We broke up a long drive through Tuscany from Porto Ercole by making some pit-stops in some very beautiful destinations (see here) but now we have entered the region of Liguria.Up toward the north-west of Italy it is perhaps more well-known for its beautiful port-side towns including the nature park of 'Cinqueterre' and the expensive town of Portofinowhere the rich and famous park their mega-yachts. As we flew down the autostrade at speeds we are becoming all too familiar with, we decided to skip those two busy tourist spots and headed instead for a lesser known but just as beautiful town half an hour further up on the waters edge called Camogli. It is here that we checked in to the Cernobio Dei Dogi Hotel which would prove to be a very good base for exploring the region in the short time we had left.
It is no secret that I loved the Amalfi Coast and as soon as I arrived here I saw some welcome similarities. The townships of Cinqueterre (meaning 'the five earths') and Portofino are made up of quaint little pastel coloured, matching buildings with green window shutters sandwiched side-by-side that along with the boat masts, ports and cascading green cliffs make for a breathtaking, picturesque landscape. You could easily mistake our town of Camogli for any of these postcard places as it shares this exact same outlook, along with the rest of the beautiful sea-side towns in this region to be honest. Our hotel is quite well-known in Camogli as it is one of the oldest and best hotels in town which sits right on the waters edge just a 50metre walk to the best part of the town and port. It was certainly a good choice for us then as a base to explore from with easy access by car, free valet parking and with amazing food from any of its three restaurants.
This area, close to the city of Genoa is known for having some unique types of Italian food. It was the birthplace of pesto (alla Genovese) and the thick focaccia very different to the thin, crispy pizzas and drier, thick breads in the south. Arriving quite late after our eventful drive we decided to settle straight in and rather than make a reservation at the restaurant downstairs decided to get the food delivered to our beautiful sea-view room which had a little private balcony overlooking the whole town. And so it was actually here in the comfort of my queen bed that I discovered my new pasta love, 'i pansotti'. These are a type of ravioli filled predominantly with spinach (not much cheese) served with a luscious thick creamy walnut sauce. That night, feeling a little lazy eating in our room we went for a short stroll around the town, past the restaurants and little shops with handmade products on the boardwalk to the sound of the waves lapping up on the black pebble beaches and with a beautiful breeze from the Dragonara Castle at the opposite end of the port.
Unfortunately as we slept, that beautiful breeze grew and brought over some clouds and some rain, and so our next day that was meant to be spent on a boat cruising around the ports of Cinqueterre was cancelled. The best way to visit those five towns is by sea, or by train which connects them all as they have very restricted access for cars (or Gianni says the area is known for its hiking trails, though unfortunately I am not known for my hiking capabilities). So we decided instead to leave that portion of our trip for another time as this is certainly an area we want to revisit with the summer sun! Instead we decided to explore Portofino which is a short 20 minute drive from Camogli literally up one side of the mountain and back down again. On the way though you pass through another town calledSanta Margherita Liguria and like us you will fall in love. A bigger town, with easy car access full of cute shops and hotels, I think we will give this place a try next time!
After working up an appetite with our shopping we got peckish so we followed the tiny winding roads onward to Portofino. As soon as you arrive to the town you know it is expensive, because the car parking was 8 Euro per hour! But that's not so bad because you don't need to spend much to get delicious food. We walked into a local pastry shop (pasticceria) and chomped on a very satisfying Genovese focaccia for just 4 euro! Right on cue though the rain started bucketing down, but we didn't let that stop us. With our umbrella we spent the rest of the afternoon admiring the scenery, getting lost in the little streets and casually taking shelter in some of the expensive boutiques because brand names seem to warm me up more than a coffee!
Before we knew it the sun had gone to sleep, so we hopped back in the car and headed back up to the top of Portofino to one of the best known hotels in the area, the Belmond Hotel Splendido. Set high up on its own terraces it boasts amazing views of the town below and it is frequented by the kinds of people who park their mega-yachts in the bay; Swiss bankers, billionaires and the pianist singing songs on request in his glitzy blue-sequinned dinner tux. The rain had still not subsided so we stepped inside to the bar for some aperitifs while we readied our stomachs for another feast.
As soon as we entered we knew that this was going to be another amazing experience with silver spoon service of the highest level to rival the Santa Caterina in Amalfi. For entree, Gianni went straight to the 'pansotti' because he was jealous of the ones I ordered the night before and boy were these delicious too. I ordered 'trofie' pasta with pesto, another simple and very tasty classic in this region, served straight from the copper saucepan in front of my eyes. Gianni followed that with a very modern plated suckling pig while I opted for tender veal medallions cooked in a thick sauce made from sweet wines grown in the region. It dawned on me just how much diversity there really is in Italian food and we have sampled a pretty fine array during our trip from the south-east (Puglia) to the north-west (Liguria) and everywhere in between. We finished our meal with another chocolate fondant dessert (yes it is a favourite) and an interesting 'hot and cold' cheesecake. Neither was really necessary though because the delicious petit-fours served after dessert with our coffees were made in-house by their pastry chef and were even more memorable! The music and dancing continues all night and before we knew it about 4 hours had gone by, the rain had subsided and we had made another lasting memory in a beautiful location.
As the sun rose the next morning I realised we would not see another sun set on the water for a while now as today we say goodbye to the gorgeous western coast of Italy and head back down inland to the heart of Tuscany to the city I fell in love with most during our last travels here on our honeymoon; Florence!
Special Thanks to: