CRUISING FROM GENOA
From chic Portofino to the enchanting marinas of the Riviera di Ponente, the Ligurian coast leaves Cumbo utterly smitten
Peter Cumberlidge extols the pleasures of basing your boat for a year or two to make the most of the spectacular cruising along the Ligurian coast and across the strait to Corsica
The fabulous seaport of Genoa lies at the hub of Italy’s Ligurian coast, which sweeps in a grand curve from the French border near Menton to the glittering Gulf of La Spezia. Liguria is a wonderful region of mountains, rolling hills and the sunny, south-facing Italian Riviera. Between Menton and Genoa, the shores are mostly soft and gentle with a convenient trail of marinas and timeless fishing harbours. East of Genoa, the Riviera has a steeper, wilder character, reaching a climax along the sheer cliffs of the Cinque Terre.
Genoa is a warm and romantic city, an ancient trading post built on a coastal mound. It is also Italy’s busiest port and one of the great names in the history of seafaring. The vast docks handle all manner of commerce, but this vibrant regional capital also has several excellent marinas. Yachting is a priority here and there’s every conceivable facility. The original inner harbour – Porto Antico – has been sympathetically restored and developed into one of Europe’s most pedestrian-friendly city waterfronts.
Two hours flying time from London, Genoa is a fantastic boating base for a season or two if you can organise a berth. I always find just being in Italy relaxing and the cruising here is fascinating in all directions. To the east, you can make short trips to chic Portofino or nearby Rapallo, with their colourful facades of closely packed houses. Further round, the precariously perched villages of the Cinque Terre coast provide breathtaking vistas before La Spezia opens up past Portovenere.
West of Genoa are the charming harbours and marinas of the Riviera di Ponente. San Remo is a classic Italian resort, backed by a rambling old town, a wooded hill and a 12thcentury cathedral. For offshore forays, the mountains of Corsica will soon beckon you south for a landfall you’ll never forget!
Genoa’s docks and basins sprawl eight miles along the coast, fronted by long breakwaters that look impenetrable from seaward. However, most visiting boats will be making for the city’s old harbour and can use the east entrance near Punta Vagno. This is the most attractive end of the approaches, with a holiday seafront along the coast road. Keep to the north side of the channel to avoid traffic, particularly the numerous ferries streaming in and out. Soon you pass Fiera di Genova Marina, site of the Genoa Boat Show, and then the fairway curves north towards the heart of the city.
The inner harbour is quite a spectacle. To starboard you gaze along a gleaming row of superyachts at Marina Molo Vecchio. Further in are the tall white spars of Il Bigo, a futuristic crane whose capsule lifts visitors above the harbour for panoramic views. Nearby is Genoa’s renowned aquarium with a biosphere alongside. North of the aquarium, Marina Porto Antico accommodates boats of a more normal size and its inner berths are stern-to converted warehouse buildings occupied by shops and restaurants. The city stacks up behind the harbour in a cubist daub of apartments, exotic spires and oases of green.
The Genoese architect Renzo Piano directed the ambitious renovations of Porto Antico in the early 1990s and the result has successfully reconnected the city to the sea, which was so central to Genoa’s history and prosperity. For boat owners, Porto Antico is fascinating to explore, providing virtually everything you need a short stroll from your mooring.
If you can’t negotiate a slot in the centre, Genoa has several other marinas, each with its own appeal. Near the east harbour entrance, there are visitor berths at Fiera di Genova Marina and at the Yacht Club Italiano in Abruzzi basin. Alternatively, about five miles to the west, you can enter a dock north of Genoa airport where Marina Genova Aeroporto has 500 berths. There are more pontoons at a nearby suburb called Sestri Ponente, a somewhat industrial quarter but agreeable when you get to know it.
Genoa is a fantastic boating base for a season or two if you can organise a berth. The cruising is fascinating in all directions
GENOA CITY SIGHTS
While the stylish Porto Antico draws many visitors, the city itself has plenty of attractions, especially in its medieval quarter around Via Cairoli and Via Garibaldi. From the marina, you can cut inland under the main road and meander east to Via Cairoli, a long cobbled pedestrian street that runs into Via Garibaldi. The looming houses give summer shade and washing hangs high up between apartments where locals peer down from balcony windows.
Genoa’s most famous buildings are its opulent marble palaces created from the vast wealth that flowed into the city during the 16th and 17th centuries. There are over a dozen on Via Garibaldi and one of the most intriguing is Palazzo Lomellino, built in 1563 by a merchant who made a fortune from fish and coral in North Africa. Here you can visit an amazing rooftop garden adorned by a white minaret. This elevated retreat is filled with orange trees and you can follow a pergola path heady with wisteria.
Don’t miss climbing to Spianata di Castelletto, a restful hillside park on the site of a demolished fortress, with a stunning prospect of the city. Early evening is a good time to relax here, watching the sun go down and the lights coming on around the harbour.
CRUISING EAST FROM GENOA THE PORTOFINO PENINSULA
From Genoa, the Riviera di Levante curves east and south towards a rugged peninsula lush with pines, olive groves and fragrant maquis. This is Portofino National Park, idyllic for hikers and a mouth-watering backdrop for the deep blue sea. There are several villages around this spur and the first is Camogli, tucked into the north-west corner. The harbour is small but worth a visit just to see its cheerful mosaic of Italian ochres, umbers and siennas.
The more famous Portofino is on the opposite side of the peninsula, a picture-book Italianate village built around a cleft in the limestone. Portofino has become almost too popular for its own good and in peak season, it’s virtually impossible to squeeze in, but if you come here early, perhaps late May, you can enjoy this lovely wooded ria without the squash. Morning light shows Portofino in sensuous warmth, its simple ‘fishermen’s houses’ set off by lavish superyachts.
The east side of the peninsula has two more harbours a couple of miles apart − Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo. Facing north-east, Santa Margherita is home to superyachts at the outer breakwater, fishing boats jostling in the middle and normal yachts and motor boats around the head of the harbour. On the wooded slopes above the bay are the prosperous villas for which this corner of the Riviera is noted.
The enchanting resort of Rapallo graces the north-east corner of the peninsula, where villas in spacious grounds look down from slopes of scented pines and poplar trees. Palms fringe the beach and a tiny castle overlooks the sea. The harbour has a friendly yacht club and the prestigious Carlo Riva Marina runs like clockwork. Carlo Riva died last year at the age of 95. His beautiful motor boats are legendary and he started Rapallo Marina in 1975.
LA CINQUE TERRE
From Rapallo the Riviera trends south-east past Chiavari and Lavagna, two fairly ordinary yacht harbours within a mile of each other, and then the coast becomes steeper and more mountainous
beyond Punta Manara. Soon you reach the spectacular Cinque Terre, where the cliffs fall almost vertically into the blue Mediterranean. Behind this commanding shore, the parched Ligurian slopes look wild and remote, yet in the ten miles between Punta Mesco and Capo Pietro, five extraordinary villages − Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore − cling to the cliffs without visible means of support.
Only Vernazza has a proper breakwater where boats of modest size can moor stern-to but on still summer days, you can anchor off the Cinque Terre villages in clear water with incredible views of this primeval coast and its mountainous hinterland. The swimming and snorkelling are out of this world and you can take the dinghy ashore to a waterside bar or bistro.
At the end of a lazy day of pleasure, it’s not far south to Portovenere, an almost perfect Italian harbour at the mouth of the Gulf of La Spezia, looking across a narrow strait towards Palmaria island. Portovenere’s patchwork of buildings catches the sun as enticingly now as when Lord Byron was lounging about here a couple of centuries ago.
CRUISING WEST FROM GENOA
The western part of the Italian Riviera is still rather a cruising secret but from Genoa, you can sample its charms in easy bites and linger where you fancy. While there are similarities with the French Riviera, Italy is a different animal to France and its pace of life more languid. Between Genoa and San Remo there is less high-rise concrete than on the Côte d’azur. You pass traditional Ligurian towns where the tourism is gentle and many restaurants and cafés have a laid-back, everyday style.
About 16 miles west of Genoa, Varazze is one of my favourite havens on the west Italian Riviera. Although a buzzing resort, the town has a pleasantly old-fashioned feel with a leafy promenade and pedestrian streets behind it full of market stalls. The marina was designed with Italian flair and its timber buildings, raised walkways and green copper roofs create a welcoming effect.
A short stroll east of the marina, we recently found an excellent family-run bistro called Garbassu, a block behind the seafront gardens near the beach pier. Their succulent fritto misto di mare and spaghetti alle vongole were the business.
WEST TO ALASSIO
A short hop from Varazze, Savona is a busy commercial port whose docks and silos look unpromising as you approach, yet the town has a graceful old Florentine centre and a snug marina behind a pedestrian lifting bridge. Locals often gather here to watch huge cruise ships manoeuvre alongside near the bridge. Savona has some impressive medieval buildings, including a sturdy fortress situated between the marina and the sea.
Some ten miles south-west of Savona, the peaceful marina at Finale Ligure is tucked beneath a rocky headland and backed by sheltering hills. Then you pass miles of holiday beaches before Loano appears, a large but easygoing yacht harbour with some helpful local berth holders. A Romanesque town clusters behind the quay and beyond a domed church, craggy coastal mountains rise towards the 3,500ft peak of Monte Ravinet.
A dozen miles south of Loano, Alassio is a long-established Riviera resort once fashionable with film stars. Its beach seethes with holidaymakers in summer and at first, Alassio seems a place to avoid. But at the north end of the town, a wooded cliff juts out to a chapel on Capo Santa Croce and a breakwater encloses a cosy marina. The cliff forms an imposing backdrop to the harbour, which is nicely tucked away from the hectic seafront. Just offshore, a small island – Gallinara – has a miniature harbour on its inner side, but the island itself is out of bounds to visitors.
SLOW TIME IN IMPERIA
Not far west of Alassio, Imperia is a pleasant sprawling town renowned for its high-quality olive oil. There are two separate harbours, each with their own atmosphere. The original port, Oneglia, has a few yacht berths but is mainly concerned with fishing. I like its slow, sociable vibes, especially when the fishing boats come in each morning and folk wander down to see what’s on offer. The customers are unhurried, gazing down at the assorted fish, gossiping among themselves or with the fishermen, who in turn seem relaxed about selling. The music of Italian voices rises and falls in a way which is slightly perplexing to strangers, who sometimes think some serious argument is in train. But then the banter ends in shrugs, warm smiles and a mutual appreciation that another sunny Riviera day should be enjoyed to the full.
Just west of Oneglia, Porto Maurizio is a modern marina where visitors lie at the south jetty,
At Rapallo, villas look down from slopes of scented pines and poplar trees. Palms fringe the beach and a tiny castle overlooks the sea
or in the west basin opposite a waterfront lined with pizzerias and trattorias. Maurizio is crowded in high season with plenty of tourists ashore but if you can find a berth, there’s always plenty to watch. All kinds of boats use this bustling harbour, including small coasters.
SOOTHING SAN REMO
The quietly luxurious harbour at San Remo has excellent facilities and a hospitable feel. Quite modest boats mingle naturally with superyachts and the staff at Portosole Marina have a calm, civilised touch.
Sheltered by coastal mountains, San Remo was one of the original grand resorts of the Italian Riviera, whose palmy days began in the 1840s when English and Russian aristocrats were drawn by the mild winters and glorious surroundings.
Later in the 19th century, San Remo became even more desirable when pampering hotels and the railway arrived. As with Nice and Cannes, the 1920s and ’30s saw a more glitzy boom as celebrities discovered this Mediterranean jewel. Though the tourism is less exclusive now, San Remo still has the ‘Old Riviera’ magic.
CROSSING TO CORSICA
Sooner or later you’ll be tempted to cross to Corsica, a spectacular island whose mountainous spine falls dramatically towards the west coast. Corsica’s highest peak, Monte Cinto, reaches nearly 9,000ft within 14 miles of the sea.
From Genoa the nearest part of Corsica is Cap Corse, on the east side of which Macinaggio Marina lies in a delightful bay where lush green country slopes down to the harbour and a golden beach. From Genoa to Macinaggio is 90 nautical miles, not too arduous a run for fast boats on a quiet day.
Bastia’s Port Toga Marina is 18 miles south of Macinaggio, or you might cruise back around Cap Corse to Saint Florent in its south-west crook. Saint Florent feels like a sleepy St Tropez, with brasseries and chic houses looking across the harbour. The town huddles on a low point near a round citadel, and clean white sands stretch around the shore.
CROSSING TO CALVI
Having decided to cruise from Genoa to Corsica, I’d plan a direct passage to Calvi, about 110 miles at a touch west of south. Calvi is an enchanting place to linger and is well placed for fair-weather hops down Corsica’s west coast.
The marina crouches behind a steep-sided citadel, overlooking a splendid bay whose leafy shores and crescent beach curve away beneath rolling hills. Yachts of all sizes lie at anchor in piercingly blue water, wafted by cooling breezes. Along the marina esplanade there are bars, cafés and restaurants galore, many with shaded decks at the water’s edge. Behind the harbour, Calvi’s old quarter is a maze of winding streets, beckoning steps and unexpected courtyards.
CORSICA’S WEST COAST
Cruising south from Calvi, you pass remote beaches and holiday villages before the coast becomes higher and more rugged towards Punta Palazzo. Around Scandola coastal reserve, steep red cliffs are weathered into weird sculptures. In quiet weather, you can edge in close to see the caves.
Off Punta Rossa you swing into a magnificent gulf, following the soaring granite wall towards a humped promontory topped by a Genoese fort. Behind this spur hides Girolata village, once a remote settlement but now on the tourist trail with several restaurants and beach cafés. A few local boats bring in fresh fish. The anchorage is reasonably well protected so in quiet weather, you can spend a memorable night in this exquisite cove with the hills of Corsica all around. The water is crystal-clear, with turquoise shallows at the head of the bay.
Sooner or later you’ll be tempted to cross to spectacular Corsica, whose mountainous spine falls dramatically towards the west coast
The tropical paradise that is Genoa’s Biosphere A kaleidoscope of colour on the Rapallo waterfront
Chic Portofino is pretty as a picture – but best avoided in peak season
Timber buildings and green copper roofs at Varazze The approach to Savona’s snug harbour Alassio’s charms used to attract the movie stars
The Girolata anchorage at Corsica
A touch of the ‘Old Riviera’ magic at San Remo’s harbour