The small, elegant harbor of Portofino in Liguria has long been a haven for the rich and famous. Sapphire colored waters rimmed by pastel-painted buildings makes this fishing village and holiday resort magnetic. Known during the early Roman era as Portus Dolphini, attributed to the many dolphins on the coast during that time, Portofino has been a sought-after playground for centuries. Steven Spielberg, Chris Martin, Rihanna, Kate Moss, and Russian billionaire Andry Melnichenko, among others, have often been spotted relaxing on their yachts or enjoying the small town ambiance. Read more →
The Italian Riviera is one of my favorite places on earth. Beginning from Genoa and running south along the coastline to Portovenere, small towns along the way are a delight to explore. Camogli, Nervi and Santa Margherita are a few of the exceptional little villages that delight and charm. But they have another unique attraction that is most outstanding. Many of their houses and villas are painted with gorgeous exterior decoration. Caught up in this fascination with illusion, I spent a good amount of time seeking them out.
While walking through the maze of streets in these villages just this last September, several tall narrow houses caught my eye as being especially ornate. When I looked closer I was stunned to realize that some of the upper story windows were actually painted-on. Other houses had painted-on shutters, window frames, fancy stencil work around windows and even flowering window boxes. I had never seen anything like this before, and so I needed to investigate.
I researched further and found that corner stones were often painted-on where there weren’t any, washing lines full of clothes and even birds nests up high near the roof. Unbelievable, yet so detailed that it was difficult to tell what was real.
There are interesting historical ways of thinking in these communities that have made a tradition of decorative illusionism. Since the Renaissance, painted illusions creating optical tricks were popular especially in northern Italy. The Ligurians in particular used cosmetic exterior decoration on their facades to create an illusion of beauty.
Many of the houses in Liguria were built tall and narrow because of space restrictions. Several share exterior walls and remain attached in a continuous line. But the Ligurians have a reputation of being a pragmatic people, so by painting on windows, shutters and all kinds of adornments, they were able to dress up their homes without the added cost. They knew just how to dazzle the eye with charming appeal by elegant artistry.
This top row of windows could be painted-on. The use of shading created incredible 3-D effects that makes it difficult to know for sure.
It’s not unusual to see painted garlands gently hanging below a roofline, colorful ribbons over doorways, arches, porticoes, and curlicues. Like a blank canvas, the houses were bedecked and embroidered in the most attractive styles. I never saw two that looked just alike.
Evidently trompe l’oeil was first used by the ancient Greeks and then by Roman muralists. During the early Renaissance, false frames were painted depicting still life or portraits spilling out of them, and window-like images were painted on walls and ceilings that appear as actual openings.
These two paintings, for example, depict the same effect as the house facades do. By using innovative painting techniques, a flat surface comes to life by creating a sense of depth, and the eye is tricked. Notice the little cherubs standing on the rim and the faces gazing downward. The bucket balancing on the pole is very effective.
Even the frame is painted to complete this visual effect of the boy crawling out of the frame. By looking at these examples of trompe l’oeil, it begins to explain how these house facades particular to the Italian Riviera are achievable.
To this day, as I re-visit Camogli and the other surrounding villages on the Riviera, I gravitate to any charming house gaily decorated and take a closer look. And sure enough, those painted-on windows, cornerstones, curlicues and embellishments are truly exquisite.
“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 Camogliand 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 medievaland 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.
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 Abysslooks 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!
There are no roads to San Fruttuoso, but there are well-advertised boat trips which leave several times a day from Camogli, Portofinoand 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.
“With the Mediterranean on one side and the Alps on the other, this new cycle-pedestrian path is one of the most beautiful in Europe, the first on the Italian Sea.” Claudio Burlando, developer of Cycling Riviera
Liguria has a brand new cycling/pedestrian pathway that hugs the coastline and provides level, bump-free pedaling. Come experience the beauty of the Italian Riviera by bicycle. Cascading flowers cover old rock walls, palms sway in the cool ocean breeze that carry the citrus scent of lemon trees, and sandy beaches edge the wide expanse of the ocean. Vineyards and olive groves creep up the terraced hillsides, nourished by the warmth of sole. Sun-washed and sophisticated, the Riviera is picture-perfect.
Stretching for 74 km altogether, the Cycling Rivierapathway runs from Tuscany to the south of France. The eco-friendly cycling path is smooth and wide, with plenty of room for every speed of bicyclist. The first 24km stretch, from Ospedaletti via San Remo (think Casino) to San Lorenzo al Mare, follows an old railway line, winding though eight historic fishing villages. However, several options for shorter bicycling routes are given in the link at the bottom of this article. Some of the pathway goes through a tunnel that is well-lit and roomy.
“This is the first time in Italy we are replacing an old railroad with a cycle/pedestrian path that will create a protected natural environment, car free, and tourist friendly,”said Tullio Russo, a member of the private partnership that developed the project. The path provides access to pristine beaches and an ecological coastal sea park that protects a whale sanctuary. For those who want to ride further, the path becomes a gateway to the Milano-San Remo route. Mountain bikers can explore the nearby Maritime Alps.
Liguria is actually separated into two “Rivieras.” To the west is the Riviera di Ponente, which hosts resort towns like San Remo. The Riviera di Levante to the east, with classy Portofino and the dramatic Cinque Terre, is preferred by many writers and artists. Genoa, the Ligurian capital, separates the two of them.
During the 19th century, the Riviera was famous with European expats who outnumbered the locals. Wealthy aristocrats were attracted to the very temperate climate, amusing themselves with lavish botanical gardens. They gambled in the casino’s of San Remo, and dined in several fine art-nouveau villas.
The Villa Hanbury, also associated with Villa della Pergola, was popular with Queen Victoriaand later Winston Churchillas a holiday stay. The last years of Alfred Nobelwere spent here. Worthy of a peek, the villa is located in Alassio, just 20 km from San Remo and not far from the cycling path.
Of particular delight are the unique local wines and foods of Liguria. Stop along the way for a taste of the famous Taggiasche Olives, the unusual Albenga purple asparagus, or the Ligurian red prawns. The basil Pesto sauceis the culinary masterpiece of Liguria. Being on a bicycle makes so many things possible, providing the flexibility to explore as parts of the pathway wind through villages.
So much to see and do on bicycle, and so little time. Choose your itinerary and proceed with reckless abandon. A great memory is in the making.
(see link below for pathway sections, bicycle rentals and eating/drinking ideas along the way)
Live four days in the Middle Ages. Shows, games of yesteryear and wine cellars open for the highlight of the summer in Albenga.
Historic Palio dei Rioni, 2013, the historic center of Albenga 18 to 21 July 2013.
The Italian Riviera is one of my favorite places on earth, and for good reason. Not only for the music festivals, the long and languid beaches, and zipping around on my Vespa, but I am always mesmerized by the swaying palms and salty ocean breezes that cool my weary mind from a full day of sightseeing, chatting with the locals, and keeping my writings up do date. So what’s a lady on a travel assignment to do? She turns her hot little pink Vespa toward Albenga!
Albenga, a town of pre-Roman origin up the lovely Ligurian coastline from San Remo, is a lively town full of team spirit. With eighteen towers-originally there were fifty-surrounding town walls, it features a definite medieval ambience. Dancers, jugglers, knights and ladiesin costume will lure you in if you happen upon this idyllic Riviera town from July 18th to the 21st. It even gets better–between the ancient alleys you will find the most splendid food and wine taverns and innsthat offer the most exquisite medieval specialtiesserved from locals dressed in complete authentic time period dress.
The Palio is a rivalry between the four districts within the commune of Albenga. It is interesting to note the names of the districts. They are St. Eulalia, Santa Maria, San Giovanni and San Siro. Not only are the people committed to their contrada, they are fierce in competition with good nature, of course.
More than fifty wineries open, scattered around the four districts for tastings. You will be entertained by everything under the sun; fire-eaters, jugglers, musicians, duels, falconers, and tests of skill in which the districts partake in slingshot, archery, shooting with the rope and ‘Game of the medieval family.’ And of course, a beauty pageantto elect the most beautiful lady of the Palio.
Take a look at the following video to experience the ambience of the Palio dei Rioni. I could not have taken a better video.
Saturday, July 13
Press conference for the presentation of the event.
Sunday, July 14
11.00, Piazza Trincheri, affixing plaque in memory of Mr. Vincenzo Dagnino
• Eater jesters and traveling.
• Benches “teaching” of various arts and crafts: managed by experienced staff
with practical demonstrations – Archivolto Via del Teatro, Piazza San Francesco
• Duels with weapons in various wards.
• Music Performance and juggling in the streets.
• Appearing armed and civil
• The Company “Jesters of the truck” with juggling, balancing on rollers, pitchers of daggers, comedy and minstrels, fire eaters and fire-breathing
• Live music with the “Futhark”
• Educational Laboratory Medieval – Piazza Rossi
• Donkeys around
• Show with mannequins on clothing civil and military of the thirteenth century
and audiovisual comment – Old Ass At Albenga, Via Roma
• Camp in Piazza IV Novembre
Shows in Piazza San Michele:
• Tournament walk among warriors in armor
• Show with melee and a fight between warriors in armor
• Performances by falconers • Duels with various weapons
• Performances of music and juggling
Games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
• Shooting a slingshot – S. Francis 19.00;
• Archery– Cloister Oratory NSdella Mercy 20.30;
• Shooting with the rope – S. Michele 21.30;
• Game of “the medieval family” – S. Michele 22.30;
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Acrobale in Piazza S. Francesco
Thursday, July 18
17.30 Ceremony of the issue dell’Albenghino – S. Michele
18.00 Holy Mass – Cathedral S. Michele
19.00 Investiture of the captains of the districts – S. Michele
19.15 Performance of the flag wavers
19.30 Historical procession through the streets of the historic center
20.00 Opening cellars
– Representation of an assassination attempt on the mayor
and the imperial legate by assassins – Piazza S. Michele
– “Re-enactment of medieval wedding” and “Wedding Party”
Rione San Siro – S. Domenico
Friday, July 19
21.30 “Medieval Feast”: Rione San Siro – S. Domenico
Saturday, July 20
21.30 “Medieval Feast”: Rione San Siro – S. Domenico
Sunday, July 21
19.30 Historical procession through the streets of the historic center
23.30 Performance of the flag wavers
23:50 hours and Election pulcherrima Puella statement
the winner of the historic Palio 2013