Keith Gascoigne



Sestri Levanti and Portofino
on the Ligurian Coast

We flew into Genoa on a saturday in midMay and caught the train to Sestri Levanti where my partner was attending an elearning conference. Our first full day there was a sunday and she suggested that we visit Portofino as it had intrigued her since she heard a song about it many years ago. We bought tickets, composted them, and caught the train. The open windows let in the cool, scented air and the view along the Mediterranean coast is spectacular.

The nearest station to Portofino is Rapallo and the view over Rapallo to the sea and the Portofino peninsular is superb - especially as the sun was bright and the air clear that day. We walked a little way down the hill and caught a small coach to take us down through the town, along the narrow and tortuous road cut into the cliff face and into Portofino.


looking inland toward Rapallo from Portofino.

Portofino was a picturesque fishing village and is now a magnet for all manner of tourists. Located in a green setting accessible by boat or coach where you can sit and watch the boats, the sea or the seekers of eternal youth. Castle Brown and an attractive phare (lighthouse) grace the headland, which is reached by a long climb up a narrow path and gives splendid views over the harbor and the Mediterranean coast. Rapallo can be seen on the far coast at the right of the image.


Looking west over the Portofino headland.

Looking west over the phare from the terrace of Castle Brown. This beautiful building is decorated in white, orange and yellow and looks outstanding set among the greenery. The cool breeze from the sea is refreshing in the midday sun.


Castello Brown

Castello Brown on the hill is my idea of a perfect location. The walk from the harbor will keep anyone fit but the view from the terrace is magical. The entrance fee was €3, collected by a friendly, young girl sitting at a small table in the garden. Inside, most rooms are minimally furnished and there are monochrome images of the glitterati, politicians and the ubiquitous celebrities who have visited. The girl collecting the entrance fee told us that the pine trees on the terrace were planted by Mrs Brown - the wife of Consul Brown who had the castello renovated years ago and organized the planting of all the trees on the hillside below.


Portofino, looking down into the harbour from Castle Brown

The harbor from castello Brown. Originally it would have contained fishing vessels and perhaps a ferry-boat but today it is a haven for yachts, speed-boats and a fast ferry that goes along the coast taking tourists around.


Portofino water-front panorama.

Water-front panorama. The beauty of these multistorey buildings is enhanced by the simple earth-pigment colors used to wash the rendering. The location is pretty good too.


From the Square in Portofino.

Looking up from the square where the visitor can pause for a while before selecting another cafe, restaurant or shop to browse. It's an excellent place to sit and sip coffee and watch the world, or at least this part of it, pass by.

We took the coach back along the twisting road and walked around Rapallo for a while. The water-front area is pleasant with small shops, narrow streets and it is also very clean. Rapallo attracts the rich from the cold, industrial north of Italy so this might be the reason why the place is clean and tidy?

Friedrich Nietzche spent some time here and also Ezra Pound in his wanderings between the wars (and the women) and is recorded as saying that he started a lot of his work there. Neitzche walked around the then quiet lanes of Rapallo and started writing his ideas down for Thus Spoke Tharathustra. There is certainly something in the Rapallo air that helps creativity. (Probably not knowing anybody to chatter with?)

The climb to the station was pleasant as the heat of the sun was diminished and we caught the train along the coast back to Sestri. That was a day to remember.

Sestri Levante

Sestri street

Monday morning and the usual Mediterranean humidity diffuses the sun. The only people up early are going to the conference at the restored church which is quite beautiful. I left my partner there and wandered around on my own. The architecture is pleasing, with decorated buildings and narrow streets to shade the sun. Like Portofino, Sestri Levante was a fishing village but tourists are the main catch now. There is a headland and two bays.


early morning in Sestri before most people are out and about

Early Monday morning in Sestri before most people are up - except people going to the conference center - is very peaceful - especially in May before the tourist season really starts.


Quiet corner in Sestri Levante.

Sestri is popular with italian and european tourists and, so far, has resisted the urge to become 'an attraction'. The place itself is the attraction.


Bay of Silence.

The Bay of Silence is a haven for boats, swimming and just sitting. It is to the east of the headland and sheltered from the prevailing west wind. The light-colored church and building on the headland have been sympathetically restored into an auditorium and an international study center. Both are in a perfect setting. I was a little disappointed to discover that PFM, my favorite italian band, had played in the auditorium saturday evening, the day that we arrived but there was a piano concert happening while I was wandering around and I went in and listened to that.


Bay of Silence with man fishing.

This man fishing didn't have a landing net or any other paraphernalia of fishing so I think he was more interested in the relaxation that fishing produces in a pleasant area rather than landing a fish for ‘sport’ or the pot.


Sestri town center pedestrian street with shop.

At lunch time all the nonfood shops close and most sensible people, except foreign tourists, head for a ristoranti. Many of the restaurants feature locally caught fish and the specialty is fish in pasta with a white wine and cheese sauce.