A leisurely drive led us to some pretty surprising discoveries along the Ligurian Coast in northwestern Italy.

POSTED BY PINKY

It was a drive we decided to take on the spur of the moment one hot summer’s day. Typically, Italy has some of the highest temperatures in all of Europe, with the Italian Riviera faring slightly better than other parts of the country.

But in the summer?

Let’s just say the combination of hot weather and unplanned travel doesn’t sit too well with me. My husband happens to be aware of this and has been known to suffer the consequences. (Poor guy.)

But brave man that he is, he ventures to take us out for a drive just the same on the day we’d chosen to take things easy – a day after a somewhat frenetic yet totally enjoyable visit to the Cinque Terre.

Oh, and did I mention that we had no mobile phone, no internet access, and no GPS? Just a good map and a car. He drives, I navigate. (Yes, I know how to read a map, thank you very much.)

And with my in-laws sitting comfortably in the backseat of the car, completely counting on our God-given superpowers to get the job done – absolutely no pressure there. Right.

So going old school all the way, we refer to our trusty guidebook and zero in on three towns that didn’t look too far from where we were on the map.

First stop…

Santa Margherita Ligure

Driving past small villages and the bigger town of Rapallo along the coast, the gradual change in scenery was hard to miss. Slowly we began to notice the ever increasing number of villas and upscale hotels on either side of the road as we got closer and closer to the center of town.

Just 45 minutes away from Deiva Marina, the small fishing village that we chose as our base in the region, our drive took us to the elegant town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

The elegance of Santa Margherita Ligure is unmistakable. / Photo: Davide Papalini

It appeared to me like a much bigger version of Bellagio on Lake Como (read about our visit to Bellagio here). The architecture of the buildings looked similar and both towns gave off the same feeling of gentility.

Sadly, though, I felt I didn’t know enough about the place to fully appreciate it at the time.

But perhaps like Bellagio, it isn’t absolutely critical to know a lot about Santa Margherita Ligure to be able to enjoy it. I think there’s also something to be said for simply allowing a place to reveal itself and hopefully work its magic on you. Don’t you agree?

Now onto our next stop…

Portofino

A mere 10 minutes away from Santa Margherita Ligure is the more popular village of Portofino.

Images of the glamorous Hollywood jetset of the 1950s come to mind whenever I think of this small fishing village. Clark Gable, Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly. (You can read about my childhood fascination for old classic films here.)

We got there around noon. In time for lunch, which we naturally thought was perfect, right? Unfortunately, so did hordes of other people.

So now add hunger to the hot weather and unplanned travel, and you can pretty much guess that things weren’t looking good for my husband.

Luckily, my attention was distracted by a somewhat familiar yet surreal vision – that of Portofino’s captivating beachfront set against a backdrop more vibrant than I could have ever imagined.

Vibrant and popular Portofino. / Photo: Stan Shebs

Slightly confused, I quickly realised why. The Hollywood images of Portofino that I had in my head were in black-and-white. This was in living, breathing colour. It actually took a (split) second for my brain to reconcile the visions in my head with what lay right before my very eyes. (Plus, I was hungry, remember?!)

After that initial excitement waned, we finally got down to the serious business of lunch.

We found a table in one of the restaurants overlooking the water and ordered some pizza.

The pizza was great. I just have to mention, however, that the lady serving us was not having a good day. And wasn’t shy about letting people know it either. It was a busy Saturday, yes. And it was hot. Though I couldn’t entirely blame her… well, she was in the business of serving customers, wasn’t she?

And that is why I don’t like traveling in the summer! The heat, the crowds. I get cranky, other tourists get cranky, service people get cranky. Really. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Finally, we get to …

Camogli

This town somehow felt the most authentic among the three places that we went to see that day.

About 30 minutes from Portofino, Camogli was certainly less busy. Not as swanky as Santa Margherita Ligure perhaps nor as popular as Portofino, but I think therein lies its beauty.

Grab some gelato and enjoy a pleasant stroll in Camogli. / Photo: Mister No

Sure, it was hot as hell, but I happen to have nothing but fond memories of Camogli.

Walking along the promenade to the sound of the waves. Getting thick and creamy gelato from signore, who seemed to magically appear at the perfect moment. Sitting on the edge of the breakwater beside a man who to this day is only too happy to drive me anywhere I want to go.

Seriously, Pinky, what’s there to be cranky about?

Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, Camogli, and Rapallo are municipalities of the city of Genoa, in the province of La Spezia. Genoa is a 2-hour drive from Milan.

Photo Credits:
Santa Margherita Ligure: Davide Papalini
Portofino: Stan Shebs
Camogli: Mister No