The small fishing town of Camogli lies only 36 km. from Genoa and can be easily reached by train or car or, most interestingly, by boat from Genoa port.
Local people on a day out are more likely to go to Camogli than to the more reknowned Portofino. Portofino is rather famous as a “VIP spot” and is of course very charming. Camogli is something different: a real little town, not just a tourist attraction. Whether you approach by train or by car, you’ll come in from above sea-level and immediately have a view over the bay. Houses have been built along the shore and up the hillside; the little town is full of steps cutting out the bends in the winding road. This configuration make Camogli traffic-unfriendly, to all advantage of those wishing to wander around on foot. There is however some quite good parking space close to the center (forget it in peak times, like Sunday afternoons or during special events.
The sea air, the pastel-coloured old buildings, the people going about their business in a serene, friendly way, the mild climate, the shimmering Mediterranean, the green hills closing in the town, all contrive to make this place simply enjoyable.
As often is the case, there are various different theories about the origin of the name. In medieval texts, the town is called “Vila Camuli” which could derive from Camulio (an Etruscan war god) or Camolio (a Gallic-Celtic solar divinity). Most local people prefer the explanation that the name derives from “Casa delle mogli” (the wives’ house) – the place where seamen returned home to their (respective) wives. The huddled-together houses, skyscrapers of their time, have always been decorated in different colors, supposedly to help the approaching seamen identify their own house from afar and look for their loving wife watching from the window as the ships approached port.
The town was formerly composed of the harbor and shore area and a small island, on which the the Castle (Castello del Dragone) was built, as well as the church. the pier and the port. A tiled plaque shows what this area looked like in 1518, after which the church was extended and the island was joined to the pier, so it no longer is an island.
The City of a Thousand White Sailing Ships
Unbelievably, Camogli once had a more numerous sailing fleet than the port of Hamburg! Many local ships were used by Napoleon for the transport of troops and material for his Egyptian campaign; transport was by sailing ship in those days. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Aboukir Bay in 1798, most of the fleet was destroyed. Camogli’s shipowners then invested in a new fleet of merchant sailing ships, famous throughout the nineteenth century until overtaken by steamships. Camogli’s little harbor has since then been occupied by smaller fishing vessels, dinghies belonging to local people, and the small tourist ferry-boats linking the town to Genoa and also to the hamlet of San Fruttuoso,which can be reached only on foot or by sea.
What to do in Camogli?
Camogli is worth a visit any time of the year: it has the typical grey pebbly beaches of this area, to be enjoyed from spring to autumn. A walk round its harbor is fascinating any time, and you can still find fishermen spreading and mending their nets (though less often than a few years ago).
Ice-cream is special, but most of all, you should try a portion of the local “foccacia al formaggio” – hot, wafer-thin sandwich of flat bread mixture (cooked in a pizza oven), salty on top, with runny crescenza cheese in the middle. Crescenza is a sort of stracchino – these are local soft, fresh,smooth cheeses. You can taste the foccacia al formaggio sitting down in a restaurant, or buy it takeaway and sit and eat it on the beach. You’ll find this latter option undoubtedly messy, delicious, memorable!
Special Events in Camogli.
“Sagra del Pesce” (Fish festival) takes place on the second Sunday in May each year. The idea came to two fishermen in 1952, to take advantage of the glut of anchovies usually fished here at this time of year. An enormous frying pan is set up and volunteers fry some 3000 kilos of anchovies which are distributed free of charge to the crowd. Interesting to note that the Italian Society for Celiac Disease has in 2012 sponsored a smaller gluten-free fry-up at Ruta, on the hill just above Camogli – just to show that this town is able and willing to cater for a wide public.
San Fortunato, Bonfires and Fireworks
On the eve of the Fish festival, there is the celebration of San Fortunato – patron of fishermen and hence of this fishing village. The Saint is “brought out” and the evening ends with bonfires and fireworks.
Tribute to the Christ of the Abyss,
On the last Saturday in July, a wreath is laid at the feet of a statue of the Redeemer placed at a depth of 17 mt. on the seabed.
Festa della Stella Maris
On the first Sunday in August, a procession of boats decorated with flags proceeds towards the nearby Punta Chiappa, where mass is said in honor of the Madonna Star of the Sea. The evening ends beautifully with a multitude of lit candles floating on the water.
Staying in Camogli?
You can visit Camogli while staying in Genoa (for instance on a cruise ship); alternatively, you can choose to stay in Camogli while in Genoa for business! The Hotel Cenobio dei Dogi and Hotel Casmona in the center will make your stay memorable and be less formal than city hotels. This solution is particularly smart if you are in Genoa during one of the large exhibitions at the Genoa Fair Area, when it can be difficult to find a hotel in the city.
Finally a word of warning to the English, who see St. George’s flag flying from the castle. No, the town is not making a special welcome for you. St. George is the patron saint of Genoa and his flag flies all over the province of Genoa. Feel at home.
Originally published on Suite 101