Italian Riviera Romp

Just a few kilometers down the Ligurian Coast from the bustling burg of Genoa –and at least a million mental miles away — is peaceful Camogli, Italy.

Jet-set types like Charles Dickens, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley have been slowing down and kicking back along these shores of the Italian Riviera for nearly two centuries, back when they were “jetting” about in carriages and on boats. Excellent company for GypsyNesters — even ones arriving via rented FIAT.

Camogli is literally married to the sea — her name translates to “house of wives” in honor of the brave women waiting for their sailors to return home.

We were itching to get out on the water but restrained ourselves for a bit to get a feel for the town.

While strolling the smattering of small shops that line the shoreline, we decided to map our day over a cup of Joe. Grabbing a seat at one of the outdoor establishments, we ordered up “due cuppucci” and scoped out the surroundings.

Ah, Riviera Ligure, a beautiful spring Mediterranean morning and the nectar of the coffee bean. We felt like the beautiful people.

Caffeined up and ready to rock we headed out to the end of the seawall for an ocean’s eye view of the town and a better look at Castello Dragone.

The castle has been standing guard at the entrance of the harbor since the early 1200s and looks like it has another 800 years left in it, easy.

Walking the seawall also gave us a chance to scout out the fleet from a different angle. The marina at Camogli is filled with small fishing boats, both private and commercial, but we did spot a couple bigger vessels ready to ferry passengers to points unknown.

As usual we didn’t have any plans other than the desire to get out on the briney deep… next stop, the ticket booth. Not wanting to go back toward Genoa, we booked passage on the next boat going the other way. That turned out to be a stroke of incredible luck because we ended up heading for San Fruttuoso, one of the coolest places we’ve ever stumbled upon.

From the moment we left the harbor it became obvious why locals call this little corner of the Mediterranean “Golfo Paradiso.” With its lush, green haphazard mountains rising right out of the crystal blue water, paradise might not be a strong enough word for this clear, blue heaven.

The first stop on the ferry was a secluded dock to drop off hikers heading into Portofino Regional Nature Park. The entire peninsula that forms this side of the gulf is protected land.

The park safeguards about three thousand acres of undisturbed wilderness, with neither roads nor vehicles allowed.

Around a point and tucked away in a turquoise inlet, hidden from view until we were right up on it, was San Fruttuoso di Capodimonte. The picturesque little village is dominated by the Benedictine monastery that gives it its name.

The site, chosen by the monks over a thousand years ago for its seclusion and safety, is only accessible by sea or footpath over the mountains.

Throughout the years an abbey, church, cloister and tower were built and rebuilt on this isolated spot. The octagonal church tower, Torre Nolare, is famous as an incredibly well preserved example of tenth century architecture and one of the oldest standing structures in Liguria.

In 1141 the Doria family bought the entire complex and the Benedictines allowed them to use the lower level of the cloister as tombs for the next few centuries.

The family is best known for the sixteenth century sea captain, Andrea Doria, who eventually led the entire navy for Genoa in conquests throughout the Mediterranean. Centuries later a sinking ship bearing his name would become even more famous than the Genovese Imperial Admiral.

We disembarked and made our way up the beach past the soaking-up-the-sun bathers to the abbey situated directly on the sand. A small path lead us through an archway leading inside to the courtyard and church.

Ducking under the arches we began to explore. The inside of the buildings are dark, damp and felt just plain ancient — because they are — but outside, things are meticulously landscaped with lush gardens lining winding, narrow footpaths.

After poking around the musty old monastic buildings for awhile, we followed a trail and steep staircase for a better view of the village and a look at the Doria tower.

Back in 1562, it seems pirates had taken a shine to this beautiful inlet so defenses were called for. The Doria family built the tower and named in honor of The Admiral.

As we were enjoying the view the boat blasted its horn to signal departure. Oops! This was the last vessel leaving for the day. Miss it and we’re sleeping on the beach. We scrambled down the stairs and around the path, found a shortcut to the beach over a ledge and then up the gangplank. Good thing it was all downhill.

We jumped aboard just as the good ship Paradiso was casting off. Our luck was holding, why waste any time sitting on a boat that’s not moving?

However, we were NOT lucky enough to catch a glimpse of The Christ of the Abyss, an eight and half foot bronze sculpture submerged at the mouth of the little inlet.

At over fifty feet deep, it’s safe to say that SCUBA gear is the best bet for getting a good look at the Sunken Savior, though it is said when the water is especially clear it may be viewed from the surface.

Dedicated in 1954, the subaquatic statue protects the safety of divers in the name of Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian to ever use SCUBA equipment.

Heading back in to Camogli, we noticed a couple of structures along the shore that we had missed on the way out. A medieval lighthouse and several World War II era bunkers dotted the hills overlooking the gulf.

The lighthouse dates back to medieval times while the bunkers were built by Nazi Germany in an effort to protect the entrance to the Genoa harbor, an important supply port.

Between these fortifications and those at San Fruttuoso we couldn’t help thinking that as long as men have sailed these seas they have battled for control of this area.

Back on dry land we sought out a proper spot to watch the sun go down, count our lucky stars as they came out and toast another charmed Italian adventure.

There’s something bewitching about a day on the water, cares just dissolve away. No doubt our day was infinitely more serene than those of the ancient sailors but still, they must have loved the sun, the salt spray and the rocking of the waves.

Wonder if they also knew the joys of shellfish washed down with a Pinot Grigio to celebrate a successful voyage?

David & Veronica,

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