When we first decided to go to the Italian coast this spring, we were headed to Portofino.
One good search by our travel agent (my husband), revealed high hotel prices, which led us to Rapallo on the Golfo del Tigullio instead. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or lacking in the small village of Portofino (population around 700), after all, one of my favorite stays in life happened twice at the La Torretta Lodge in Manarola (population less than 500).
That said, I’m ever so happy to have wound up in Rapallo. In the mid-19th century, people started to discover this gorgeous haven with its moderate temperatures and highly walkable promenade. This visit made us understand the draw.
Just shy of 31,000 residents, Rapallo has a lot to offer, including what turned out to be a favorite daily activity: simply wandering the winding streets to see what new discovery we would make and could we find our way back to the hotel? Oh, yes, head toward the crisp, clear sea air and all would be good.
We stayed at the Hotel Vesuvio, yards from the Riviera di Levante coastline. We opted for a bit of a splurge on the topmost corner room and it was well worth it. The sidewalk, Lungomare Vittorio Veneto (street), promenade (then water) are all busy, busy, busy, but the voices are full of laughter, the cars and scooters subdued and, well, who doesn’t love to people-spy from five stories up?
Even if the room wasn’t great (it was), you’d have to love the staff at the hotel. Friendly, helpful, kind, fun…you couldn’t ask for better people to make your stay worthwhile. Family-owned, we spoke mostly with Luciano, who advised on hiking down from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro, even checking our footwear to make sure it would stand up. (Side note: our Oboz hiking shoes were well-appreciated on this steep downward walk, as were my Black Diamond trekking poles.)
The scooters whiz around with all manner of drivers guiding them. They are a part of the culture, the life style, so vehicle drivers know to watch out for them. We saw the immediate aftermath of a panel van colliding with a motorcycle on one of the bridges. Hearing the thunk, we turned our heads and there it was. No yelling or blaming, but three men piling out of the van, rushing to the cyclist and helping him up with great concern. Each appeared shaken.
The Rapallo Castle, circa 1550, alluded us. We found it just fine—it would be hard to miss jutting out into the water and looking like the solid fortress it started as. We tried two different times to enter, interested initially in the art display being held. A woman watched us walk the start of the red carpet up to the top of the stairs and then motioned, quite forcefully, away-away. They were going to close for lunch in ten minutes, but she wouldn’t let us in for a glance. Another day, having planned our schedule to work with the hours, we tried again. We weren’t halfway up the stairs this time when she abruptly pointed at us and again motioned to go away. Curious, we watched from the sidewalk as she let other people in. Did she simply not like the look of us?
No matter, we had plenty of entertainment watching the goings on around the castle.
The Italian people are a resilient lot. We’d been to Monterosso in the Cinque Terre, which is one of the rare sand beaches along this stretch. It was a bit of a shock to see, from San Fruttuoso to Rapallo, stony shores being enjoyed by large numbers of people. As folks who’ve been in four of the Hawaii islands and walked both shores of the USA, we’re accustomed to the soft, hot sands under our feet…except for the volcanic side of The Big Island…ah, the things we choose to overlook.
There were hardy folks scattered on every piece of land with water lapping against it, happy as if they’ve found rest on the perfect mattress. The beaches are public lands but are often divided by companies offering services such as umbrellas and chaise lounges.
A feature of Rapallo are the 1950s changing huts on the piers jutting into the water, making use of every available space for sunning. We heard them referred to lidos, which makes sense, especially when they were erecting a large above ground pool, having imported sand for the base of it.
Water taxis were another thing we hadn’t seen before. Located near the bridge by the Christoper Columbus statue, the boats were tethered to ropes crossing from side to side of the canal. Don’t you want to take one, even without a destination in mind?
We went in Para Come Mangi, a delicatessen, and alcohol store. Their windows draw you in with the colorful, inviting displays. A few days later, the gentleman who helped us select an aged grappa, recognizing us and shaking our hands as we headed to the train station.
Roaming the streets of Rapallo, we discover churches and gelato shops and learn that there’s most likely another trip to Rapallo in our future.
Do you have a summer vacation planned? Where to and why that place?
Next: Rapallo, Italy’s Promenade is a Poetry of People
Also published on Medium.