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.