The mountains of the eastern Ligurian coast
Here we really are on the mountains facing the sea. The mountains where you could happily hike year round, exceet for very short periods in the more inland stretches. The places where you can start from the sea shore and get to the mountains, to be proudly back, walking with your back pack among the sunday tourists of some renowned sea resort.
In eastern Liguria all this is due to the fact that the two main river systems run almost parallel to the coast, as already outlined in the pages about Fontanabuona valley and Vara valley. On the west side, the Lavagna river valley (Fontanabuona), joins with Graveglia valley, to form the Chiavari-Lavagna plain; on the east side, lays the Vara river valley. The ridges dividing these valleys from the sea, on their south sides, are indeed the “mountains on the sea” complex. These are therefore all the ridges bordering the small valleys of the streams directly flowing to the Ligurian sea; some of them are very short, with their ridges really facing the sea, like in the areas of Sori, between Chiavari and Sestri Levante or in the Cinque Terre area; some others are a bit more complex, like the valleys on the south side of Graveglia valley, that join to form the small plain of Sestri Levante. When their development is longer, these valleys again tend to develop a bit parallel to the coastline, and their ridge then moves inland, somewhat farther from the coastline. The side ridges of these valleys are sometimes very evident, plunging into the sea with the imposing cliffs of the local capes. It is therefore a rather complex situation, generating diverse landscapes and microclimates, which diversity have been enhanced by centuries of human activities, which traces are still well visible, despite the overwhelming recent development of the sea side resorts.
You may wonder what has a seaside touristic area to do with the “più di mille” idea; areas like the Cinque Terre, where the low season period is almost non-existent; where the pack group tourism pours hundreds of people from buses and cruising vessels. “Rapallizzazione” was adopted in the sixties of the last century, as a term to indicating uncontrolled urbanisation. Let’s say, that for certain places you have to calibrate your time of visit; for others there is no problem: it is often enough to move few kilometers inland to forget the crowd. And, although rare, some touristic operators would definitely prefer a less invasive kind of tourism.
This is in any case an area to be taken in serious consideration, without limiting to the Cinque Terre or to the mount of Portofino. Here you find centres on the sea, ranging from small villages to lively fascinating little cities; almost each of them has its own sanctuary, up in the hills, with still the old stone pathways reaching it. You find historical centres in exorbitant numer, everywhere. Find ridges facing the sea, covered with Mediterranean vegetation, but also, not far from the coast, the chestnut groves of the inner valleys, stone muletracks and unexpected pastoral environments with an archaic atmoshpere. It is enough to study your itinerary and go !
Well, from close to the Scoffera, where our travel started, a ridge starts, heading east and generating the south border of the Fontanabuona valley. From the mount Bado knot, another ridge starts, going west, making the border with the Bisagno valley that here, like most of the “respectable” ones, runs almost parallel to the coast. On the sea side, lay what is already the outskirts of Genova: Quarto, Nervi, Bogliasco…, and pathways start to climb up to the mountain. And here you have the first surprises. Going up to the ridges from Nervi, Bogliasco, Pieve Ligure, Sori, few steps away from the coast, overlooking the highway, terraced valleys and chestnut groves, on the shaded sides; former pasture lands with mule tracks, dry stone walls and archaic looking rural buildings; going up to mounts Bado and Croce dei Fo’, you will feel as being on high mountains. Sights on mount Antola, snowy during winter, and on the arch of the Maritime Alps, that you see from the whole eastern Ligurian coast, on clear days, but that from here is closer. Along the hill side tracks, muletracks among olive groves and small villages, and a sight on Genova and the mount of Portofino. You can walk on the ridge or on the sea-facing paths, with completely different landscapes; this will be a constant characteristic, until Bocca di Magra, where the Liguria region ends.
Once by-passed the valley of Recco, from where you can anyway climb up to the ridge, things change a bit. A ridge goes south, building the massive Portofino cape, a hiking destination by itself, roamed by footpaths from each side: Recco, Camogli, Ruta, Santa Margherita. You cannot miss San Fruttuoso, even if you will not be alone there; getting there by foot is never trivial, especially if you also want to walk back. Also the city of Camogli is almost a must, not to be missed.
If you continue along the main ridge, it becomes more woody, then sharper, until it crosses mount Manico del Lume, where you can also find some more demanding stretch. We are just above Rapallo, with a pleasant centre, despite its “fame”. But around you, you still see old terraces, small villages and two almost symmetric twin valleys (look at them on the map, zooming from Manico del Lume: I am almost sure that you will be willing to go there). After this trait, the ridge becomes softer, running woody until Chiavari, with prevailing sights on the Fontanabuona vallyes and mounts Caucaso and Ramaceto, but also on the sea. Also the “walk” on the seaside slopes, winding on little beaten roads crossing the villages between Rapallo e Chiavari, is absolutely pleasant.
Getting to Chiavari (do not miss to visit the city centre) you have to go down: it is necessary to cross the Entella river, but just after it, in Lavagna you can already go up again to the south ridge of val Graveglia; again terraces, olive groves, sights on the sea and then, suddenly, environments that remind you of mountains. From the mount Capenardo knot you can go down to Sestri Levante, another place not to be missed, where we will soon be back for another strecth of walk.
Indeed, from mount Capenardo, the main coastal ridge makes a large half loop around the valleys converging in the Sestri e Riva Trigoso plain. The Petronio stream, as usually flows to the coast with an acute angle, thus elongating a bit its course. Its upper valley ridge meets the upper Graveglia and Vara valleys (we left them in a different page) at the Bocco di Bargone pass, from where it goes down along the Alpe di Maissana ridge, reaching mount San Nicolao and the Bracco pass, to from the ridge plunging into the at punta Rospo, making the border between the provinces of La Spezia and Genova, between the Deiva Marina and Moneglia villages. These are less beaten places, but still with paths and views on the sea and the hinterland. From mount San Nicolao, going east, the ridge marks the south border of the Vara Valley, until the outskirts of La Spezia, making some further tours around the valleys of Deiva Marina and Levanto.
If, from Sestri Levante, you start walking along the paths goin up and down through the coastal ridges, you enter in an hiking world that may end in Portovenere, where the sea is your constant companion, although you can only reach it alomst only going down to the villages. An itinenary of Mediterranean vegetation, at first, then terraces and pine groves hit by fires, between Sestri and Levanto, passing through capes Manara, Baffe and Moneglia, and the villages of Moneglia, Deiva, Framura and Bonassola.
Then terraces and pine groves again, between Levanto and Monterosso, passing through the Mesco cape, where you enter the territory of Cinque Terre. Names too famous, almost useless to mention them: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore; too famous places to be described in detail, nevertheless a photo show cannot be missed, without forgetting however the uphill villages and monasteries.
Terraces with vineyards, shrubs and pine woods; you will not get tired watching around.
You end up in the extraordinary Tramonti area, between Riomaggiore and Portovenere (another not-to-be-missed place), with some of the steepest terraced slopes and coastal villages hung to these cliffs, and the village of Campiglia up on the ridge.
It is a complete network of pathways that you can walk on at different heights; along the ridge, along the cliff slopes, between villages, up and down, with round loops…. Or again, going up from the inland valleys and going down to the sea. Considering that, between Genova and La Spezia, all the coastal villages are connected by train, creating something perhaps not unique in the world but, for sure, not that common !
Getting close to La Spezia you may take a break, or you may also walk round the city on the sorrounding hills, that still represent the dividing ridge with the Vara valley, first, then with the Magra river valley.
But it is not finished, yet: you pass above Lerici, (where you will be likely willing to go, unless you came up from there). At the low marked pass of Pugliola the last stretch of this trip begins: the Caprione cape, between river Magra and the sea, again covered with a newtwork of paths. Sights on the sea, the Apennine and the Apuanian Alps, where we will soon go.
On the other side, Ameglia and Bocca di Magra, at the river mouth, still fascinating, even it is not anymore like it used to be before it was transformed in a touristic harbour. You find all kind of paths, also rather demanding ones. And again terraces, abandoned villages, olive groves, shrublands and pine forests, sights on the sea.
And now, let’s stop talking. Take your way, if you want, or contact me, if you prefer !