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.
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
Also published on Medium.