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From Rapallo to Sestri

The spectacular stretch of Ligurian coast between Rapallo, Zoagli, Chiavari, Lavagna and the Baia delle Favole.

From Rapallo to Sestri

Travelling back along the coastal road from Portofino to Santa Margherita, after approximately 3kms, one arrives at San Michele di Pagana. This charming little fishing village and beach of Prelo, is situated on the Punta Pagana; a lush green promontory of coastal pine trees and holm oaks, which is home to one of Liguria's rare examples of a Saracen tower not to have been incorporated in other buildings. More than worthy of a visit, the completely restored tower provides a fascinating architectural testimony to an era when the Ligurian coastline was under constant attack from pirate ships.

The town of Rapallo is situated just two kilometers away from San Michele di Pagana. The town is known for its tradition of bobbin lacework, some of the most impressive examples of which are exhibited in Rapallo's Textile and Lace Museum, housed in the Villa Tigullio. Here, visitors can observe a work of lace, measuring over 8 meters in length, created according to the design of the Genoa-born artist and choreographer Lele Luzzati. Rapallo is also famous for its splendid castle, constructed directly above the sea in the mid 16th century, and its fabulous 18 hole, 70 par golf course. Guarding over the town, from its dominating position on the hillside, is the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Montallegro; one of the most important places of worship on the Riviera of the Levante. Legend has it that, on the 2nd of July 1557, the Virgin Mary appeared before the farmer Giovanni Chichizola who, having been entrusted with a Greek-Byzantine icon by the Madonna in person, asked that a church be built in which it might be housed. The sanctuary was consecrated two years later. The façade was reconstructed in Lombard neo-gothic style by the architect Luigi Rovelli towards the end of the 19th century, whilst the main alter is crowned by a silver screen behind which the precious image of the Dormito Virginis can still be seen. The apse is adorned with frescoes by Nicolò Barabino, painted some time around 1870.

Once back on the Aurelia, after 6km one arrives at the town of Zoagli, whose 18th century Church of San Martino houses important works of art: two sculptures attributed to Maragliano and a painting by Teramo Piaggio depicting the Madonna and Saints. Also to see; the Canevaro castle, a fortress which towers over the sea on the della Torre promontory, just outside the town.

Before arriving in Chiavari, a stop at the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie should be made so as to admire the invaluable cycle of frescoes recounting the Life of Christ and the Last Judgement, painted in the second half of the 16th century by Luca Cambiaso. On the main alter there is a Flemish Madonna delle Grazie, carved in wood.

Another 4km and one arrives at Chiavari, a town steeped in history, situated in the heart of the Tigullio Gulf. As testified by the presence of the remains of a pre-Roman necropolis, only to be discovered in 1959, the town has been inhabited since at least 700 B.C, when it was a chosen settlement of the Ligurian Tigulli tribe. In Medieval times, Chiavari was a flourishing maritime and merchant city, and much contested by Genoa and the counts of Lavagna. The historic center provides ample examples of the town's glorious past, with its maze of streets, protected by great Medieval Porticoes. The ancient heart of the town is best represented by via Martiri della Liberazione, locally known as the "Caruggio drito"; a favourite port of call for shopping enthusiasts, who would no doubt be loath to miss the Antiques Market held here on the second Sunday of the month beneath the porticoes.

Known for the skill of its carpenters since the 13th century, in the early 19th century Chiavari gained international fame thanks to Gaetano Descalzi and his "Chiavarine" chairs, which were both light yet extremely resistant, with a seat made of fine Indian cane. Another of the town's characteristic products is the Macramè, a towel made by hand, and with long twisted fringes: the name derives from the Turkish "makramà" meaning handkerchief. Still in the historic center, there is the 13th century Palazzo dei Portici Neri, the most significant example of non-religious medieval architecture in the Chiavari area. The cathedral is seat of the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora dell'Orto, founded in the 15th century. Altered in the 17th century, the church has a marble colonnade and three internal naves in which wooden statues by Maragliano and paintings by Orazio de Ferrari are conserved. The wooden stalls in the choir date back to the 17th century. Also to visit, the splendid Palazzo Rocca, the construction of which was commissioned by the Marquis Costaguta in 1629. Now home to the town's Archaeological Museum, the building contains a great number of fascinating exhibits dating back to prehistoric times. After having walked along avenues lined with palm, oleander and orange trees, the visitor reaches the seafront promenade, the tourist harbour, and kilometer after kilometer of well equipped beaches.

Just 4kms separate Chiavari from Lavagna; since medieval times the property of the noble Fieschi dynasty, and with a rich historical heritage perhaps best expressed in the fraction of Cogorno, where one finds the Basilica of San Salvatore; a quite outstanding example of Gothic architecture in Liguria. The façade is characterised by the use of alternating white marble and slate, and an immense rose window. It would be hard to comprehend the existence of such an imposing building on the outskirts of a tiny village, without linking it to the ruins of a building of about the same period situated close by. This edifice, complete with mullioned windows and fretwork, was once the private chapel of a residence built between 1245 and 1252, for Sinibaldo Fieschi, better known as Pope Innocent IV, who was much involved in the construction and decoration of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi.

Returning to the Aurelia, and having passed beyond Cavi, one arrives at the rocky dell'Isola promontory, a narrow strip of land on which the town of Sestri Levante was built, some 11kms from Lavagna in the extreme south-eastern point of the Tigullio Gulf. Impossible not to be seduced by this enticing coastline and its Baia delle Favole, named after the great Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen, who resided here for a lengthy period, and the Baia del Silenzio, with its enchanting golden beaches.

Just 7kms away is the Punta Manara Regional Nature Park, which towers above the sea from the dizzying heights of the cliff top. Close by, lies Riva Trigoso; the village where for centuries the traditional "leudi" have been constructed. These two mast sailboats were originally used for the transportation of wine, oil, cheese and products grown inland, along the Mediterranean sea routes. The Sagra del Bagnum, is a festival which celebrates the memory of this legendary era, when the "bagnum", a mixture of anchovies and biscuits, provided the staple diet of the seafarers.

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