June 28, 2013: Leaving things to the last minute, we were lucky to hire a car in Sesto Calende for a weekend jaunt to the Italian Riviera. The rental company even delivered our cute and compact Renault Clio to our hotel, and picked it up afterwards. Now that’s good service!
Chris drove and I navigated, with a little help from the built in GPS unit. Driving in Italy is a bit of a challenge, especially in the bigger cities. But we had lots of backup, including a large scale paper map of the Lombardy province and an offline map of Italy installed on the iPad also with built in GPS. Even so, there were a few navigational hiccups along the way. Programming the GPS was more challenging than map reading.
Seeing as we didn’t leave Sesto until nearly four o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, we opted for the quickest route south to the Mediterranean coast. This meant toll highways. Fast and smooth, the A26 whipped us through the flat countryside dotted with villages and farms growing rice (risotto) to the coastal Appennino Ligure mountains. Here it wound up, around and even through the mountains. Our first taste of the truly awe-inspiring engineering of Italian road design.
We got a quick peek at the Med just before entering the crazy tunnels that make up the A10 heading east to Genoa. With traffic building and nothing but taillights to see, we opted to get off the toll highways, get onto the coast road and meander through the towns between Genoa and our planned stop for the night, Rapallo.
Here’s where navigation got especially interesting, with the GPS lady telling Chris one thing and me telling him something else. She kept wanting to send us back onto the toll highway. I wanted to get us to Highway 1 along the coast. After driving in circles and trying not to turn the wrong way on one way streets in Genoa, we finally managed to get to the coast road. From there it was a pretty straight run to Rapallo, except the road was anything but straight as it hugged the coastline and its myriad bays.
The traffic was crazy. Cars, busses, motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, delivery trucks, caravans, fancy sportscars. And people. It felt like one big town almost the entire drive to Rapallo, because it was so built up and it seemed as if everyone from Europe had decided to pick this weekend, the first of the summer holidays, to go to the beach.
But the views were lovely. The weather was perfect. And it was fun to be getting away for the weekend.
Fortunately for us, Rapallo turned out to be a bit more relaxed than the beach towns closer to Genoa. Situated on a natural harbour, with a large marina, a sea walk and lots of small hotels to choose from, we felt right at home. And lucky for us, the Hotel Giulio Cesare had a lovely room for us overlooking the harbour. We checked in and set off to explore the marina and the town, in that order.
We enjoyed drinks and tapas sitting at a waterside bistro overlooking the town, the harbour, the marina and the Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea), built in 1551 to defend against frequent pirate attacks. By dinner time we were already so stuffed that all we ended up ordering was Tiramisu.
It was a perfect base for our weekend explorations to Cinque Terre and Portofino. Stay tuned!