On the train ride from Milan to the Cinque Terre, the lady next to me said, “Once I get to Genoa, I’m on vacation.” She explained that once we left Genoa, our view for the rest of the ride would be of the blue Mediterranean Sea, and to her the sea meant vacation. She was partly right. We had a view of the sea, but we also saw one picturesque beach town after another, strung together like jewels on a necklace. Some of these gems I’ve visited before. Others I’ve just passed by on the train. This trip I lingered in Liguria a bit longer than planned and visited (or revisited) some of its coastline towns.
Lore has it that Camogli (pronounced cah-mō-yee) gets its name from Ca’ mogli (case delle mogli), meaning house of the wives. A name dedicated to the wives, of sailors and fishermen, who looked after the town while their husbands were away at sea. The name actually dates farther back than that, from Camuli, the Ligurian-Celtic deity. (I like the “houses of the wives” version better.) It is somewhere in size between a town and a village is divided by the rocky outcrop that houses the Dragon Castle and the town's basilica. One one side is the beach, and the other is the harbor.
From the beachfront, tall pastel-colored houses climb up and back against the hillside. The houses’ reflections dance upon the sea with each little wave. The facades are also elaborately decorated in Tromp l’Oeil. It’s not really a window frame you’re seeing; no it’s just a painting of one. So many times I did a double take to see that the woman or cat in the window was not real, but a painting. You could spend weeks weaving your way in and out of the caruggi (narrow alleyways) of the town and discerning Tromp l’Oeil from reality.
The harbor, which is packed with little boats, is located at the north eastern tip of the curved coastline. Camogli is still a fishing town, and the harbor smells of the sea and fish. Fishing nets are strewn on the ground and hung on railings to dry. An old lighthouse sits at the end of the harbor's entrance.
Besides walking the beachfront and meandering through the maze of caruggi, there is plenty to do and see in Camogli:
Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta - The town's church while looking quite plain on the outside has a very decorative baroque interior.
Museo Marinaro - To learn about Camogli's seafaring history, visit the Marinaro Museum.
Hike – There are four hikes you can do, ranging in time from 30 minutes to about 4 hours. (I would strongly advise against attempting any of these hikes during a July heat wave with temperatures of 40°C, 80% humidity and only a half liter bottle of water with you.)
- A 30-minute hike to San Rocco – An uphill climb from Camogli takes you to the pretty church, San Rocco. The views of Camogli are also gorgeous.
- An hour-hike to Punta Chiappa – Point Chiappa lies at the end of Camogli’s arched coastline. It’s reachable only by foot or boat and is an idyllic place to swim.
- 3 hour hike to San Fruttuoso – A rigorous hike from Camogli, San Fruttuoso is both an abbey and the name of the village that lies in an indentation of land in the Portofino Promontory.
- 4 hour hike to Portofino – For those who love activity, take the long hike, with a steep incline from San Fruttuoso, to Portofino.
Take a Ferry – You can actually avoid any physical activity and ride in one of the ferries. Golfo Paradiso Ferries will take you to each of the locations mentioned above.
Beach Activities – Soak up the sun on a lettino (sun bed) rent a kayak or paddleboat (definitely my favorite activity while in Liguria).
Foodie Finds in Camogli:
Outdoor Food Market – Market day is every Wednesday from 8am – 1pm along Via della Repubblica.
Camogliesi and Focaccia – You can find tasty versions of these local specialties at Pasticceria e Focacceria Revello along the beachfront on Via Garibaldi. They claim to have been the first to make the town's sweet treats, camogliesi, a rich pastry made with chocolate and rum flavored cream.
Festivals in Camogli:
Sagra del Pesce – A huge street festival and fish fry to pay homage to Saint Fortunato who looked over the fishermen as they headed out to sea after World War II. A huge frying pan is set along the harbor, and fish is fried and distributed, free of charge, to those attending. It’s held on the second Sunday of May.
Stella Maris – A more serious and religious festival held on the first Sunday in August. Garland clad boats, canoes, rafts, and any other kind of floating device head out to Punta Chiappa for a special mass. At night the town lights are dimmed and lights are sent out to see, either from a small boat or with candles set inside paper cups. Each light represents a sailor's soul.
Innamorati a Camogli - The Saint Valentine's Day celebration starts the week leading up to St. Valentine's Day. During the week, Camogli is entirely dedicated to lovers. Hearts are strung everywhere, even on fishing nets. The weekly Wednesday market's theme is love. There are poetry and art competitions dedicated to love. The winning artist will have his/her painting cast onto the next year's commemorative plate, which some restaurants give to lovers celebrating St. Valentines in Camogli. "Ahhhh, how sweet," you're probably saying fecetiously. (But, being such a dreamy town, this is a perfect place to celebrate being in love.)
Getting There and Useful Websites:
If you’re coming from the north, it’s a 30-minute train ride from Genova’s P. Principe station, from Milan, about 2 ½ hours. Coming from the south, it’s a 1-hour train ride from La Spezia. Italy’s rail system website
Camogli Tourist Board (Its physical location is across from the train station on Via della Repubblica.)
When you're on vacation, what tourist activity do you enjoy most?