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The Allure of the Ligurian Coast is its history and beautiful cities (Part One)

Friday, January 27th, 2012

In 1954, the monks purchased an abandoned 19th century castle that was adjacent to the monastery and its 12th century church. The complex is ensconced in a huge park with wonderful views of the sea.

Italy is one of my favorite countries to visit. The welcoming ambience of the Italian people, the ease of getting around and the charms of the hilltop villages and sophisticated cities always make for a memorable trip. But, of course, there are always favorites to be visited again and again. And certainly, high on my list is the Ligurian Coast.

A few years ago I elected to spend two weeks traveling this particularly beautiful coastline. I stayed in Camogli, a delightful city with beautiful views. My reasons for choosing a monastery are many, among them are the fact that they are architecturally beautiful structures, inexpensive, well tended and  safe.

Camogli occupies a pine-covered slope on the western side of the Portofino promontory. A distinctive and picturesque seaside town of narrow cobblestoned lanes and porticoes, Camogli has retained its atmospheric medieval center, highlighted by very tall, pastel-colored houses. The charm of the houses is accentuated by trompe l’oeil artwork, an artistic feature that can be seen all along the coast. And when you’re talking about “fooling the eye,” this area can’t be beat.

For an outstanding day trip, the famous Abbey of San Fruttuoso is a monumental Benedictine compound that can be accessed by ferry or by a dramatic and inspiring cliff side walk that takes about 5 hours roundtrip. The majestic white abbey buildings are sheltered in a setting of pines and olives trees. Built in the 10th century, the medieval church reveals three naves, a Byzantine cupola and a romantic two-tiered cloister ornamented with columns and carved capitals.

If you’re into walking (as I am), the fishing hamlet of San Rocco can be reached via a pretty walk of 5 km through olive trees and citrus groves. It is home to the Romanesque church of San Nicolo Recco. According to legend, the church was founded by Erice, son of Venere, who built a temple dedicated to his mother.

For more information on Ligura’s monasteries:

Experience the authentic character of the Ligurian Coast when you stay at this monastery in the Cinque Terre.

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Vernazza, one of the towns, boasts a spectacular bay.

Built by locals seeking shelter on the mountains, far from the coast and the Lombard invasions, the monastery is enveloped by a Ligurian landscape of steep, wooded hills and archetypical lush hillside terraces.

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) are extraordinarily scenic seaside villages which look today as they did thousands of years ago. Built into the mountainside, the fishing villages cling to a rocky coastline, on cliffs that drop precipitously into the sea. The Cinque Terre forms a natural park of sublime beauty (cars are banned from the towns). An ancient footpath known as the Sentiero Azzurro, offers breathtaking views. The trail traces the coast along a narrow, vertiginous path through vineyards and olive groves that link one village to another.

Vernazza, one of the towns, boasts a spectacular bay; its setting highlighted by a seaside promenade and piazza. Green-shuttered houses line the streets that are connected by steep stairways A walk down the hillside reveals quaint stone bridges, grape vines, sepia-toned houses with sloping slate roofs and terraced gardens filled with fragrant lemon trees.

Close by is the seaside town of Portovenere, at the end of the rocky slopes of the Gulf of Spezia. A romantic village of narrow streets and richly colored row houses, the marina bobs with toylike fishing boats, its church of black and white banded marble presenting a handsome contrast to the blue sea. The English poet Byron once lived in town and often spent time in a cave named Arpaia. Portovenere faces the island of Palmaria, an intriguing locale of grottoes and sea stacks.

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