Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Real Italy: Camogli

Situated on the western Portofino promontory, Camogli is an ancient seaside village in the wonderful Paradise Gulf on the Eastern Riviera. Not too far away from Genova, Camogli is a unique place where the colourful houses give directly onto the old harbor, which is still the center of the village life. If you really want to meet the local fishermen, then don't miss it.

Distance from GENOVA, nearest big city: 23 km
Altitude: 9 meters above sea level
Nearest airport: GENOVA
Train connections: easily accessible from GENOVA and LIVORNO
Zip code: 16032
Telephone: dial +39.185 before the number you want to call

Camogli dates back to pre-Roman times. Later, it was ruled by the bishops of Milan until the year 1000. Its harbor was first mentioned in 1158. The town became very well-known in the last century thanks to its sailing fleet, the largest in Italy. At that time the best villas of the town were also built.

Unlike in many other seaside resorts, time seems to have stopped in Camogli and people there take it easy. This is why the best way to visit the village is on foot. Leave your car just outside the village and then walk down the narrow and steep alleys leading to the seafront. Enjoy the sight of the old fishermen's houses which have now been completely restored. They all front onto the sea and are so picturesque, as they have been painted yellow, pink and red. Their fa硤es are tall and narrow. These buildings now house modern shops, bars and restaurants, but the atmosphere of the old days has not changed.

After walking under an arch, you'll get to the old harbor. Although it is still crowded with fishing boats, ferries and yachts are also moored here. The harbor is shielded by a pier and dominated by the castle and the old parish church at the top of steep stairs.

The church has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, but its Baroque features are quite visible. It contains some paintings by L. Bambiaso and other XVII and XVIII century artists. If you walk further up, you'll get to the castle.

The Castello della Dragonara, whose first foundations date back to the year 1000, is perched on a rock from where you can have a stunning view of Camogli and its harbor. Presently the castle houses the Acquarium, containing all the local fish species, and the "G. Bono Ferraris" Maritime Museum, which contains paintings and model ships from the glorious days. Here you can see the "Narcissus", an English three-mast ship that Mr Bertolotto, a local shipowner, bought in 1880. On the "Narcissus" Joseph Conrad, the famous writer, worked as a navigation officer and wrote one of his best novels, i.e. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897).

The Abbey of San Fruttuoso lies on the Promontory of Portofino and can only be reached either on foot (see the routes described in Nature) or by sea, hiring a boat or taking a ferry leaving from Camogli, Portofino or Santa Margherita. The local fishermen used to tell of a dragon that breathed out fire and tore apart those who tried to land here. Times have changed and dragons seem to have disappeared, so all you'll find now in San Fruttuoso is a charming little beach, a beautiful abbey and a cluster of fishermen's homes.

The abbey probably dates back to AD 409, when some Spanish priests fled here with the remains of their bishop Fruttuoso, martyred during the Roman persecutions. The first church built here was therefore dedicated to him. The beautiful abbey, its convent and the cloister were built in the XIII century. In the XVI and XIX centuries the original aspect of the complex was altered: the cloister was made smaller by new consolidation walls and the fa硤e was partly altered too. In 1915 the buildings were heavily damaged by flooding. The restoration works began in 1933 and have continued until our days.

In the gulf in front of the Abbey, underwater is the Cristo degli Abissi

The Promontory of Portofino

The Promontory of Portofino offers unique natural scenery. You can walk along the many paths to Punta Chiappa and to the top of the promontory called "Portofino vetta". From here you can then walk down to San Fruttuoso and on to Portofino: the view of the sea from the woods is absolutely gorgeous. The promontory is now a natural park and an important sanctuary for some 700 species. The vegetation is also varied here. There are trees and plants that grow at different altitudes. At sea level there are pine trees, while in the sunnier parts there are typical Mediterranean scrub and tropical plants like agaves and prickly pear trees. In the northernmost and remotest part of the promontory there is mixed woodland with many oaks and chestnuts.

The sea: a paradise for divers.

The seabed around the promontory of Portofino boasts some wonderful scenery in crystal clear waters, which is really heaven for many divers who sail here from Camogli or Santa Margherita. Many of them also come to see the Cristo degli Abissi, a big statue at a depth of 17 meters in the Bay of San Fruttuoso. Even though you are not a diver, you can still see the statue from the boat.

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