Chaos ensued immediately upon entering Italy! We were looking forward to seeing the gardens at Villa Hanbury in Ventimiglia, “one of the most impressive botanical gardens in Italy”. Upon entering Ventimiglia, just across the border from France, we were directed to a detour unlike anything we have ever experienced. The detour took us through the most derelict of “streets”, if you can call them that, so narrow we at times had to pull in our mirrors, with turns every 20 yards. If anyone was behind us they were honking like mad as we were going at a snails pace. Finally upon exiting this nightmare we encountered a crowded, busy rundown city. About an hour later we excited with no thought of trying to find Villa Hanbury.
We stayed the course for another two hours on the so called Italian Riviera highway but only progressed about 50 miles as it took us through the center of seedy seaside towns instead of by the sea.
By then we threw in the towel, took a deep breathe and entered in our destination on our GPS with a “yes” to toll roads, i.e., high speed highways. It was just as Jan had remembered from a trip years ago to Italy, and what she was fearing most about driving in Italy, where you would see a small dot in your rear view mirror and within seconds hear something like a jet airplane whizzing by. And these were just the compact cars! God forbid that you should be in the left lane as they will blast away one their horn until you are out of the way. What is so amazing is that the speed limit is the same or somewhat more than in the states, but the cars drive from 50% to even 100% faster!
Jan had selected a seaside resort with two possible hotels. By this time she was biting her nails as she was certain it would be a disaster based on what we had experience so far. We arrived in Camogli, a resort/fishing village just south of Genoa. We wound down the road making hairpin turns following the sign to one of the hotels. We finally arrived at a blockade to the way to the hotel that said “pedestrians only”. When we asked some locals sitting on the bench where the hotel was, they pointed to a steep flight of stairs that led to the front door of the hotel. This was, of course, a non-starter as there is nowhere to park. So with much trepidation we set the GPS for the second hotel. Much to our surprise and absolute delight, it was a lovely 4 star hotel, Cenobio Dei Dogi, in a beautiful setting right on the ocean.
We were able to get a wonderful room with floor to ceiling windows that opened with a view to the garden, pool, an ocean. So our first day in Italy ended on a high note. Thank heavens!
Camogli is a place to go if you want a true and somewhat earthy Italian seaside resort experience.
It has lots of seafront restaurants, some nice shops, an amazing small cathedral that competes with the Sistine Chapel with its beautiful paintings. It is the only church we have ever seen that has a multitude of chandeliers!
One of the lovliest aspects of the town is that about 95% of the properties have been “faux painted”. You will see stonework, exquisite door and window trim, and even windows that are not really there.
It is all just painted.
In this picture, can you guess which windows are real and which are not?
Answer: All the windows in the middle row from top to bottom are fake and are just painted on the flat surface of the building!
If you have visited Italy’s towns or seen pictures of them, you have probably seen laundry hanging out to dry from the windows. Not only do you continue to see it today, even on the most beautifully faux painted buildings, we found that pulleys and ropes are outside each window in the building are actually integral to the construction of the property.
We were taking a walk and came across a very friendly American, Ray Houlihan, an attorney from New York who had rented an apartment in Camogli for two months. He gave us the inside scoop on the town and particularly about Camogli’s annual “Blessing of the Fish” festival, which had taken place the day before we arrived. They have what is probably the largest frying pan in the world – 13 feet in diameter – where they fry sardines bathed in flour and herbs. Everyone who attends the festival gets free fried sardines. About 7,000 people attended this year and there is no where to park. Imagine all those people packed like sardines in order to eat free sardines!
We enjoyed a wonderful ferry ride to two nearby resorts, Portofino and San Margherita.
Portofino is the most exclusive resort town in Italy with all the high end brand name stores in the resort along with the price of hotels, well worth a visit, but only stay if you can afford over $1,000 a day for a room. San Margherita is a more refined resort than Camogli and less expensive than Portofino. We would probably chose it over Camogli if we were to go to that region again. However, with the unique experiences we had in Camogli, and the wonderful hotel we found, we can whole heartedly recommend staying there.