Liguria has undoubtedly become one of our favourite regions if not the top destination. There is so much going for the region, it is by the sea, it has a stunning landscape, picturesque towns and seaside villages, fantastic cuisine and also hills and mountains in the backdrop which at times reach the sea making for a spectacular setting.
Sestri Levante, formerly a fishing village just 50 kilometres away from Genova, is the holiday destination of the Milanesi. This town is both beautiful and full of life. It is a great place to laze about, walk up and down the carrugio or main street, sip an espresso in one of the many bars or relax with stunning sea views on the two sides of the town. The restaurants and bars are busy starting from the late afternoon serving aperitivi and nibbles, and the main street of Sestri is full of boutiques which remain open until late.
Sestri Levante is a perfect base for discovering the wonders of Liguria. The most well known sites are the Cinque Terre and Portofino and most tourists actually miss some of the most picturesque and quaint towns and villages along the Ligurian coast.
What we particularly like about Sestri Levante are the two bays, the Baia delle Favole or (Bay of Fairy Tales), and the Baia del Silenzio (the Bay of Silence), both stunning in their own worth.
The Baia del Silenzio is hidden just off the main street of Sestri and you will be surprised by its beauty the first time you see it. You will want to return time and time again whatever the time of year.
On the other side, the Baia delle Favole is a one kilometre beach with a splendid view of part of the peninsula where Sestri is located.
Sestri Levante, in our opinion is also a good base away from the tourist locations of Portofino and the Cinque Terre. You can drive around by car in Liguria but the train which goes along the coastal towns and villages is also incredibly efficient and probably the easiest way to visit the CInque Terre (apart from using a boat). From here you are practically halfway between Genova and La Spezia and only kilometres away from Chiavari, Zoagli, Rapallo, Camogli, Santa Maria Ligure, Portofino (more about these places and Liguria in general in another blog post).
In Sestri Levante, you would do well not to miss Balin Cuisine. While not on the cheap side, this restaurant immediately struck a chord because like me the owner and chef is obsessed with food and the provenance of his ingredients. The menu is limited and depends on the fresh fish he finds at the market. He uses top quality condiments like the splendid Ligurian olives (taggiasche olives) and exceptional Ligurian olive oil. If you are not into fish, he has mouth watering Chianina beef from Tuscany. His fish soup is exceptional, as are his pasta dishes and incredibly fresh fish but let him guide you and you will definitely not be disappointed.
For a quick coffee, the Cafe Centrale is a must. Inside, it feels like time has stood still and you can sit on the covered terrace sipping your coffee or aperitivo and reading a newspaper from one of the newsagents closeby. You will also find the international press here. His ice-creams are also exceptional so this is a place to keep visiting time and time again.
Just a few metres away from him is a very good enoteca or wine shop. Enoteca Grazia is a treasure of splendid Italian wines from some of the best producers around Italy. Here you will find an excellent selection of top quality Ligurian wines as well as wines from all Italian regions. One recommendation – if you are going by car, make sure to leave space in the boot because the temptations in this wine shop are huge.
An institution in Sestri Levante and even known outside the region is the bakery Panificio Tosi which makes exceptional focaccia, a Ligurian bread speciality. I would recommend a selection of different focaccias including the traditional one with salt and olive oil, the one with onions which is delicious as well as the one with tomatoes (which resembles a pizza) and the famous Focaccia al formaggio di Recco (which is a thin sheet of dough covered with a creamy cheese). His farinata, also a regional speciality made with chickpea flour is also to die for.
Tips: If you are there in summer and want to avoid the heat at least on one day head to the entro terra or (hills). One place to stop on the way to Varese Ligure (considered as one of the best small towns of Italy), is Castiglione Chiavarese, a very small village which is also famous for its salami made by the renowned butcher in this hilltop village.
At Varese Ligure eat at the the Vineria del Borgo, a small wine bar just off the main square with a great selection of wines. The owner is extremely well versed in wines and they serve excellent food for very reasonable prices. The pasta with pesto and with the walnut sauce were excellent as were the home made sausages cooked in white wine.