It’s romantic, fantastic for food and very beautiful, so it’s no wonder that Liguria, the coastal region of northwest Italy, is a popular holiday destination. I began my journey in Genoa, the capital, which Italians often refer to a “la Superba” (“the Superb one”) as it was an important medieval trading port and one of the wealthiest cities in Europe.
Its other main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Squares and narrow medieval alleyways give it incredible character, while its sumptuous palaces still dazzle the eye. The Roman Catholic cathedral, San Lornezo, founded in the 6th century, is an important landmark, as is the imposing main square, Piazza De Ferrari, renowned for its (recently restored) fountain.
Of course Genoa is also famous for its food and more specifically as the place where Pesto sauce was first created. I sampled some in the unpretentious restaurant “Il Genovese” whose owner some years ago started the bi-annual international Pesto competition that has become an important date on the international gourmet calendar. Eating it, with homemade pasta, is so tasty and delicious that a lot of self-control is needed not to over indulge.Further east down the coast and at the southern end of a peninsula detached from the jagged coastline, is the little village of Portovenere, chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both for its historic connections and beautiful setting. There has been a fishing community here since Roman times and the Church of St Peter was consecrated in 1198. Even that was built over a pre-existing 5th century Palaeo-Christian church.
Its so picturesque that it’s easy to see why Byron drew inspiration here and famously, in 1822, swam across the bay to visit his friend Shelley. Sadly nowadays it draws perhaps too many tourists, especially in the holiday season. I took a much less strenuous route with a boat ride to appealing Pelmoria Island, celebrated for its black gold-veined marble, caves and evidence of Stone Age settlements. On the opposite side of the bay is Lerici known for the castle, that once controlled the entrance of the Gulf of La Specia and which today contains a museum of palaeontology. After a long walk along the sea front it was a treat in the evening to visit the stylish “L’eco del Mare”. A converted beach club in a small bay, which is now an exclusive hotel with a sophisticated restaurant which specialises in fresh fish. It is one of the most romantic spots I have ever visited, in a country that knows well how to celebrate love, and it is not surprising that they quote Shelley in their literature. “The Sun embraces the Bay and the rays of the Moon kiss the sea”
En route to Genoa and my flight home, my trip ended on a spectacular note in the town of Recco where an annual Fire Festival takes place every 7 and 8 September, with displays to honour “Our Lady of the Suffrage”. Seven local districts compete for the title, each with their own fire master…the results are superb.
the Grand Hotel Europa in Lerici
and the Manuelina Hotel in Recci.