From Pirate’s Cove to Diver’s Shrine, the Italian Riviera Abounds

San Fruttuoso Abbey Gardens
San Fruttuoso Abbey Gardens

Paradise exists and you don’t have to die to experience it.”    Anonymous

Imagine a tiny pristine cove with clear blue waters surrounded by exotic treasures only reachable by foot or boat. A small pebbly swimming beach stretches out between an old medieval abbey and the shimmering Mediterranean sea, with a quaint restaurant to the side serving cool drinks and delicious meals. Heavenly?

San Fruttuoso, near Portofino in Liguria, is where you will find this enchanting cove. Surrounded by the National Park of Portofino, hiking trails that hug the coastline and offer breathtaking views wind between Camogli and San Fruttuoso. Reachable only by foot or boat, it is well worth the effort. But if you travel by foot, allow yourself an hour and a half minimum. It’s a fantastic hiking opportunity with a lot of surrounding coastal beauty.

One of San Fruttuoso’s treasures, the ancient Benedictine Abbey, looms at the back of the beach and straddles the sand. A great slope covered with Mediterranean pine and holm oak rise behind it, along with old olive terraces that are being gently restored by an agriturismo program. There is also a sixteenth century watch tower just a short walk away.

The stone abbey with elegant dome is both medieval and romanesque in design. Built in the 10th century, the building has also been used as a pirates den, a humble fishermen’s home, and the residence of the prestigious Doria family of Genoa. The facade of the abbey was added in the 13th century. Originally boats moored directly underneath the arches of the abbey to unload cargo into the cellars, but more recently naturally occurring sand has built up the beach. However, you can still walk underneath the abbey and see a few boats resting on dry land.

During the summer months of July and August, impressive concerts are held in the cloister of the abbey.

Christ of the Abyss
Christ of the Abyss

Another treasure of San Fruttuoso, and a diver’s delight, is the bronze statue that sits on the ocean floor. Standing eight and a half feet high, Christ of the Abyss looks upward with outstretched arms. Submerged under 50 feet of water, it has become one of the most famous and popular diving sites in the world. Christ of the Abyss was placed in the waters on August 22, 1954 following the 1947 death of Dario Gonzatti, one of the first divers to use SCUBA equipment in his dives. Today the bronze statue is a shrine of protection for all those in the sea.

Interestingly, to make the statue, bronze was crafted from the melted down metal of ships, bells, and the medals of mariners, Olympic athletes, firefighters, and even soldiers who died in combat (donated by their mothers).

Every year in July, a celebration occurs in honor of Christ of the Abyss. A late evening mass is held on the beach, followed by a procession which leads down to the water. Here an underwater procession begins toward the statue. Once reached, a laurel wreath is placed around the feet.

Boats with glass bottoms run from the beach out to the statue if you don’t want to scuba dive. Another option is an exact replica of the statue viewable in the abbey. For those who want to scuba dive, there are options for excursions along the coastline. The dive around Christ of the Abyss  is in predominately shallow water and fairly easy. Red coral, octopus, grouper and moray eels abound so you won’t be alone!

Monastery at San Fruttuoso
Monastery at San Fruttuoso

There are no roads to San Fruttuoso, but there are well-advertised boat trips which leave several times a day from Camogli, Portofino and Santa Margherita. My suggestion is to enjoy the day by hiking the picturesque coastal path into San Fruttuoso, spend a few unique hours, and take a boat on back. A very enriching experience awaits you!

Below are links to provide you with more information on hiking trails and diving.

*Christ of the Abyss Diving Information

*Hiking Coastal Pathway from Camogli to San Fruttuoso Information/Maps

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