November 30, 2023 | Rome, Italy

900 stairs

By |2018-03-21T18:42:50+01:00January 10th, 2011|Leisure Over the Years|
Punta Chiappa's stormy light. Photo by Andrea Smith.

hreatening clouds gather over the Ligurian coast obscuring the mountain range in the distance. The delightful pastel colors of the beachfront houses in Camogli on the Golfo di Paradiso seem washed out against the grey sea and sky. It has rained every weekend for two months. It will rain this November day, maybe even storm, but Marino and I are determined. We are going to hike. Our destination is Punta Chiappa and Portofino.

Camogli is 20 kilometers east of Genoa on the edge of the Parco Regionale di Portofino. From the beach, we can see the village of San Rocco perched above. We walk back to our car in Via Cuneo and ask for directions to the path. “Just go straight, you’ll see the Carabinieri station, follow the road beside the stream.” Not 30 meters from where we parked is a sign for San Rocco. We begin a 221-meter climb.

The road becomes a grooved cement walkway running along beside flights of stairs. We soon see and hear why. Without vehicles, workmen and residents use small, ingenious, and lawnmower-load motorized “wheelbarrows” with caterpillar treads to transport their loads. An elderly couple fills theirs with groceries. A muratore maneuvers his, full of gravel, over bumps on the ramp.

Cultivated terraces of olive groves with nets beneath the trees rise over hillsides dotted with houses. Men clean leaves from the path.

“Will the weather hold?” we ask a worker.

He gazes toward the sky. “No, it’ll get worse.”

Snowflakes mixed with raindrops flutter down. Marino looks at me. “Want to turn back?”

“Let’s go to San Rocco and see. It’s not far. Maybe 20, 30 minutes.”

At San Rocco, the rain stops. The path leads along Via San Rocco and past its famous bakery, Panificio Maccarini.

Focaccia?” I ask.

Marino points to the foreboding sky over the gulf. “Let’s keep going. San Nicolò isn’t far.”

To the right of San Rocco church, completed in 1863, is a wide, panoramic trail descending along the hillside above the sea. The woods don’t protect us from the drizzle. We pause to cover our backpacks and put on rain gear.

After 20 minutes, we reach signposts and arrows — straight ahead for San Fruttuoso and Portofino, to the right, down lots of stairs, for the hamlet of San Nicolò di Capodimonte and Punta Chiappa.

Marino points to an ominous cloud out at sea. “We’d better be quick.” We go right.

The ancient church of San Nicolò, first documented in 1141, is closed for restoration. The monastery beside it was abandoned in the 1400s after repeated pirate attacks. In Napoleon’s time, it became apartments.

In the distance, the sun lights up the town of Recco like a heavenly spotlight checking the coast through the clouds. We descend stairs to Mulino da Drin restaurant (once a mill) and hurry to Porto Pidocchio. “Port Louse” is tiny. Restaurants and the fishermen’s museum are closed for the season. Fishing nets drape the rocks all around the port. Two boys fish from the small ferry landing.

From the port, the trail ascends. Goats peer at us. A dog barks. A woman comes out of a house and smiles. “Not many out today.” She points to the menacing, black cloud. “It’s beautiful when it storms. I love a good bluster.”

We race the descending path to Punta Chiappa. While chiappa is a colloquial word for buttock in Italian, it means cliff or flat stone in Ligurian dialect. The rocky point juts 50 meters into the sea. Black and white cats join us as we look at the Stella Maris, a mosaic altar. Then we hunker down and listen to the sea roar. The cats won’t take our food but keep us company.

Someone must feed them at the Stella Maris hotel above the point. It is where in 1814 Lord Byron wrote, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture on the lonely shore,” a line from Canto IV of “Childe Harold.”

The sinister cloud moves closer. The sunbeam now plays with Camogli’s pastel colors. The Gulf of Paradise turns turquoise. Then the shaft of light disappears and everything is dark.

We turn back. The boys, with their poles, are going home.

“Catch anything?” Marino asks.

They hang their heads.

“What do you catch here?”

“Mullet and bass.”

Punta Chiappa has a rich sea harvest. We watch a boat of scuba divers heading out past the point into the Riserva Marina di Portofino, towards the underwater grotta del gambero, a grotto swarming with shrimp.

“Is there another trail?” Marino asks.

The boys point to steps and a steep climb. After a few paces, we turn back. It’s muddy. It starts to drizzle. We return the way we came — all 900 stairs. It’s good for the chiappe.

At San Rocco, the Maccarini bakery is busy. We don’t mind. It’s pouring rain outside. The gallette, fishermen’s hardtack, is sold out. We buy focaccia and pandolce, a Genovese yeast cake of dried fruits flavored with orange flower essence.

“It’s our Christmas cake,” the baker says. “It will keep a month.”

By the time we leave, the rain has almost stopped. We finish the focaccia in the car. The cake lasted two days at home. I ate every crumb.

How to get there

  • Trains to Camogli on the Genova-La Spezia line; by car, motorway A12 to Recco and SP1 to Camogli.

Lodging and bread

About the Author:

Andrea Smith's column on hiking in Italy ran from 2008 through 2013.