a little bit about Liguria...
Sun, sea and infinite glamour - Liguria has it all. Whether you’re looking for history, fantastic grub, top-notch hiking or an epic suntan, the Italian Riviera has got it covered. Step aside Côte d'Azur, Liguria will tick all of your boxes.
Portofino is the jewel of the Italian Riviera. The town has long since abandoned all pretences of being a fishing village and affluent tourists have flocked to its picture perfect shores since the mid 1800s. Synonymous with style and infinite glamour, it’s where Richard Burton first proposed to Elizabeth Taylor. Today, it’s a hot spot for the wealthy and glamorous; the town is dominated by luxury boutiques, high-end hotels and well heeled yachtsman.
Whilst it might reek of refined luxury, it is still possible for those on even a shoe-string budget to enjoy the sights. Here’s my guide on how:
So you’ve booked a break to the Italian Riviera. Perhaps you’re en-route to a picturesque fishing village like Portofino or Camogli, or in for a hike across the Cinque Terre. You’re due to land in Genoa, a place you haven't heard all that much about, and you’re unsure whether to stick around for a day or two.
There’s no doubt about it, Genoa is a working city. It’s grubbier than Venice and Florence, but its a city with a pulse - lively, incoherent and messy. It’s crammed full of narrow carrugi, old markets, small museums and huge palaces, with a plethora of art, antiquities and delicious food.
Punta Chiappa is really a secret Italians have kept to themselves. Rarely frequented by international tourists, this rocky promontory is well worth a visit. Here are four reasons to pop along.
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 neighboring 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.
The best hikes and walks from Camogli... proving it's not all about Cinque Terre
Portovenere is often considered the sixth village of the Cinque Terre (with less tourists), and it should be high up on your Ligurian hit-list.
Every year, on the second weekend of May, thousands of visitors flock to the small fishing village of Camogli in Liguria, for the annual two day celebration of ‘Sagra del Pesce’ and 'Festa di San Fortunato'.
It’s one of Camogli’s busiest weekends; incorporating spectacular fireworks, two huge bonfires, the racing of a life-size Saint up the steps of the Basilica, and culminating in the distribution of thousands of plates of fried fish from the world’s largest frying pan on the Sunday. It's bonkers.
The best restaurants in picture perfect Camogli, Liguria.
Liguria is home to one of the greatest and richest regional cuisines in the country. Stretching across almost 200 miles of coastline, with mountains on one side and sea on the other, Liguria has access to a diverse range of ingredients, from pine nuts, and basil to fresh seafood.
This typical Ligurian dish shows just how proud the Genovese are of their pesto.
These thick, oily, fluffy slabs of joy will make you seriously reconsider the point of any alternative breakfast or snack. In fact, I owe my rapidly decreasing wardrobe (only the baggiest, loosest attire has made the cut) solely to the increase in focaccia I am injesting.
I like to think of Salsa di Noci as Pesto’s less popular, vastly underrated little sister. It’s another typical Ligurian salsa fresca, but prepared with walnuts, instead of pine nuts, and olive oil, cheese, garlic, salt and often soaked bread.
Perhaps part of the reason there isn't much buzz about it, is due to its very unfortunate appearance; once the walnuts and cheese are pounded together it forms a sort of sticky, beige substance which no filter can fix.
Italy, land of the refined carbohydrate, has a dirty gluten free secret.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is just a cheesier variety of focaccia. In fact, Focaccia di Recco col Formaggio is an entirely different breed of carbohydrate snack in itself.
Pesto, that gloriously green, garlicky, sludgy stuff, has gotten a bad reputation for itself in the UK. Ranking somewhere between a jar of Dolmio’s and a packet of Uncle Ben’s, it is now the remit of impoverished students and busy parents, poured from a La Sacla jar onto a bowl of penne, served with profuse apology and accompanied with a ‘so sorry, its just pesto pasta’.
In Liguria, pesto is revered.
So, the Italians have broken up for Summer and gone are my leisurely mornings and afternoons alone.
I’m feeling like an total boss. An absolute champion.
Today, I mastered the market. It may have taken me over six weeks, but FINALLY it happened. It was such a smooth and seamless experience, I’d rank it up there with the time I graduated and the time I managed to convince my sister that soap was white chocolate.
Last night G assiduously laid out all of her clothes for school today, an entire outfit made of pink (very strange sight as usually she doesn't even change out of her pyjama top for school), asked me to wake her up at 7.30am (instead of usual ten mins before bus arrives) and brushed her hair (something I have never seen her do before).
Have been on weather patrol for last five days (Italian Riviera has been submerged in near biblical heights of water recently) so as soon as I opened shutters and saw that big, yellow ball of joy in the sky I was out on beach.
Was walking up hill with grand plans to go for a run, when I spotted Claudia and her very elderly mother sitting outside their house under an umbrella.
This is what I learnt from trying to go 'out-out' in Italy.
The family are currently obsessed with doing two things:
- Feeding me as much as humanly possible
- Finding me an Italian boyfriend
Me and old Sandro went out for another passeaggata today. I don't use the term 'old' lightly. He's eighty two. Am starting to feel much like Kate Winslet in The Holiday.
I'm losing my words.
I first noticed it the other day, when I tried to describe what supposedly happened to Jesus. I kept telling someone he was resuscitated, even though I knew they didn't have defibrillators back in B.C.
After a fantastic bonding session at Barbara’s dad’s 90th birthday, G’s 82 year old grandfather asked for my number. I was flattered. He’s the one who winks all the time, doesn't eat salt and likes to wind everyone up.
This morning he sent me a message that read ‘VUOI FARE UNA PICCOLO PASSEAGATA?’ (Do you want to go for a little walk?)
About a week ago, M returned from work waving about some tickets, saying he had a surprise for G and I. ‘You English, I know how much you love the football! Now you can see a proper match in Italy!’
Turns out, an MOT in Italy is exactly the same as an MOT in the UK.
Barbara’s dad has hit 90 and, to celebrate, the whole family are going for a proper slap-up meal at one of the fancier restaurants in town. I am one of the chosen 20.
After some serious tan inducing weather over the past week, Mother Nature has thrown up a shit-storm all over Liguria, and we have been house-bound since Tuesday. It’s grey, stormy and very, very wet.
Everything you’ve heard about Italians and Nutella is true. It’s not even remotely similar to what Marmite is to the UK. There is no love-hate relationship, just pure love.
My experience of the Festa di San Fortunato was somewhat different to the way I’ve described the festival in the more ‘serious’ chunk of my blog.
The thing you should know about Camogli is that its all hills and steps. You have to walk up a few dozen stairs to get anywhere, and in order to get from nursery to beach you have to walk across a bridge and three stone staircases.
Italians love their dogs. Dogs are allowed everywhere - in the supermarket, at the beach, on the train. I’ve spotted one sitting on its own chair in a restaurant.
I've started ‘volunteering’ at the nursery a couple of days a week. I use the term ‘volunteer’ loosely because it conjures up images of pensioners lending a helping hand at their local National Trust stately home or bored parents helping middle class children to learn to read on a Friday afternoon.
It’s actually bloody hard work.
My first experience of an train travel in Italy was everything you'd expect it to be, complete with delays, missed connections and a lonely martini at a train station bar.
Monday is market day in Recco, the neighbouring village. I love a market and Claudia (M’s sister-in-law) invites me to come along with her.
Was perusing a big beefy Italian recipe book, trying to work out the difference between various salumi, when neighbours come in all guns blazing saying 'e pronto!, e pronto!'
All excitement in the house as everyone scrambles to get their shoes on and M says I must come for a 'new experience'.
It happened. I weighed myself. I knew I felt a bit chunkier than usual but I thought, hey-ho, they’re always banging on about the virtues of a Mediterranean diet, must be in my head.
Today is my first day alone in Camogli. Heaven.