A Notable and Truly Steep Hike in Rapallo, Italy

with 18 Comments

If there’s a hike to remember around Rapallo on the Italian coast, it’s the one down from Nostra Signora di Montallegro located above the city.

The Hotel Vesuvio concierge, Luciano, checked our footwear (Oboz hiking shoes) and forewarned: “It is very steep.” Unlike previous trail descriptions from other Italians, Luciano wasn’t kidding.

You could certainly climb up the trail, relax a bit, and come back down, but plan on an early morning start and taking most of the day to do it. For us, we took Luciano’s advice and rode the funivia 600 meters up and then hiked the return. The cable car ride was my first and quite a spectacular way to see a broad bit of the Ligurian coast, sprawling out from the midst of Rapallo. It would be stunning to take this trip at sunset and catch the colorful red glows as they bounce off the huge rocks and churning waters of the Gulf of Tigullio.

The church is a short walk from the funivia stop with carved and roofed stations of the cross posted along the way. Some churches you sneak up on, rounding a corner and seeing them all at once. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro Cathedral has a resplendent approach to the wide marble facade with ornate details and tall steeples. It gives you time to get accustomed to its exterior grandeur and to what awaits inside.

The story is that the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant in 1557 and instructed him to build a church on the spot. As you can guess, the gent had quite the time of it convincing the papal powers to believe him, but eventually he won out—lucky for us.

During the less than eight-minute cable car jaunt, I noticed a man who had obviously taken this trip more than once. I discovered why once inside the church, where mass was being held. This fellow was assisting the priest, doing bible readings. It somehow made it more special. It’s always memorable to recognize the cadence of the Lord’s Prayer in another language.

After mass, we walked to one of the two restaurants, Il Pellegrino, located near the church and enjoyed a frothing cappuccino and espresso before starting down. You might do as I did and take some time to savor your coffee and make notes about your trip. An idea to keep in mind is to take the funivia up for an evening meal and watch that sunset I mentioned before.

The head of the path is beside the cable car station, off to the side, encased in the trees. It’s one of the few spots where steps are concrete.

Path beside the funivia, Rapallo
Path beside the funivia

And thus begins your descent.

Having hiked the first two miles of the Na’pali trail in Kauai, I thought I understood what down meant. Nope. Not until you’ve walked on stone trails laid by Romans. Our friend Lorenzo explained that the stones are laid sideways for multiple reasons: to keep them from sliding out of place, to provide better traction for sandaled foot and shoed hoof, and for simple durability. Since Italian trails endure a long time, you can believe the Romans knew what they were doing.

The hike takes between 1-1.5 hours, depending on how often you stop for photo opportunities. There are multiple shady areas, so don’t worry about baking in the sun the entire journey. It is a difficult hike in that you are constantly descending. Even when the path switches right or left, there is no reprieve from the downward walking. Hiking poles can help with the force of this motion of your toes pushing toward the front of your shoes, but be prepared.

Back in town, don’t forget the delightful respite waiting for you on the Promenade, where the people watching commences and spritzer consuming begins.

NEXT: Surviving the hike from Portofino to San Fruttuoso

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Also published on Medium.

18 Responses

  1. Erica M
    | Reply

    I went on a hike a couple years ago that was almost completely vertical. I wanted to cry. And I was hiking with this group of people I didn’t know who were all “hard bodies” and in amazing shape. It is funny to laugh about it now, but it was horrible then. I think the cable car for sure was a good choice to go up. And it sounds like you had a good hike on the way down.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      You blogged about that, didn’t you, Erica? My sister and I are very leery of hiking with her mountain-man husband. His legs are very strong and he hikes mountains–seriously–in addition to being a stone mason. We are decidedly not that strong! I would have been like you and near tears, too. I want the hike to be enjoyable and like William said, I want to enjoy the scenery, take lots of photos and let God’s world seep into me.
      It’s good to laugh about these things later!

  2. Jeri
    | Reply

    City hiking on pavement and stairs is a different beast than a steep mountain hike. I’m glad you had shade though. Last summer when I was in Ashland, Oregon, my love was like, “Let’s walk to this other park I see on the map.” Oh man… the map on the phone didn’t make clear it was quite the climb, and then when we got there, it was a shadeless hilltop–very crispy but with a decent view of the city. I can only wait until off-trail Tom strikes again!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Sounds like off-trail Tom did to you what I did to my sister, Jackie, once in the Cinque Terre. My words were more like, “How bad can it be?” Ut oh. Thankfully, back then we were both in good climbing (wooden stairs, no stairs, just path, woods, stones–hey, it’s Italy, right?) shape…but she was still ready to strangle me when we were done. Thank goodness for wine! Hope Tom provided that at the end!

  3. Doreen Pendgracs
    | Reply

    I agree, Rose. Vertical hiking on stone stairs or cliffs is definitely more difficult than hiking on natural terrain. My knees hate going down a steep incline, so I have to be careful and avoid vertical inclines for long periods of time. Nice to see you fit that travel journal into a photo. I’m sure many of your readers would benefit from having one to jot down their memories and feelings. Keep on trucking! 🙂
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..enjoying the good life in Quebec’s Eastern TownshipsMy Profile

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Alex’s knees are the same way, Doreen. For me, it’s my toes – skinny problem feet. Yeah, yeah, I probably need custom orthopedics one of these days.
      Thank for noticing (how could you miss it?) the Travel Journal!

  4. William Rusho
    | Reply

    I liked the adventure of hiking. I would recommend you go with someone who has the same motives as yourself. I once went hiking with someone, whose goal was the hike. I wanted to stop and see all the attractions and views, they kept going.
    It is marvelous that stones from the Roman era are still there and being used. Truly amazing.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Definitely, William. I, too, have been on an adventure where I suddenly realized: ut oh, we are not after the same experience. Big bummer.

      Those Romans knew what they were up to!

  5. Emily
    | Reply

    Big fan of hiking, would probably skip visiting the church as I saw many churches when I was in Europe but would definitely do the hike!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      Hi Emily, different things for all of us. I love the churches of Europe and the castles of Wales and intend to go in every one of them that I possibly can! And hiking is sure a great way to see a country..and meet people.

  6. Phoenicia
    | Reply

    I would love to go hiking Rose Mary
    I like the great outdoors once the weather is dry. The view from Ilpelgrino is stunning – I am sure it looks all the more breathtaking in the flesh.

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      I agree on the being dry outside when hiking, Phoenicia. I’ve hiked in other weather, but it’s not a treat. Rapallo is breathtaking!

  7. Donna Janke
    | Reply

    Nostra Signora di Montallegro looks impressive. And I would certainly be ready for a spritzer after the walk down!

    • Rose Mary Griffith
      | Reply

      The churches intrigue me, Donna, and it’s going to get hot enough today for me to whip up one of those spritzers!

  8. Rose Mary Griffith
    | Reply

    Everything’s better with a cappuccino, Ken!

  9. Ken Dowell
    | Reply

    Looks beautiful. Loved the view from Il Pelligrino. Sure it’s even nicer if you have a cappuccino to go along with it.

  10. Jackie
    | Reply

    I’m impressed that you rode the cable car! Looks lovely, as usual!

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