By Winnie Yang Conde Nast Traveler March 2014
Tucked into a thyme-scented hillside, the slow-paced fishing village of Camogli is easy to find and hard to forget. It’s only a two-hour drive from Milan—and yet one of Italy’s best-kept secrets.
The picturesque, just-sleepy-enough village of Camogli is intricately tied to the sea. Lore has it that Camogli, shortened from case delle mogli (“house of wives”), got its name from the women who watched over the town while their fishermen husbands were away. It sits an hour’s drive up the Ligurian coast from the Cinque Terre, and like the five towns there, it’s linked to neighboring villages by a footpath backed by vertiginous hills and cliffs giving way to the brilliant-blue sea below. Here too are the multi-story palazzi, painted in the muted pinks, yellows, and terra-cottas you find along this coast, their deep-green shutters framed by trompe l’oeil flourishes.
Unlike the Cinque Terre or nearby Portofino, however, Camogli is a secret that Italians have kept to themselves. It’s the summer retreat of discreetly well-heeled Milanese and Turinese, whose families have returned for generations to get their annual dose of sunshine and pesto... and, you’ll find, the ideal escape from the madding crowds.
Perhaps no one appreciates Camogli’s under-the-radar calm more than Mario Pietraccetta and Fulvio Zendrini. In 2007, the couple quit their corporate jobs in Milan to open Villa Rosmarino, a six-suite 1907 palazzo that they’ve impeccably restored with a clean, modern sensibility.
But the best way to get to know the area is on foot. Heading south from Camogli, take the stone path that briefly follows a shaded creek and then climbs a series of stairs, leading you past olive and citrus trees, cactus, and stands of palm, under boughs of myrtle and laurel, and through air scented with wild rosemary and lavender. Unlike on the heavily tracked route through the Cinque Terre, you’ll be virtually alone.
Just when you think you can’t possibly make it any farther (it’s a half-hour trip, nearly all uphill), you arrive in San Rocco. Here you can take in the spectacular view of the surrounding countryside or stop for a meal at La Cucina di Nonna Nina, where Paolo Delpian prepares traditional Ligurian dishes, including an antipasto plate of marinated anchovies and sardines and octopus salad.
It’s worth continuing on the trail all the way to the abbey at San Fruttuoso (an additional two and a half hours), where there’s a ferry back to Camogli. If you return instead from San Rocco, keep an eye out for a hand-lettered sign just outside town advertising marmellate: Here, an elderly couple sells homemade lemon marmalade and a glorious apricot jam.
Back in Camogli, join the beachgoers who head to focaccerias like O’ Becco Fin or Revello for focaccia col formaggio, a specialty from nearby Recco in which rich, gooey cheese is encased in millimeter-thin sheets of dough. And before heading to dinner—perhaps at Da Paolo or Dö Spadin, for freshly caught seafood—join the locals emerging for their passeggiata to watch the sun go down, the sky draining all the color from the buildings and turning the sea to silver.