Or, How I lost my favorite pink hat in the Italian woods…
Joining our friends from Milan, Lorenzo and Silena, at the ferry,
we hopped on and enjoyed a quick ride from Rapallo to Portofino. Seeing Rapallo from the Gulf of Tigullio was a treat—the city sprawls and invites with colorful buildings and tall hills. Arriving around the bend from Santa Margherita Ligure, you see that tiny Portofino (just over 500 residents) is as picturesque as you’ve always heard. That said, Rapallo was a good choice for our stay because when the cruise ships disembark, Portofino is flooded with tourists. The multitudes quickly overwhelm the compact square, with shops and restaurants instantly becoming crowded. Luckily, we were starting our hike as the first boatloads were coming ashore. We had time to grab a delicious gelato and hit the trail.
Portofino peninsula juts two miles out and separates the Paradiso and Tigullio Gulfs and is pegged as the safest port along the Ligurian coast due to the geologically natural shelter from the wind. There is a light house, II Faro, on the tip of the peninsula that we would have jaunted to if we hadn’t already planned the longer hike. This area is included in the Portofino Regional Nature Park, created in 1935, and a spot Italians are rightly proud of enjoying.
The first church Lorenzo took us to is approached via the Red Carpet (currently holding the record for the longest at 8km) that stretches from Rapallo to this spot. The building makes a spectacular destination without the need for such Hollywood treatment. The Church of San Martino was built in the 12th century in the typical Romanesque-Lombard style. The interior is elaborately painted and is known for the statue of the Virgin Mary.
The next church, near Portofino’s Brown Castle, is the less ornate but lovely 12th century San Giorgio. I was drawn to the outside statue, but cannot find any information on it. With her outstretched arms and slight tilt forward, she seemed to implore you to stop and indulge in quiet reflection.
After climbing up to see these two beauties, we began our hike in earnest.
When you choose this path, be prepared for a long ascent. The hike will take about two hours with food and photo-moments, with the greatest number of breathing breaks taking place in the first half hour. You spend this time going up, and up and up a bit more. Luckily for us, our twenty-five year’s younger friends were quite willing to stop, let us refresh our lungs, sip water and admire the views—our typical premise for needing a break.
During this part, you are often in the blazing sun, sometimes ducking into shade while now and again wandering through a blessed batch of trees. You’ll be wise to pack a snack and we were thrilled with the focaccia pizza with sweet onions that Silena chose and Lorenzo carried for us. It was still warm when we stopped in a suitable spot to dine.
This is the only trail where women were hiking in bikinis (one in a thong)—their outfits completed by hiking poles. Loving hiking clothes, I can’t imagine setting out for a hike wearing my bathing suit, but it’s something to think about!
It’s on this trail that my much-loved SPF-coated OR hat went missing. I’m notorious for flinging it off my head when we get into woods. No matter how cool a hat is, when the sun is beating down relentlessly, my head gets hot. When it’s windy I put the tie under my chin, but otherwise, I don’t. This day the pink bonnet was off and on, tied and not. I had successfully flung it onto my shoulders a dozen times, but once was one time too many. It got cast into the Italian woods somewhere near the Abbey of San Fruttuoso. Alas, I was sad and hatless for the remainder of the trip.* My wish is that someone who loves pink more than I do finds it and slips it on her head in sheer delight at her good fortune.
With the Abbey of San Fruttuoso accessible only by foot or ferry, it felt rather like an expedition, being the first historical place I’ve reached this way. While there are a few houses scattered around the Benedictine Abbey, it is a tiny spot, dominated by the monastic structure and Doria Tower.
The 13th-century abbey is now maintained by the Italian Environment Trust. There is the museum, restaurants, the beach, and of course, the church. The cloister and the mausoleum belong to the famous Doria family, the leading power of Genoa from the 12 century onward. The nearby watchtower was built in the 16th century. Inside the church is a replica of the 1954 bronze statue of Jesus in the Abyss that was placed in the bay to commemorate divers lost at sea. It’s considered a diving pilgrimage to visit the underwater statue. Have you heard of it? Have you been?
It was interesting for throngs of people to be sunbathing in front of a monastery. The beach is stone and pebbles, which I found quite challenging to walk on when I shed my shoes and stuck my feet in the cool water. The stalwart Italians were unfazed, amazing me yet again.
The hike was not as difficult as it was hot, with the weather being warmer than is typical for May. Still, we were happy to catch the ferry from San Fruttuoso back to Rapallo.
About ferry-taking: when leaving San Fruttuoso, there are two ferry stations—one up, one down. Make sure you get in the correct one and be entertained as people ignore the huge signs to stay back so that people can disembark, causing pure chaos for no reason.
Second, although I’ve been known to experience a tinge or two (alright, I was deadly sick in Cabo San Lucas when marlin fishing once upon a time) of motion sickness and popped a Bonine before the first ride, the ferry is smooth and I didn’t feel compelled to take one for the second, twice as long, trip. We sat outside, on top to arrive in Portofino and inside on the return trip. I sat by the open window with my face stuck in it, puppy-dog style. I nearly struck blows with an American who sat near me and proceeded to try to shut the window to keep her hair from getting mussed. I expertly blocked it with my arm—it was that or explain what could happen to her hair if I didn’t get enough fresh air!
Any hike along the Ligurian Coast is gorgeous—let me know when you’re going!
*As a note, I’m wildly crazy about my replacement OR hat. SPF 50, a five-inch brim and it’s PURPLE!
Also published on Medium.