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A Rough Guide to Liguria in Italy : Things to Do in Sestri Levante.
The shores of eastern Liguria in North Western Italy await you for that special holiday experience. They are in stiff competition with 'Le Sud' of France and the Amalfi Coast but Liguria boasts the famous city of Genoa and charm of the Cinque Terre UNESCO sites.
It also has many other fascinating towns and resorts along its undulating coastline lapped by the waters of the Mediterranean. On the way you will find the town of Sestri Levante which is a vibrant and popular destination for all lovers of that Italian holiday experience.
We spent a day there taking in the sights and sounds,sampling the delights of local cafes and finding out all the things to do in Sestri Levante.
We went by car and took the 'autostrada' which is the motorway that runs behind the town. It's a succession of high bridges and long short tunnels through the hillsides of the region near the coast.
There is also a train-line along the coast and the nearest airport is in Genoa just under 60km to the west. Sestri Levante lies almost exactly halfway between the city and the other great port of La Spezia.
THE TOP 5 THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SESTRI LEVANTE
1. Relax on the beach in the sandy, picturesque Bay of Silence.
2. Enjoy the music, dance and processions of the festival seasons
3. Spend hours soaking up the sun on the popular beaches.
4. Sample the great Ligurian cuisine and fine wines in many restaurants
5. Take in the history of the region in its churches and museums.
We walked along a back street after having parked the car. Which was no mean feat. Not the back-street walking but the actual car depositing.
Parking can be difficult to find in the summer months. A major exploration of space for the adventurous.
Passing by the entrance gates of the 4-Star 'Vis-a-Vis' hotel we entered via della Chiusa which ironically translates as 'Closed Street' or so I believe. It's an attractive little thoroughfare of quaint shops and picturesque buildings.
Let the music take you there
The music bar Mamaluna is here and you'll normally hear good music emanating from its heart, sometimes recorded, sometimes live as they host musicians regularly.
A healthy antidote to the homogenous shopping mall muzak and lifeless elevator tunes that pollute our ears in modern life.
Reaching the corner you see the street name engraved in the wall and on the other side is another name etched in the concrete. It says 'Affiso Vietato' and you could be forgiven for thinking that's the name of the next street.
But if you know your Italian then you'll be aware that it actually roughly translates as 'No Billposters' more or less.
Liberation and independence
This in actual fact via XXV Aprile which commemorates 'Liberation Day' dating back to the Second World War. Appropriately it's pedestrianised so you have the freedom to wander with the shoppers.
It's a popular haunt of the credit-card set with it's small independent stores, Estate Agents, and typical bars and cafes of the Riviera.
A corporate-free enclave of good taste and much variety. For the most part that is. The low-grade aroma of cheap grease entered our nostrils as, unusually for Italian towns there was a burgers joint offering processed meat and fries for the financially challenged.
Smoke gets in your eyes
But we were in the mood for some fast food and were offered to sit in the rear garden areas. But on inspection its plumes of smoke identified it as a smokers paradise and we elected instead to sit outside on the street tables.
But in narrow streets it's often difficult to escape the Italian love of the nicotine and black lung. No matter where you sit the thin blue fog of the deadly weed seeks out the passive smoker.
Later we stopped at another corner on XXV Aprile to have a refreshing afternoon beer. The Millelire bar has lots to offer. Unfortunately the menu we were given didn't have a beer list so I had to ask inside.
But the friendly bar staff picked up another copy and showed that on the second page there was indeed a beer menu inside. Going back outside to check ours we discovered that the relevant pages had stuck together.
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Vintage beer was literally on the menu and it must have recently been flowing liberally.
There were many flavours available in a fine selection.
If you take full advantage of the hospitality then careful how you go on leaving.
At this crossroads traffic regularly cuts across the road and there are actually traffic lights to control it.
So if you have young children keep them close.
The sound of silence is golden sands and gentle waves
Continuing onwards we soon reached the 'Bay of Silence'. It's easy to find, you just follow the noise. It's very popular on a good day and closed off by nature from the rest of the town.
Its major claim to fame at the moment is a highly appropriate and record-breaking Silent Disco called "SHH!" when thousands of people shuffle and shimmy in the sand.
It takes place every year during the 'Mojotic' Music Festival and in 2014 over 8,000 people gathered to create a European record.
One side of the small bay has modest buildings but picture postcard nonetheless ready to be captured by your camera lens.
In the past this little promontory was actually a tiny island but though time soil and sand carried by the sea currents were deposited to create the modern isthmus.
A centuries long project of land transformation slowly and patiently accomplished by the elements.
Barbarian hordes and other unwelcome visitors
Sestri Levante has been around for a long time and was first recorded in documents dating from 909 A.D. After the disaster of the Barbarian Invasions it began to expand and develop during the medieval period.
But the town, like many others along this strategic coast, has been fought over by all and sundry for centuries. In 1072 it was the Republics of Genoa and Pisa taking up cudgels. The former won that conflict, the latter stuck to building dodgy towers on soft ground.
The great and all powerful land-owning families of the old historical provinces battled it out in 14th century including the famous Viscontis.
In the 15th century it was the turn of the Venetians and in the next century the foreigners decided to throw their oars in as there were attacks by the Turks in 1542 and the Saracens in 1607.
The 'Little Corporal' came strutting along the beach in 1797 as the French forces of Napoleon extended their empire.
After the Duke of Wellington chased his adversary off into the sunset at Waterloo control of Sestri was place in the hands of the Sardinians.
Finally in 1861 the country was unified into what is now modern Italy.
Thankfully there have been no marauding hordes of beer-soaked tourists in the modern era. Although Sestri Levante attracts people from abroad the visitors are normally from Northern Italy.
This is reflected in the local campsites just behind the town which are mostly populated by domestic visitors. The accommodation and facilities are not of the international standard of other camping areas in Italy such as the Venice Coast and the Northern Lakes.
The celebrated Cinque Terre area further down the coast enjoys more international tourists and has a more well-known reputation worldwide.
But going back to the 'Bay of Silence' we saw a very nice German family on the sandy beach picking up their children at arms length to avoid getting their neatly-pressed designer clothes in any way soiled. There's nothing like letting yourself go on holiday.
Opposite the isthmus the other side of the bay is more impressive as it has the Punta Manara promontory, a high rocky hill replete with vegetation.
You can also go for a walk along the paths on the hills which give nice sea views and you can walk all the way to Moneglia or Casarza a few kilometres along the coast.
High-class hotels balconies and low-class localities
At the bay you'll also find high-class customers. The terraces of the Hotel Helvetia and balconies of the 'Vis-a-Vis' peer down onto the water.
Therefore if you have a good budget then what better way to enjoy a late evening with a cocktail looking out onto a beautiful Mediterranean sky as the suns sets.
Down among the peasantry we encountered the expected shortcomings of the fabled Ligurian hospitality. Sooner or later we knew we would suffer bad service and we weren't disappointed.
,At the beach-side café we had a party of 4 adults and a baby in a buggy and asking for a table outside on the narrow stretch, the welcome was less than welcome.
The staff couldn't do less for us and even put a 'reserved' sign on our table.
Presumably this was to remind us that there was a later and far more important booking.
The pressure was on and the clock was ticking.
It's always tough to drink to a deadline.
But in the end it was of absolutely no consequence anyway.
After waiting for almost 10 minutes, during which time we relaxed by watching the staff have a nice chat amongst themselves at the main door, we decided enthusiastically to leave.
But not before giving some 1-star verbal feedback that couldn't be printed on Trip Advisor.
Between a rock and a hired place
We walked back towards the main part of town to the 'Bay of Fairy Tales' with its pebble beaches.
This got its name in honour of Hans Christian Andersen. The famous Danish storyteller lived in the town for a while back in 1833.
These pebble beaches are certainly more convenient and practical for adult tastes but less so for kids.
Fairy-tale castles must be built of sand of course and it's a tough afternoon shift ploughing a little canal through shifting stones all the way to the shoreline.
But the beaches are very popular and contain both public and private areas. The latter are well served by sun-loungers, parasols and convenient bar facilities.
But if you don't like the battery-hen experience of crowded beaches in the ranks then you can stretch out on the rocks which are aplenty.
Not for me as, with my fair skin, I can't handle too much exposure to the sun. But if you can endlessly soak up the rays then these parts are perfect for sunbathing, some meditative fishing or diving in to cool off in the sea.
Full immersion exercise in waste management
You could say that these waters would make people green with envy and you would be half right. Some friends of ours once emerged from the sea wearing a verdigree tinge to the skin.
The assumed it to have come from some natural algae that had perhaps been floating on the surface. Then a local explained that there was a municipal sewage pipe out to sea. So it might be worth staying closer to shore or be aware of tidal movements and urban effluence.
Maybe that explains the colour of the marvelous statue further out in the Bay of Silence. It depicts a fisherman sitting on one of the rocks hauling his net from the water.
Crack open a clam and strike up the band
Undoubtedly being in Italy you'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to fine food of excellent quality. We had a sea-food meal in a restaurant in XXV Aprile.
The fresh cuisine was really good but it was a case of chairs and elbows tucked in as the floorplan was a little cramped.
It felt like the management had tried to squeeze as many tables into, and as many profits out of, the shortest space possible.
We were sat at an open window which was a pleasure and fascinating to watch the evening promenaders stroll by.
It could be very noisy though, even within earshot of the Bay of Silence, as on our visit a brass band struck up in a nearby piazza. But you have to expect that everywhere you go in Italy, especially in the towns and resorts.
They love to party, to sing and play music with no prompting needed to have a festival. You're always guaranteed a fun time wherever you go on the great Mediterranean Welly Boot Peninsula.
In Sestri Levante there must be over 12 different festivals throughout the year. In particular in the summer months in the fine weather.
There is a Blues and Soul Music event in May for lovers of popular music. Or if you prefer in the same month a classical piano competition for young musicians. There is also a Chamber Music Festival in high summer.
Horticultural and historical
There is a spring horticultural fair of flowers and plants, many maritime events such as the 'Barcarolata' Float Parade, the Andersen Prize writing competition in May for children and a mini-basketball tournament in April supported by UNICEF.
There is also a street procession for the Festival of the Madonna in July.
Of course there are plenty of gatherings and celebrations for people to gather and enjoy great food and drink.
For lovers of art, history and architecture there are also local attractions to enjoy.
The Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth for example with its impressive neo-classical portico.
This dates orginally from 1604 and took 12 years to build
The magnificent interior was designed in the 18th and 19th centuries and houses paintings from the Baroque period
Then there is the Church of San Stefano which was built between 1878 and 1901 and with later decorations added.
You can also visit the local Archeological Museum and Villa Tassani which house a collection of minerals. There is also an Art Gallery near the Bay of Silence.
So, if you're travelling on that train from Genova to the Cinque Terre maybe you would like to stop off at Sestri Levante.
On the way down for a couple of hours to enjoy the scene or maybe on the way back for a nice evening meal and stroll along the promenade.
If you've liked what you've seen then maybe you'll spend a whole day there taking in the sights, sounds and smells. If you time it right then you could be in the middle of a fantastic festival of music, wine and dance.
And those views from the hotels on the hills may even entice you to stay the night and wake up to look over the blue Mediterranean. You can find everything for a great holiday experience on the coast and in the hills of Liguria.