly are shellfish and lobsters. The famous giant prawns from Santa Margherita Ligure are fished off shore from Sestri.
Fantastic stuffed mussels (known as cozze or muscoli) are a complete dish, prepared with egg, ham or mortadella, bread crumbs soaked in milk, parmizan, sheep’s cheese and many herbs, an authentic recipe and a treasure trove.
Inland from Sestri, at Castilione Chiaverese we find high quality homemade cured meats, particularly pork, salami and sausage.
There are plenty of cheeses from the organic valley in Varese Ligure, and from Santo Stefano d’Aveto; the San Ste and Sarazzu are very good, but also the prescinseua (curd) sometimes used on focaccia.
Practically all dishes are associated with the exquisite extra virgin olive oil D.O.P. of eastern Liguria, and the excellent D.O.C. wines “Portofino – Gulf of Tigullio”, some of which are even matured under water, There is the famous Moscato and some very good fortified wines.
Among the deserts the pastry makers stand out (in the Twenties, they served the Pope) Ladies’ Kisses, chestnut biscuits and nougat and chestnut cookies made from chestnut flour, or the traditional Christmas sweet bread, full of raisins, candied fruit and pine nuts; “sacripante” or “sacripantina” cake owes its name to the cry of amazement at its goodness of the priest who received it as a gift.
And finally in Sestri we find an age old love of ice cream, try the flavor “panerà” which tastes of coffee and milk, the unique taste of cappuccino, and also the flavor of “paciugo”, always popular in Tigullio.