August 2020: Opera in Venice, sculptures in Tuscany and a fab weekend in Portofino

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Events in Italy in August:

Events in Italy in August:

The Arena di Verona, (Veneto);  until 29 August;  www.arena.it/arena/en.   The Arena in Verona is taking off again with the opera shows under the stars. There will be 11 shows from July 25th to August 29th 2020, hosted in the fascinating ancient Roman theatre in Verona.  Performances to come include a Puccini Gala (22/8) and Placido Domingo singing Giordano and Verdi pieces (28/8).

‘Truly’ Fabio Viale:  Piazza del Duomo, Pietrasanta (Tuscany), until 4 October (http://www.fabioviale.it/).  The main square and the St Augustine monastery in Pietrasanta (a short drive south of the Carrara marble quarries) is the perfect location for sculptor Fabio Viale’s latest exhibition.  His impeccably reproduced marble classical sculptures (eg Laocoon, the head of Michelangelo’s David, Canova’s Venus) have been embellished with full-body rapper, Yakuza and Russian criminal tattoos (not painted but bled into the stone) to strangely beautiful effect.

Roman Mosaics, Negrar di Valpolicella (Veneto)  (www.thisiscolossal.com/2020/05/roman-mosaic-verona/).  A perfectly preserved ancient Roman mosaic floor has been discovered near the northern Italian city of Verona, almost a century after the remains of a villa, believed to date to the 3rd century AD, were unearthed in a hilly area above the town of Negrar di Valpolicella.  Part of the site was uncovered one hundred years ago but the farmer grew impatient and buried them, planting a vineyard over the top, and they were forgotten.  The excavation is being carried out in trenches, so as not to disturb the vines.  Now, however, the archaeologists have to decide what to do next.

Hidden Italy weekend: nature and the dolce vita on the Portofino Peninsula

Hidden Italy weekend: nature and the dolce vita on the Portofino Peninsula

I love Portofino. Known as Portus Delfini, the Port of Dolphins, this romantic village on a perfect bay, has provided safe haven for boats since Roman times.  Portofino has been effortlessly drawing in Europe’s jet set royals, film stars and other glitterati since the dolce vita days of Bogart and Bacall, Sofia Loren, Burton and Taylor and Princess Grace, all of whom holidayed here.  Its snob rating remains impeccable and this is the main reason that the village and the surrounding national park and coastline have been so beautifully preserved (nothing like having friends in high places).

The peninsula's has over eighty kilometres of well-marked walking trails and some excellent beaches and bays but its greatest treasure is the abbey of San Fruttuoso, a medieval monastery that sits in splendid isolation at the tip of the peninsula, accessible only on foot or by water.  There are also some pleasant small towns nearby: Camogli, a pleasant fishing town at the edge of the national park and the buzzy resort of Santa Margherita.

So, the Portofino peninsula has much to offer and is a perfect place for at least a weekend, even in the fullness of summer but particularly out of season.

How to get there:

By car:  The Portofino peninsula is forty kilometres east from Genova along the A12 autostrada.  Take the Camogli or Santa Margherita Ligure exits.  By train:  Santa Margherita Ligure is the closest station, on the Genova – La Spezia line.  By air:  Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo airport is the closets.  There are regular transfers to Genoa’s central railway stations.

What to do:

Go for a swim:

There are a string of beautiful bays and beaches around the peninsula.  Some of these are close to the resorts, others can be reached by the walking trails (for example San Fruttuoso and Punta Chiappa) and ferries.  It is also possible to hire rubber dinghies (and more luxurious ones, if you like) and explore the coast yourselves (eg Motormarine at Sant Margherita and Charter Portofino in Portofino).

Go walking:

There are over eighty kilometres of marked trails on the peninsula.  Given that the highest point on the peninsula is 600 mts asl, some of these can be a bit of a challenge, while others can be quite easy strolls along the coastline.  Some of the more popular routes are:  Camogli to Punta Chiappa (1.5 hours); Camogli to Portofino (4.5 hours); Santa Margherita to Portofino (1.5 hours);  Portofino to San Fruttuoso (2 hours).  Information is available from the Portofino Regional Park in Santa Margherita (Vial Rainusso 1; http://www.parcoportofino.it).

Explore the coastline:

The eastern stretch of the Ligurian coast that stretches from Genoa to the border with Tuscany is known as the ‘Riviera di Levante’ (the Riviera of the Rising Sun).  It is a very interesting and beautiful part of the world that, apart from the Portofino Peninsula, includes some other famous places such as the Cinque Terre as well as some less known and equally as beguiling coastline.  There are also some fabulous little towns like Chiavari, Sestri Levante and Bonassola.

All this can be explored by regular ferry rides.  For example, the Golfo Paradiso line (www.golfoparadiso.it) operating out of Camogli which has departures to tranquil Punta Chiappa and to San Fruttuoso (including a night excursion which allows three hours at San Fruttuoso for a romantic dinner).  The Cinque Terre ferry ride stops en route at Portofino and continues on to Portovenere.  There is also a ferry ride in the other direction west to Recco and Genoa.  Servizio Marittimo del Tigullio offers similar services out of Santa Margherita (https://traghettiportofino.it/).  All these services run frequently in the high season but less so at other times of the year – best to check the website before making plans.

Where to stay 1: San Fruttuoso

Where to stay 1: San Fruttuoso

First, the solitude and contemplation option.  The magnificent abbey of San Fruttuoso was founded by Prospero (who was actually the bishop of Tarragon) when he brought the remains of St Fruttuoso here in the 7th century.  The abbey was of great importance in the 11th and 12th centuries and was rebuilt in the 13th.  It was abandoned in 1467 and was ultimately taken over by local fishermen.  It was completely restored in the 1980s and now stands proud in its isolation.

There are still a number of fishing families that live in the tiny hamlet that presses around the abbey as well as a couple small bars/trattoria.  San Fruttuoso does get pretty busy in the high season, particularly during the day, but once the last ferries leave in the late afternoon you have it to yourselves (especially outside July and August).  Great art, swimming and hiking, peace and quiet, what more could you ask for?

How to get there:

On foot:  There are beautiful, marked walking trails from Camogli, Santa Margherita and Portofino from two to three hours with some steep climbs (Mt Portofino is 600 mt asl) so it is possible to get there on foot but it may be a bit of a challenge with all your gear.  By boat:  In the summer, boats leave regularly for San Fruttuoso from Rapallo, Santa Margherita and Portofino, less frequently in the other seasons but it is also possible to hire private water taxis.

Where to sleep:

Casa de Mar (San Fruttuoso).  This beautiful two-bedroom, self-contained house is owned by FAI (the Italian National Trust) but is managed by the Landmark Trust of the UK (www.landmarktrust.org.uk).  It is a small walk up from the beach.  It has air-conditioning, heating, a fully equipped kitchen and a stunning terrace.  Bed linen and towels are provided.  (4 nights start at 763 pounds).

Where to eat:

There are three restaurants and a bar at San Fruttuoso, all with views over the bay and all serving excellent seafood.  Da Cantina is the most established (being founded in 1976) while Da Giovanni is the fanciest (they also have accommodation).

Where to stay 2: Portofino

Where to stay 2: Portofino

Next, the dolce vita option.  Portofino will be pumping now, the quintessential Italian summer holiday location, but things do calm down in the shoulder seasons and prices drop.  It is particularly nice in the winter when the crowds are gone and the mild temperatures are perfect for exploring the network of walking trails that thread through the national park and along the coast.

Despite being the home to some of Italy’s fanciest hotels, there are also some very good, reasonably priced accommodation in and around the village.  The perfect place for a Hidden Italy weekend.

How to get there:

By car:  Portofino is forty-five kilometres east from Genova along the A12 autostrada, via Santa Margherita.  Take the Santa Margherita Ligure exit and follow the signs to Portofino.  By train:  Santa Margherita Ligure is the closest station, on the Genova – La Spezia line.  There are regular bus and ferry services from here to Portofino but it’s not very far (only 5 kms) so a taxi would be the most convenient option.

Where to sleep:

Belmond Hotel Splendido (Salita Baratta 16).  The Hotel Splendido is one of the top luxury hotels in Europe.  It is a short walk above the town and has magnificent views in all directions.  Doubles with garden views and breakfast start at 700 euro per night (the ‘Exclusive suites’ with breakfast start at 3600 euro per night…).

Hotel Nazionale (Vico Dritto 3).  This quietly elegant 3-star hotel overlooks the famous ‘piazzetta’ in the heart of the village.  It has been in the same family since 1900.  Double rooms with breakfast start from 220 euro per night.

Hotel Eden (Via Dritto 18).  Set a little way back from the piazzetta, this is the most affordable hotel in town.  It has a charming garden and a good restaurant.  Double room with breakfast from 140 euro per night.

Where to eat:

Da Puny (Piazza Martiri dell’Olivetta 5).  This is a traditional seafood restaurant with a strategic location on the square with good views of the town and its bay.  From 65 euro per person.

O Magazin (Calata Marconi, 34).  Around the corner on the waterfront, this is an ideal spot on the water for watching the world go by.  Book early, tables are in high demand.  From 65 euro per person.

Strainer Restaurant (Molo Umberto 1).  Situated on the other, business, side of the port, overlooking the boat moorings and the fishermen, a little bit removed from the crowds, this no fuss ristorante would be my first choice.  From 50 euro per person.

Where to stay 3: Camogli

Where to stay 3: Camogli

Charles Dickens said that Camogli was the “saltiest, roughest, most piratical little place” when he visited the town.  While Camogli has very ancient origins (pre-Roman) the town’s heyday was in the 1800s when it was under French control and Napoleon commissioned a huge shipbuilding program from the town’s shipyards.  Although the town still has “the smell of fish, seaweed and old rope” that the author relished, it’s had its rough edges knocked off since Dicken’s day and is now one of the most attractive small resorts on this part of the coast with a pretty collection of exceptionally tall and colourful row houses framing a small harbour.

A bit of a knockabout town, Camogli has plenty of arts and crafts shops, a serviceable swimming beach and is very well connected by rail, boat and walking trails so it is a good base from which to explore the area.  Strangely, though, it has limited accommodation options.

Where to sleep:

Cenobio dei Dogi (Via Cuneo 34).  This large, elegant 4-star hotel has spacious rooms with wonderful views over the gulf.  It has a terraced park overlooking the sea and a very good restaurant.  Doubles start from 250 euro per night.

Hotel La Camogliese (Via Garibaldi 55).  This friendly, family-run 2-star hotel is right in the centre of town and has some rooms with balconies with sea views.  Doubles from 120 euro per night.

Villa Rosmarino (Via Figari 38).  This chic villa is high above Camogli.  It has six very contemporary, art-filled rooms, as well as a terrace, pool and gardens with spectacular views of the gulf.  Doubles from 220 euro per night.

Where to eat:

Ostaia da u Sigu (Via Garibaldi 88).  This excellent, simple restaurant is perched over the beach, each table with sea views.  From 40 euro per person.

La Cucina di Nonna Nina (Via Molfino, Localita San Rocco).  High on the peninsula, a short drive from Camogli, this lovely family-run restaurant serves the very best of Liguria’s cuisine.  From 35 euro per person.

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