For this month’s Thursday Travel post, you’re winding through the mountains down to the sparkling seas of the Italian Riviera. The roads around Genova (Genoa), at the heart of the Riviera, are simply stunning – curvy and incredibly fun to drive. Your destination is Camogli, with its postcard-perfect views. It promises fewer people, less glamour and for that reason costs a bit less than the more popular and famous village of Portofino and the Cinque Terre region.
But attempting to find a place to stay at the height of tourist season in August is a feat only to be tried by the bravest. If you don’t reserve in advance at one of smaller hotels, try the multi-roomed four star hotel, Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi. Starting at around 160€/nt, it’s well-priced, especially since it includes a huge breakfast, parking, a pool, beach access (with chairs) and wifi. (There’s a 20€ a day fee for beach/pool access if you stay elsewhere and don’t want to be with the masses lying on the rocky beach.) Although the single room with its twin bed had no view, it’s sufficient for the limited purposes of sleeping and showering.
Breakfast is ample and amazing. Tons of fresh baked bread and pastries (the best donut I’ve ever had – still warm), fresh juice, eggs, bacon, assorted meats and cheeses and cappuccino with a view of the water. The hotel has an indoor restaurant that offers a seaview with reasonably priced food. There’s also a few outdoor dining areas. Their huge portion of octopus salad was decent, though it could have used some more flavor. (It seems Camogli cooking makes little use of garlic.)
Even if the food is average, the setting is gorgeous. Bite into the warm foccacia, take a sip of rose wine, close your eyes, breathe in the salt air, and you’ll feel completely relaxed.
Now you can head down to the beach and take a dip in the sea.
Or sit if it’s between 2-4pm, you can nap by the closed and child-free pool. This is, of course, exactly when you are hot and want the pool. An ingenious way for the hotel to force people to eat inside the restaurant later in the day. And with the sun setting after 8pm, a late dinner is the norm.
For a sunset drink, stop at Il Barcollo – order a Negroni (Campari is a necessity when in Italy) and it will be accompanied by a free plate of meats, bread, olives and chips and salsa. Every little restaurant offers you some form of antipasto with your aperitif. Look around as some are larger than others. A lovely touch, but it’s bad for restaurant dinner business.
And you should save room for a meal at Lo Strufugio. Thetrofie di pesto– a local specialty – is outstanding. The pesto has the most amazing color bursts with flavor.
When I asked for the recipe, the owner/chef pulled out her cookbook and then said with a flick of her hand: “Well, I don’t really use this, I just sort of measure and taste…” (Just like my mother.) But she did tell me that she barely uses garlic. It was the taste of the basil that was key. And, of course, she hand macerated the pesto…. Her husband, who was the server, readily informed me that he preferred more garlic like his mamma made… after 40-some years of marriage, they disagreed about that and a few other things, but were adorable- even sharing reading glasses.
Although Lo Strufugio, along with some of the fancier dining options, is on the main street in town, there are ample places to drink or dine along the water. Grab a table on the water at Soho, one of the few places that serves wine by the glass (everywhere else requires a half bottle). Their spaghetti con vongole is loaded with clams, not too salty and all around good.
Nightlife consists of mostly awful attempts at American music. Art galleries with terrible and expensive paintings are open late in case someone is inclined to make a wine-induced purchase. Mostly, you’ll find couples strolling along the water, having casual drinks outside and maybe enjoying some gelato. It’s the Riviera, the perfect place to engage in the joys of fare di niente (relaxingly doing nothing). Save that hike to the nearby towns of San Fruttoso or Portofino for another trip. You’ll have a great reason to return, not that you’ll need one!