While clicking through my photos of Italy this morning, I stumbled across this one. Immediately, I felt a rush of warm affection as I recalled my encounter with ‘Sylvia.’ She was a nun at the monastery in Chiavari, where I found lodging for a few nights while exploring parts of the Italian Riviera.
So what did I find so special about Sylvia? To be honest, I didn’t get to know her very well at all. She spoke little English which is typical of the nuns in Italian monasteries. I was usually gone exploring so we didn’t spend much time together. But what I do recall is her spirit of hospitality that tenderly touched my own.
Sylvia seemed to pop out of the woodwork whenever I came down for breakfast or walked down the hallway toward the lobby. She was there when I left in the morning and when I returned at night. Her eyes and smile always found me and with unspoken words communicated a love and affection that humbled me. I knew I had a true friend, someone who genuinely cared.
In the breakfast room she always brought a heaping plate of meat and cheese with rolls for my husband who accompanied me. When we left on the last day, she came outside and crossed the parking lot to wish us ‘buon viaggio’ as we were getting into our car. Her hugs were full of goodwill, and her smile traveled with us throughout the day, making it an exceptionally beautiful one.
Some people come into our lives for only a few brief moments, but they leave a lasting impression of an uncommon love and genuine concern. Sylvia left me with the knowledge that I truly mattered.
Soaking up the sun-splashed beauty of the Italian Riviera is time well spent. The coastline is scattered with quaint and friendly seaside villages, each one unique from the others. Tall stately villas painted in warm pastel colors rise to meet the sun. Light and shadows play on the streets, bringing a depth and texture that can only be found here. The Riviera has a style all its own.
One late afternoon in Chiavari, a charming little town just south of Genoa, I found an outdoor table on the promenade. I had been wandering the waterfront and decided a glass of wine would be a perfect way to soak up the ambiance. You can imagine my surprise when the server brought my wine along with this huge plate of appetizers. “Complimentary,” he told me. Needless to say, it was delicious…and dinner never happened that evening!
The stately promenade runs along the shoreline where a passigatta seems to be continually happening. Chiavari’s wide, pristine beaches have been celebrated as a Blue Flag beach (very clean) since 1987. Sunbathers and boaters alike dominate the scene during summer.
The village of Chiavari is very charming. Colors of ochre bring a richness to the towering buildings. Many have elegantly outlined windows and painted on shutters. In fact, these painted houses are very common all along the Riviera. It seems likely that this practice was an effort to prevent glare from the sun off of white buildings. However, sailors may very well have appreciated the ability to identify their own homes from a distance.
For over a hundred years, the warm Mediterranean climate attracted celebrities from central and northern Europe and Russia as a place to escape the drab and rainy weather of home.
In the historical center of town, arcades and buildings date back to the 13th century. As I walked underneath the long rows of arcades, I noticed the width and height very dissimilar as I passed by. Many of the support columns were of different shapes and sizes.
Chiavari was for centuries an important commercial port. Hundreds of commercial businesses conducted a variety of activities under these old arcades, some of which still exist in hidden places.
The Genoese streets are perfectly straight and cross each other at regular intervals. Often in Italian towns, streets become a maze for lack of an established plan. But here in Chiavari, the layout is very definite and precise. The lovely Genoese palaces that line some of these streets add a sense of palatial elegance.
Every conceivable spot was taken in the motorcycle park located a few blocks toward the center of town. The roads all along the Riviera are narrow and winding. I can understand the need for small speedy transportation.
This Sanctuary was built between 1613 and 1633 by Leoni Cesario Marro. It was entrusted to the Carmelite monks until they left in 1797. Inside are several valuable pieces of artwork dating from the mid-1600’s.
This bakery put Chiavari on the map for me as well. My prosciutto, mozzarella and pesto panini was delicious and I shamelessly devoured it in no time at all.
Chiavari has a thriving outdoor market community. Like a hive of bees, locals and tourists alike gathered tightly about the tables, picking and choosing brightly colored fruits and vegetables, hearty slabs of cheese, fresh sliced salami and meats, bread, honey and many other desirable items. Vendors gave generous portions of samples. I snagged myself a hunk of white cheese that was delicious.
As soon as boxes were emptied, they were immediately refilled by the merchants who kept more piled underneath their tables.
Chiavari is a haven of rest and relaxation in an exotic locale. The palm-lined seafront and winding medieval streets both lead to new discoveries that reveal the heart of the Italian Riviera.
Lovely Portovenere captivates, even on a rainy day. Picturesquely situated on the Riviera of Liguria, this cobbled and quaint little village offers a dose of old Italy in colorful hues.
On an early morning exploration of the Italian Riviera just this last September, I left Chiavari and headed south along the coast. Portovenere was on my radar, and I wasn’t about to let grey billowy rain clouds change my plans. When I did arrive, I was greeted by a thunderous torrent. So much for hospitality!
Fortunately the downpour eased up into a light sprinkle before long. But meanwhile I found refuge under this waterfront cafe.
Established since the first century BC, Portovenere was originally named “Portus Veneris,” translated ‘Port of Venus’. A temple of the goddess Venus is thought to have stood on the rugged cliff overlooking the sea where San Pietro church stands today (more of this in my next post), just above the village. In Roman times, Portovenere was a fishing community much like today, except now the harbor is dotted with trendy sailboats and yachts.
Greeted by tall pastel-colored houses, a medieval tower and castle crenelations, I passed a refreshment stand at the opening of the old town and proceeded through the archway (mid-picture).
The archway into the village and the surrounding walls were built in the mid 12th century. It has been resized a time or two, making it smaller. Above the arch is an old Latin inscription. An effigy of the “white Madonna,” patron saint of the village, was on the wall. Her feast day is celebrated in August, with hundreds of oil lamps lit at night that float on the water beside a torchlight procession. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful sight?
Narrow gray brick streets centuries old dipped and swayed a bit in places. Tiny shops framed the street in tightly, some of their wares spilling out the doors. They were so colorful and intriguing, I must have peaked my head into all of them. Handmade gifts, olive oil, prosciutto, cheese, clothing, shoes, cafe’s, pizzeria’s, gelato, galleries, local Ligurian ceramics and handiwork….all creatively adorned.
The Calata Doria, or the quay, is lined with tall narrow houses six to eight stories high. Built in the middle ages, these buildings served as defensive towers against invading pirates. This position directly above the harbor gave them the advantage of escaping out the back doors and up the hill to the old Genovese castle fortress.
Below are stairs I descended to the waterfront. Long, dark and spooky, I can envision marauding pirates rushing up the stairs with knives in their teeth!
At the end of the street through the village, vaulted walkways and stairs lead up to the most exotic part of town. The old church of San Pietro sits perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Ruins of the well-preserved Genovese castle rise majestically above it. The famous Cove of Poets lies below, the subject of a surprising story.
I’m excited to share the illustrious history and unstated charm of these cliffhanger dwellings in my next post. Coming very soon…..Stay tuned…..
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Prisms of crystal illumination fascinate me. Beams of refracted light coursing through an object and projecting colorful rays on surfaces leave me spellbound. What I stumbled upon inside the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta at Camogli during a recent visit brought this vision to mind.
After leaving Chiavari on a grey morning in late September, I headed up the Ligurian coastline to explore some of the villages on the Riviera before reaching Genoa. Blue skies fought against the dark clouds that threatened rain for most of the morning, finally claiming victorious sunshine by afternoon. It was then I arrived at Camogli.
Pulling up on a road above the little village, I parked the car and walked down toward the waterfront. As tall narrow pastel houses began to loom up before me, my pace quickened. I could see a glimpse of the water just beyond them, on the other side of a small piazza. Finally reaching it, I noticed a bay hugging the cobblestones. It was very much alive with many colorful bobbing boats.
After stopping for a delicious Affogato, an espresso with crema gelato, I wandered up to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. It rose like a bulwark, a mighty fortress showing the wear of time and the relentless lashing of waves. I walked around it to the right and started ascending a narrow flight of old marble stairs.
I came upon this beautiful stone mosaic floor with star designs which made me think of Mary. She has often been referred to as being the ‘star of the sea.’ Perhaps this was intended to symbolize her.
As I turned and entered the thirteenth century basilica, I was immediately taken with its beauty and regal ambience. But what caught my eye more than anything else were the many crystal chandeliers hanging all about the interior. Dangling in chime-like elegance, it was a magnificent view to behold. It didn’t take much to envision this entire basilica lit only by the chandeliers at night.
The following photos were taken that day and I would love to share them with you.
Built in 1200 next to the town castle as a chapel, the basilica stood high on a rocky promontory that was only accessible by a wooden bridge since it was separated from the coast. Today, after several renovations over the centuries, it rests on a cobblestone square reachable by a marble staircase. The neoclassical facade gives way to a beautiful baroque interior.
The remains of St. Fortunato, patron saint of fishermen and sailors, rests in the basilica as well as St. Prospero, patron saint of the city.
Before leaving the basilica, I saw the beach with sunbathers through a window. Heaven, sky, land and sea brought rhythm and harmony to this glorious old basilica. The modern and the ancient, today and yesterday, nature and golden prisms became one complete presence that lingers on in my storehouse of treasured memories.
Who could guess that our beautiful day in Chiavari on the Italian Riviera would switch from lovely to thunder and lightning flashes all night long? The morning brought relentless sheets of rain bashing my umbrella as I tried to navigate this new land of puddles and wet shoes. With much sightseeing yet to do, I have decided to forge ahead in the torrents. So much to do, and such little time left. My home in NW Oregon has made me toughen up to wet, blustery weather, so this was nothing new to me.
Casa Rosmini, my residence for three nights, is a beautiful convent with the most accommodating and loving Sisters. At the door, I was instantly greeted with cheery and welcoming smiles, taken up to my room, and shown where to park my car. It wasnt til after all of this that my passport was requested. Later that evening after returning from a beachfront dinner and relaxing walk along the waterfront, I returned to be greeted again at the door by one of the Sisters asking me if I had eaten dinner yet. After I patted my tummy and assured her I was well fed, she grinned and retreated into the shadows of her room. I love these ladies…..they bring sunshine on the worst of days.
Today I venture out to explore some of the legendary towns of the Italian Riviera. Stay tuned as I share my discoveries….coming very soon!
The following website provides great info on Casa Rosmini. I booked my lodging here through Monastery Stays.