An active day [or not] along the Italian Riviera

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

For the most active ones, this article describes a day packed with activities from biking, to hiking and swimming. All the villages described can also be reached by train and boat from Genoa to enjoy their charms, cultural sites and delicious food without getting sweaty (nor desperately trying to find a parking spot)!

Early in the morning from the lovers’ path in Nervi, I observe the Ligurian Sea. A few buoys signal free divers spearfishing at large, some swim long distances on the flat sea and a few kayak along the cropped coastline. Others stay on land, running or biking along the stunning coastal path. For most, this is a morning routine: after all, this residential district is only 12 kilometres from the centre of Genoa, more known as an industrial, maritime and financial hub than a holiday destination. The off-the-beaten path city that may even have a rather bad reputation is actually a gem to be discovered like many off-the-beaten path destinations in Italy. Its surroundings known as the Italian Riviera are worth exploring beyond the world-famous Portofino and Cinque Terre.

We hop back on our bikes to follow the lovers’ path. Its small beach clubs with restaurants and deckchairs overlooking the sea are very inviting. The path itself goes along the Parks of Nervi, a green oasis, before ending on the tiny beach of Spiaggia Capolungo.

We push hard on our pedals to merge onto the main road, Via Aurelia. Hugging the shoreline as much as possible, a small detour through Bogliasco has us discover the charming village centre and its pebble beach with its traditional small fishing boats.

The coastal road is busy with cars and scooters and its stunning scenery is the perfect distraction during long uphill sections. Colourful characteristic buildings, traditional villas overlooking the sea, walls of bougainvillea or jasmine contrast with the turquoise blue of the sea and the green of the mountains.

After a steep downhill, the cute harbour of Camogli calls for a nice break. Beyond the postcard-perfect setting with colourful traditional fishing boats in front of tall buildings painted in warm colours, the best focaccia around Genoa are baked here, at Revello. Given the fact that Genoa is the capital of focaccia and that the province of Liguria is a foodie paradise, it does not take much too assume that these are simply the best focaccia of Italy! It shows looking at the pride of the owner when he describes them: of course, the traditional plain one, whether enjoyed along a cappuccino, or as local Genoese do, dipped into it, and also the delicious cheese focaccia, or the onion version to only name a few.

In Camogli, there is the option to take the boat to San Fruttuoso or to burn the calories of the focaccia on the long uphill above the village! The effort is at the measure of the stunning vistas. Soon, a narrow country road amongst olive trees cultivated in terraces offers sweeping views on the Santa Margherita Ligure side of the hill.

Once the road turns into a rocky trail, it is time to attach the bikes and start the hike. The path gains altitude fast through a forest of chestnut trees to reach its culminating point on Mount Portofino, about 500 meters above sea level. From there, it is all the way down to the abbey of San Fruttuoso that can only be accessed on foot or by boat. The forest provides a welcome shade and the stream that allowed the settlement of the monks in this small and protected cove, an enjoyable refreshment. The abbey reveals itself slowly with the turquoise water of the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop.

First a small church built in the 8th century, the Benedictine monastery dates back to the year 1000. It still houses the remains of Saint Fruttuoso, a bishop from Tarragona, Spain who was martyred by the Romans in the 3rd century. Since the 13th century, the Doria’s, one of the most powerful families of the Genoese Republic had funded the abbey until 1983, making it their resting place. This is thanks to this patronage that the monks could expand the abbey and this explains the Genoese-palace style of the building facing the sea.

The architecture of the secluded abbey is even more fascinating from the water. The small cove houses two small beaches. Swimming in the warm waters, I turn back to look at this stunning site. The monastery on the beach, a few traditional houses recalling the small fishing village and the 1562 Genoese watchtower to protect the site from pirates with the wooded slope of Mount Portofino in the background make San Fruttuoso unique and special.

Travel tips:

  • Biking is an ideal way to explore the coast as driving and parking turns out to be a nightmare fast, especially during the high season. To get back follow the same way and enjoy the thrilling downhills!
  • Should you want to do what most do:
    • take the train from Genoa to Camogli,
    • then hop on a boat to San Fruttuoso.
    • For the way back, you can come back the same way, or
    • take a boat to Portofino and then San Margherita Ligure
    • from San Margherita Ligure, take a train back to Genoa
    • you can stop in Nervi on the way back for dinner.
  • We would like to thank BeautifuLiguria, an Italian-based boutique tour operator that crafts unique tailor-made travel experiences for their support and excellent advice that helped us craft this unique adventure.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.

Like it? Pin it!

Italian Riviera - Pinterest PIN - Italy

For more in Liguria, click on these images:

Coastal villages with their harbours in Cinque Terre, Italy Vineyards on a slope above the sea, grapes and bottles of wine in Italy Woman making fresh pesto in Cinque Terre, Italy

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