As I lay asleep in Italy, There came a voice from over the Sea, And with great power it forth led me …” -Percy Bysshe Shelley
In 2014, we explored much of the French Riviera and the Italian Riviera on our drive from Rome to Barcelona. We vowed to return someday and truly slow down our pace and try to learn what the Italian Riviera had to teach us. This spring and early summer as we descended from the high alps we knew exactly where we were headed. What we didn’t know was how magnificent and abundant the experience of living in Liguria would prove to be, until now.
The Italian Riviera extends from the Tuscan Border to the French Border. Here is a map of the Italian Riviera and where we have stayed along the way in our six weeks roaming Liguria. Genoa is in the center of the Riviera and divides it into two sections, “the coast of the setting sun” known as the Riviera di Ponente heading west from Genoa to the French border; and “the coast of the rising sun” Riviera di Levante heading east between Genoa and the Gulf of La Spezia.
So many stories will emerge from this time, so we will share just the highlights now and revisit individual places and what they mean to us as the month’s pass. I wrote about Cinque Terre and Portofino in years past and we are grateful all those jaunts have led us back here right now. As we prepare to leave Italy and head to Croatia and beyond, here are some things we want to remember about our time here …
I want to forever remember the Riviera’s glittering cities, especially at night. From Rapallo to Genoa to La Spezia, and San Remo, the cities anchored our explorations. The cities showed us how incredibly diverse Liguria is culturally. It is easy to experience the vibrant traditions because over 80% of Ligurians live near the coast. The cities of the Italian Riviera are a timeless reminder of what is possible when poetry, industry, and exploration coexist and create a uniquely Ligurian equilibrium that is hard to describe with words.
I want to forever remember the strong, independent culture of villages like Monterosso, Camogli, and Finale Ligure. From rugged maritime history to an intense struggle for liberation under occupation during WWII, to Communi divisions during the fascist regime, Ligurians are clear about their resilience. We are so grateful the time here allowed us to slow down enough to listen to the stories. Because we are still learning Italian, we missed a lot of the details, but we will never forget the men and women proud of sharing their David and Goliath tales with us.
I want to forever remember the shimmering places like Santa Margherita, Alassio, and Levanto, which remind us of the importance of taking a day by the sea, or bella giornata al mare. From triple scoops of gelato to focaccia dripping with cheese and the darkest tans we have ever laid eyes upon gracing stately yachts, these towns are worth experiencing.
I want to forever remember the places in between. Because we are traveling everywhere by train or foot along the Riviera (much faster, easier, and environmentally friendly than driving along these busy and often bumpy roads) we discovered so many jewels along the way. One of the most memorable walks was the hike to the Abbey of San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino with some of the clearest water we have ever seen! The Focaccia di Recco we discovered in, you guessed it, Recco, on our way to Camogli, was a life-changing bubbly salty, cheesy, bite of Ligurian history. In search of a beach near Rapallo without the crowds, we discovered Travello and spent more time there than almost anywhere else. It was a place time seemed to stop as worries were gently lapped away by the tenuous waves of the Gulf of Pomaro.
I want to forever remember the food and the people that work hard to preserve these flavors that are distinctly Ligurian. The Genovese pesto made with Ligurian basil has the European protection of DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin), and the verdant green color is easy to spot and impossible to resist. The Focaccia di Recco became a product of protected geographical identification in 2014 so thankfully it will be around for generations to come. The pesce in tocchetto on a hot summer afternoon with a perfectly paired prosecco will keep you coming back for more. We will have to return at Christmas to try the traditional Pandolce. While all these flavors are gratifying beyond description, nothing is better than the people we met that shared their food with us as if they were sharing their souls.
One definition of reverie is “a state of being pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts; a daydream.” Someday when we are old and gray, and our mind wanders over this time and place, we will somehow be both lost and found in our Riviera Reverie. We will give thanks for this time and wonder if it ever really happened or if, perhaps, it was just a dream …