As we merge onto the A12 toward Genova, my thoughts speed along with the speeding car, but unlike the car, to no end. Now, my mind travels of its own accord to the bobbing fleet of ships ready to sail, waiting for the brisk trade winds from the east that would eventually propel them across the infinite Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Now, gazing with unseeing eyes, I see massive shipyards and hear the great snorting and smoking brutes that make up the steelworks of this
We leave Genova behind and as we exit from the A12 and towards Recco on our way to Camogli, we finally gain sight of the eastern Ligurian coast, a coastline characterized by mountains that drop suddenly and dramatically down to the sea, with sharp promontories covered with maritime pines and bordered by picturesque cliffs.
My fellow passengers are getting excited. They know we are heading east – towards glamorous Portofino, and the Cinque Terre. I wonder for a moment if they will be disappointed with my choice of destination. Camogli, after all, is a fishing settlement rather than a beach resort. I’ve never been, but I know that unlike the Cinque Terre or nearby Portofino, Camogli is a secret that Italians have kept to themselves. It’s the “summer retreat of discreetly well-heeled Milanese and Turinese, whose families have returned for generations to get their annual dose of sunshine and pesto... and, you’ll find, the ideal escape from the madding crowds.” (Why You must Explore the Hidden Riviera, Winnie Yang and Brian W. Ferry, February 23, 2014)
I’ve fallen asleep on the last leg of our journey and awaken in time to find us climbing steeply on our way to Villa Rosmarino, our destination. The hillside is dotted with multi-story villas painted in pastel colours and wondrously decorated with trompe l’oeil windows shuttered against the real world outside.
Intricate cornices run along the top edge of the buildings and frame the real widows and doorways giving the dwellings elegance and charm. We catch glimpses of the sea beyond and below the escarpment, towards the west. Today the water is a steel grey against a colourless sky. Again we find the rain we had hoped to leave behind, and so, as we reach the higher slopes much of the view below is lost in the clouds.
We reach Villa Rosmarino, high atop the crest of a mount where sea, rocks and vegetation seem to blend harmoniously to create exceptional scenery, even on this grey day. Marta comes out to meet us as we reach the gates of the villa; her warm smile and sparkly personality are all the sunshine we need.
The tall houses sprouting from the hillside of Camogli are beautiful, elegant ochres and burgundies; Villa Rosmarino is of a delicate and muted rose hue that seems to blossom and unfurl from its sepals that are green bushes, herbs and trees that surround the house.
Upon entering the garden path of cobblestoned steps a delicious calm seems to imbue the air; the momentary sunlight that breaks through the clouds casts a dappled light through the lush green pergola overhead. The rosemary scented breeze that permeates makes this place feel like home.
This is a non-hotel; rather, it is more a temporary home. Spacious well-appointed rooms are comfortable, clean and pleasing with the wonderfully unique art that graces the walls and table tops. Our room and its bed are inviting----crisp white cotton sheets call out my name. Just time enough to open wide the window and see the view, and then I drop like a stone on the bed. Heavenly.
A nap and a quick shower seem to reenergize me. I skip downstairs to the ground level where our friends are already there sipping an espresso and chatting with Fulvio Zendrini. Fulvio is an elegant and eloquent gentleman who is taking the time to tell us about Villa Rosmarino, Camogli and surrounding areas. Together with Mario Pietraccetta, the two men purchased Villa Rosmarino, a six-suite 1907 palazzo that they’ve impeccably restored with modern and classy discernment. One is definitely made to feel at home here, right down to the lovely reading room that offers its guests comfy sofas and a plethora of books on every genre.
We ramble outdoors to have a look at the pool and garden, and there, caught totally unawares, we are given the gift of a magnificent, heart-stopping view: below us, down the lower slope of the Mount Portofino, a red-tiled roof has been overtaken by a profusion of magenta coloured bougainvillea, and there at the very bottom, as if trying to peak through the tumult of palm fronds, lush vegetation, and coloured rooftops, lies resplendent, the Ligurian Sea.
I fall in with the plan, although somewhat hesitantly, of descending the million steep steps (at least it feels like there are about a million) that will eventually take us to the port of Camogli. I’d like to tell them that this blasted damp weather has uncaged the arthritic demon inside me---and that every one of my joints ache----but I don’t want to be a party pooper. We grab some umbrellas at the door---for it looks like more rain---and begin our descent.
Barely a 15-minute walk down cobbled steps (not as many as I had thought) and we arrive at the seafront and harbour area. The eastern section of Camogli has a lovely pebbly beach and promenade, whereas the western part is a harbour.
The dismal weather takes nothing away from this little jewel; the tall pastel coloured houses facing the ocean are rendered even more dramatic. They seem brave and indominable like the housewives who once inhabited them and stood at the windows waiting for their sailor husbands to return from the sea.
We stroll along the promenade, slipping into the little shops every once in a while to look at local crafts and buy a few souvenirs. Along this headland is the Basilica of Santa Maria which overlooks the harbour. Originally dating from the 12th century, the basilica has been substantially modified over the centuries and now still stands proudly as a sentinel guarding its town.
We sit at one of the cafes at the harbour to enjoy a Negroni and discuss our upcoming dinner that evening at the Belmond Hotel Splendido in Portofino. What a treat this will be. I tell our friends that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor returned time and again to this hotel—and it’s easy to understand why: the Terrazza is supposed to be the epitome of Italian glamour with a glorious view of the marina below. From stars above a moonlit ocean to swaying palms in the gardens, we will live, albeit temporarily, la dolce vita in Portofino. Damn, if only I had thought of bringing my diamonds and Dior gown along!
What to see nearby:
Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure, and Portofino are all within a 20 minute drive from Camogli. These are beautiful seaside towns with great promenades, lots of shopping and lots to see and do.
Where To Stay
Via Figari, 38 16032 CAMOGLI (GE) TEL +39 0185 771580
Where To Eat:
Da Paolo (fish)
Via San Fortunato, 14, 16032
Camogli GE, Italy
La Cucina di Nonna Nina
Via Franco Molfino, 126,
16032 San Rocco
Belmond Hotel Splendido- La Terrazza
Salita Baratta 16,
16034 Portofino, Genoa, Italy