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A taste of paradise

Camogli, Santa Margherita, Portofino: the pearls of the Ligurian Riviera.

A taste of paradise

On leaving Nervi, the last residential district of the eastern zone of Genoa, the Italian Riviera of Levante and the enticing Paradiso Gulf begins. The picturesque villages which are scattered along the curvy coastline are connected by the ancient Roman "Aurelia" roadway as far as Camogli and Punta Chiappa, wedged into the sea beneath Mount Portofino; a nature park perched on the cliff's edge, directly above the crystal clear waters of the Ligurian Sea.

Bogliasco, with its traditional, brightly colored houses and little beaches hidden amidst the rocks, is the first bathing resort one encounters, just 6kms outside of Nervi. Of considerable historic interest, the 18th century parish church built in honor of the Natività di Maria, in the grounds of which an antiques market is held every third Sunday of the month.

Some 2kms beyond the medieval bridge which crosses the Poggio torrent, one finds the village of Pieve Ligure, its houses clinging to the hillside, grouped around the extremely ornate baroque church of San Michele, positioned 4kms away from the Aurelia road. The Sant'Antonio Abate oratory, situated right on the coast, is well worth a visit. Here one finds three highly valued silver processional Crucifixes from the Anton Maria Maragliano school, and a 1520 polyptic by Francesco Sacchi. Having passed the stony Sori, the Aurelia leads on to Recco, a town which was almost entirely reconstructed after the devasting bombardments of the last world war and has gained considerable fame thanks to the legendary cheese filled focaccia bread produced here. The beach, home to a whole fleet of small sailing craft, and the ever busy seafront boulevard "Italia", are an impressive sight.

A further 4kms and one reaches the enchanting seaside village of Camogli, its streets lined with colourful cottages. Not to be missed, the Marinaro Gio Bono Ferrari Museum, where to experience a fascinating representation of the seafaring adventures of the men of Camogli who gave the town near celebrity status in the 19th century. Among the exhibits, there is a reproduction of the scene where Giuseppe Garibaldi was rescued from the Sabaudian police forces by a pole operated brigantine. At the end of the Salita Pinetto the Passeggiata Garibaldi begins; the seafront promenade which guides the visitor along the waters edge as far as the piazzetta opposite the small harbour.

Climbing up a flight of marble steps, one reaches the elegant Church of Santa Maria Assunta, inside which there is an incredible display of baroque decorations: volutes and stuccoes, polychrome marbles, sculptures and frescoed vaults. Opposite the church, there is the 14th century Dragone Castle, which today regularly houses important itinerant art exhibitions. Those who decide to continue the ascent, will be rewarded by the peace of the olive groves and the stunning panoramas surrounding the San Prospero Monastery; a place of worship built by the Olivetani in the 19th century, known for its invaluable library and for the miraculous Benedictine ointment, lovingly confectioned by the monks, and highly effective in the healing of wounds.

Before leaving Camogli, tourists should not fail to visit the San Fruttuoso Abbey, the construction of which dates back to 711. Accessible only by sea, on ferryboats which depart from Camogli, since the XIII century it houses the tombs of the Doria family in the crypt and in the surrounding waters, 17 meters below sea level, the statue of the Cristo degli Abissi, protector of divers. Perched on a hill above the harbour of Camogli, some 3kms away, there is Ruta with its 14th century parish church, a village which enamoured the eminent philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who resided there in 1886.

Having left Ruta, under the tunnels through which the Aurelia passes, one comes upon the fascinating scenery of the Tigullio Gulf, with Santa Margherita, Portofino, Rapallo and Zoagli. Once at San Lorenzo, drivers leave the Aurelia and in just 7kms arrive at Santa Margherita and one of the region's most celebrated sea front boulevards, lined with restaurants and Grand Hotels. The brightly painted houses, decorated with trompe-l'oeil motifs, create a colourful display in a seaside town characterised by tree lined avenues and lanes filled with the sweet smell of broom flowers where to explore the studios of craftsmen and artists. Villa Durazzo Centurione, situated in the highest part of the town, was built in 1560 by Galeazzo Alessi, the great mannerist architect who counted the most illustrious families of Genoa amongst his clients. In the villa's great frescoed halls, one can admire rare pieces of antique furniture and authentic old masters, including recently restored artworks by Domenico Piola and Gerolamo De Ferrari, two of the most highly quoted Ligurian artists from the second half of the 17th century.

From Santa Margherita, following the coastline in the direction of Portofino and after a brief detour, one comes across the Abbey of Cervara. Founded by the Benedictine monks, this vast religious complex which reached the height of its splendour in the 17th century, still houses a beautiful gothic church. Returned to its original form by way of an accurate restoration project, it provides a truly unique venue for art exhibitions, conferences, and classical music concerts.

Close by, one finds the romantic village of Paraggi, nestling in a miniscule bay. Four kilometers further and the road terminates at Portofino, the ancient Portus Delphini, known since the times of ancient Greece for its striking beauty. Since the mid 1800's it has been one of the world's most exclusive tourist destinations. The polychrome houses, typical of Liguria, create a spectacular backdrop to the celebrated Piazzetta, their colourful facades reflected in the shimmering waters of the bay, where a succession of luxurious yachts jostle for mooring space in the small harbour. The parish Church of San Martino, the Church of San Giorgio, and the 16th century Fortress of San Giorgio, are located on the hillside, from where to admire fabulous views over the picturesque bay and the town of Portofino.

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