You might not have heard of this Medieval Ligurian City. Perched between the promontory of Portofino and Mongelia, in the heart of the Gulf of Tigullio, this busy town is regularly skipped from guide books and hasn't really made a dent on Instagram.
It’s not as pretty as neighbouring fishing villages like Camogli, it doesn't have enough galleries and museums to warrant a day trip for most tour groups and (to date) it is one of the least aesthetically pleasing beaches I have ever seen. Great swathes of grey gravel in front of a busy road does not a dream seaside resort make.
Yet, there’s something very charming and quintessentially Italian about this underrated town.
1. Peruse the Caruggi
Chiavari was an economic powerhouse in the Medieval period and chief town of the Apennines until 1815. Its reputation as a commercial port of international renown and key trading centre in the region left a stamp on the city, and the Centro Storico is now laden with ‘Caruggi’ and ‘Portico’, typical narrow streets dating back to the Middle Ages. Beneath these ancient arcades are now rows of small boutiques, old fashioned pasticceria, gelataria, typical osteria and bars. Unlike much of the rest of Liguria, which relies on sunshine and good weather for a good day out, most of Chiavari is under cover, making it a great go-to destination for a rainy day. Let us bow down to those forward thinking Medieval townsmen, who thought to put porches over all the shops.
2. Barter and get a bargain at one of the best markets in the region
Chiavari hosts one of the largest regular markets of the region, every Friday between 8am and 1pm. Covering over a mile of ground, it’s mostly fresh fruit and veg, cheeses and regional delicacies, with a littering of clothing stalls and bric-a-brac. Given the lack of tourists, it’s quite the authentic Italian experience - you’ll end up bartering a lot and returning armed with vegetables which definitely weren’t on your shopping list.
On the second Sunday of the month, and the following Saturday, the town also hosts a huge antique market of around 120 stands which sprawl across the streets of Chiavari's historical centre. This ‘Mercato delle Pulce’ isn't really a bog standard flea market, and you should expect to find anything from vintage Roberto Cavalli, to beautiful furniture to really weird and wonderful paintings.
3. Wile away a couple of hours in the Parco Botanica Rocca
Kew Gardens it is not, but there’s something strangely enchanting about this botanical garden. Despite a recent restoration it doesn't seem to have changed all the much in its hundred odd years or so of existence. It’s full of meandering paths, dilapidated temples, geometric flowerbeds and waterfalls - charming and spooky in equal measures. The Villa was purchased in 1903 by the Rocca family, who found success in Argentina and brought back rare South American specimens to add to their rather splendid gardens a few years later. Admission costs €1
4. Take in the sights
Chiavari is a grand old town, punctuated with stoic mansions, streets lined with palm trees and some excellent examples of 15th Century Renaissance buildings, a reminder that it was once one of the most important towns in the Genoa Republic. The Cathedral ‘Nostra Signora dell’Orto’ (Our lady of the Garden) is a huge, sumptuous Cathedral stuffed full of spectacular frescoes, sculptures and three gilded porticos. The name alludes to an apparition of the Virgin Mary which is said to have taken place in the gardens in 1610. In the Piazza Partini sits the rather sombre looking Palazzo di Giustizia (Courthouse), designed in 1886 by Giuseppe Mazzini. Remnants of the old Castle of Chiavari sit on a hill to the East. Indoors, the Villa Rocca houses some excellent examples of Genoese art, and there are several small museums dotted about town including the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Risorgimento, the Museum of the Diocese and the Museum of Physics and Meteo-Seismology
5. Take an aperativo at Caffe del Carozze
Located on the Piazza Partini, Caffe del Carozze is notorious amongst locals and visitors from neighbouring towns for offering one of the best, and most generous, aperitivos in the region. Verging on a buffet service, nibbles range from peanuts and crisps, to small slices of focaccia, to panini and fried vegetables. Cocktails are generous in size and alcohol content, be warned. Take a seat outside, pick up a plate and enjoy the hustle and bustle of Chiavari as the sun goes down.