2017 Publisher’s Tour: The Italian Riviera (Part 5 of 6)
2017 Publisher’s Tour Visits the Italian Riviera (Part 5 of 6)
Santa Margherita, Portofino, Cinque Terre
The small town of Santa Margherita Ligure sits happily on the Mediterranean Sea along the coast from Genoa, Italy’s largest harbor. Set on the Gulf of Tigullio between Rapallo and Portofino, the resort/fishing town of Santa Margherita Ligure could not be in a better neighborhood. The climate has made Liguria one of Italy’s lushest regions, where exotic flowers and palm trees mix with perfumed jasmine hedgerows. The trees are laden not just with olives, but with oranges and lemons, too. It is very fashionable, as one would expect of the Italian Riviera, but it has a quiet and serene atmosphere. The town has been an elegant seaside resort since the 19th century, but it became popular with the jet and yachting set in the 1950s. It was one of the principal locations for the 1961 Gina Lollobrigida and Rock Hudson movie “Come September.” Life in Santa Margherita Ligure centers around the quaint palm-laden harbor, where boating and taking in the ample sunshine are the popular activities. A stroll into town reveals numerous shopping opportunities, lovely cafes and interesting sights, such as the 16th fortress and the dazzling interior of the 17th century Baroque Basilica di Santa Margherita.
The Castello di Santa Margherita Ligure is located at the foot of a hill on which the Villa Durazzo now stands. It was built to defend against raids from the Barbary pirates. After pirate attacks ceased in the 18th century, the fort lost its military importance and stood against the elements as its only opponent for two centuries. It was restored after World War I and it was dedicated to the memory of the fallen in that war. The real jewel, however, lies on the hill above.
Built in 1678, as a summer residence for a prominent family, the Villa Durazzo is located in a beautiful park overlooking the Gulf of Tigullio. The villa’s rooms contain many important artworks from the Genoese School (16th to 18th centuries), as well as frescoes, Murano glass chandeliers and majolica. The entire park is strewn with statues, fountains, planters and pathways that lead to the terrace in front of the villa. It is a popular venue for high-end weddings, with many celebrities heading down the aisle in this beautiful setting. For those who are interested in its beautiful foliage, picturesque vista, as well as artwork and period furniture, a tour of the grounds and villa are well worth it – and far less costly than a celebrity wedding!
Walking along the seaside promenade is a picture perfect setting, with a gentle warm breeze and the sun overhead, you encounter the elegant hotels of the town overlooking the fishing boats of the residents and yachts of the leisure class. After the walk, it was time for an espresso at one of the many cafes along the way.
On the coastal road heading south to Portofino, the group came upon the Cervara Abbey, which has been designated a National Monument of Italy. In the Middle Ages, the stretch of coastline on the Gulf of Tigullio down to the sea to Portofino was called Silvaria, from the Latin word meaning "woods," which evolved in the Italian language to Cervara. The monastery building was built in 1361 on land owned by the Carthusian monks and was dedicated to St. Jerome. It was substantially renovated in the 16th century. The Abbey includes the Church of San Girolamo, a beautiful cloister, a watchtower and a wonderful Italian monumental garden overlooking the sea. The views were beautiful from the garden, but soon the group was off to the next stop.
The winding road continued along the coast to Portofino, a small village that has turned itself into a millionaires’ haven. As the Publisher’s Tour group walked through the small village, one could not help but notice that even the trees are good looking in Portofino. It is like a perfectly-styled model, with each detail in place. The coastal village sits on its own peninsula, which raises its exclusivity factor even higher. Hotels in the village are rather low key, subtle and expensive. Some may say that Portofino smells of money and to a degree they would be correct, but the village retains an air of tranquility and is a must for anyone visiting this stretch of coastline.
Portofino is actually very small, which means that the little streets leading up from the harbor can all be explored in short order. As well as expensive boutiques, there are souvenir shops and other stores of interest. Browsing while enjoying the fine weather is a wonderful way to spend part of an afternoon. The pretty Piazzetta by the harbor is lined with cafe and restaurant tables and beckons visitors to relax and watch the boats pass in and out through the waterway.
From the harbor and up a series of steps, you come to the Church of St. George, dramatically situated on the narrow neck of the Portofino headland. It served as a lookout point for thousands of years and provides great photo-opportunities looking back down over the harbor.
Continuing onwards, you will reach Castello Brown. This imposing building dominates the harbor, but once its wartime days were over, it was transformed into the dwelling you can admire today. The terraced gardens have wonderful views, while the building contains interesting historical exhibits and architectural features, as well as housing art exhibitions. If you have the chance, take a walk to the tip of the promontory and the Faro (lighthouse). A little terrace provides a nice spot to admire the turquoise Mediterranean. With the sea air filling your lungs and the sun up above, you may want to stay in the spot forever.