One of Italy’s most beautiful stretches of coastline, the Promontory of Portofino is not exactly a pristine wilderness: the day trippers and yachts of the rich and famous have seen to that. But it remains one of the most important natural habitats between La Spezia and the French border – one, say ecologists, that deserves the protection of a national park – and it does have spectacular scenery. Now the whole area is under the protection of the Parco Naturale Regionale del Monte di Portofino (Mount of Portofino Regional Nature Park).
Sailing is the best way to explore this most romantic of coasts. The stretch from Portofino to the aptly named Golfo Paradiso is an unforgettable odyssey of high cliffs, turquoise seas, silver olive trees, green pines and rock-perched pastel villages. The secluded bay of San Fruttuoso – where an Abbey has been erected, during the Middle Ages, in an isolated location – is one of the indisputable highlights of the area. The Abbey can be – most poetically – reached from the sea, but it can also be accessed via long-winding paths that are nonetheless worth the effort for the superb views they afford along the way.
In fact, on terra firma the Portofino Promontory is almost equally stunning. A spine of limestone hills divides its jumble of valleys, crossing the headland from east to west and rising to the Mount of Portofino (Monte di Portofino, 610 m). On warm herb-scented days walking here is a gentle and unmitigated pleasure; the views are stupendous, the vegetation luxuriant and the paths excellent. Tracks start from most of the towns and villages around the promontory – Portofino, Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure – and push into an interior still largely unscarred by roads.
Seven hundred species of plants grow here, courtesy of mild temperatures, a mixed geology of marls, limestones, conglomerates and the dividing ridge of hills, which creates opposing micro-habitats of Mediterranean, montane and middle-European vegetation. This combination yields peculiar inversions: chestnut trees reach down to the sea, while coastal maquis can be seen sprouting on hilltops. Though species are bizarrely mixed, the north facing slopes tend to support trees and shrubs associated with a more continental climate, while the southern slopes – which face the sun and the sea – give rise to the more usual Mediterranean varieties. One of the most interesting plants is the White-flowered Saxifrage (Saxifraga cochlearis) – the Latin epithet referring to its spoon-shaped leaves. Its rosettes are typically found on shady rock walls, usually of limestone, in a small section of the Alpi Marittime; their occurrence on the Portofino Promontory – some 130 km (80 miles) further east – is remarkable. Growing in similar habitats is the Knapweed Centaurea apoplepa – a pink-flowered species found only in Western Italy and on a few small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. There are numerous sub-species of this plant, many of which are confined to a very small area; here, on the coast around Portofino, it is Centaurea apoplepa subsp. lunensis.
The promontory is on a major bird-migration route between Europe and Africa – a key resting place for spring and autumn travellers situated between the cities of Genoa and La Spezia. Colourful migrants include: Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), conspicuous with their rusty rumps and constantly flickering tails; Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus), quickly picked out by its bright yellow plumage; Garganey (Anas querquedula), the males sporting a bluish shoulder patch and a white stripe on their heads; and Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), small white birds with distinctive yellow feet. Breeding birds include Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) – small brownish relatives of the woodpecker – as well as many more typically Mediterranean species, including Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba), Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis), Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) and three types of Warbler (melodious, Hippolais polyglotta; Sardinian, Sylvia melanocephala and Sub-alpine, Sylvia cantillans). Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) is perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all the birds present in this area: feeding mainly on other large birds, it swoops on its preys almost vertically at speeds of up to 320 kph.
The park is also home to a wide range of reptiles and amphibians, including the bright green Mediterranean (or stripe-less) Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis) with its harsh deep croak, often compared to a duck’s quack; the Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus), a pink nocturnal reptile that tends to skulk between stones, rocks and walls, but can occasionally be spotted soaking up the sun; and the striking Green Lizard (Lacerta viridis), over 40 cm in length. The sea around Portofino is reputed to support virtually every form of Mediterranean aquatic life, including sea sponges, sea anemones and red, orange and yellow soft coral.
Main Walks Within the Park
There is, within the Park, a dense network of marked and well-kept paths. Most popular of all is the excursion to San Fruttuoso – which is an easy stroll if taken from Portofino (2 hrs), but less panoramic from here. It can equally be accessed via Camogli and the Pietre Strette, and the views are a lot more impressive in this case (the trail is not difficult, but the latter section – descending from Pietre Strette – is quite steep). The next coastal stretch, from Torretta to Punta Chiappa, is perhaps the littoral most spectacular, but it does require expertise and a head for heights. From San Fruttuoso, one can also cross the impressive little gorge of the Pietre Strette (literally 'Narrow Stones'; mentioned above), climb to the summit of Monte di Portofino and reach the main ridge from there. The full traverse of the Portofino Promontory takes a minimum of 4 hrs with a good pair of legs, and is best approached from Camogli to Portofino. From Portofino another fine path runs to Santa Margherita Ligure via Olmi and the ruins of the Madonna di Nozarego, across lush olive groves.
However, even if walking in the Portofino Promontory is great, a boat trip along the coast is almost de rigueur if you are in the area; during the summer there is good value public transportation by boat which connects Recco, Camogli, San Fruttuoso, Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, daily and with several runs a day (generally by the hour, but check at the individual harbours for exact timetable).
Areas of Botanical Interest
Original Woods in the Coastal Zone
The original woods in the coastal zone consisted mainly of Holm oak (Quercus ilex). Today, Holm oak woods are relic entities, which are present in Liguria in a very fragmentary way and, however, largely modified by man, who exploited them until after the war to produce timber, especially firewood; for this reason, they are formed mainly by young trees. The slopes leading down to the sea – between Santa Margherita Ligure and Paraggi – were probably covered by large Holm oak woods, now reduced to more or less extended strips. The ancient name of nearby Abbey of Cervara was Silvaria, which derives from the Latin ‘silva’ that means ‘forest’ or ‘wood’, thus witnessing the original extensive tree cover in the area.
In the Holm oak wood there are also two other species of trees: Manna ash (Fraxinus ornus) – a small tree that immediately stands out for its silvery grey smooth bark – and Pubescent oak (Quercus pubescens): an oak tree that is recognisable for its lobed leaves and for keeping some of its dry leaves on the branches even in winter.
The undergrowth is sparse because light can hardly filter; furthermore, the soil is covered with dry leaves, which retain moisture, thus preventing fires to spread easily, but also reduce the development of plants, which consequently have dark green leaves due to the heavy presence of chlorophyll, necessary to exploit the minimum light radiation. In this area, near the Eremo of Niasca, a small stream flows in a populated area where Holm oak woods give way to land strips and a small chestnut woodland. Along the brook there are many ferns and during the warm season showy, bright coloured dragonflies fly around.
The Chestnut Trees at Niasca
Compared to other nearby areas, the small Niasca valley remains enclosed between steep slopes and receives only a few hours of sun per day, mainly during the early hours. This condition, which leads to high humidity and cool weather even during the summer season, favoured the planting of Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) in ancient times, at the expense of the original Holm oak forest.
One of the hypotheses relating to the dissemination of chestnut, based on palynological research (pollen analysis) states that chestnut trees were widespread in Europe during the Cenozoic age and that they became extinct during the Pleistocene glaciations, reducing their own areal to some parts of Asia Minor. From these areas, first the Greeks then the Romans and again – in the Middle Ages – the monks and the local inhabitants, helped spread the tree in Europe to take advantage of its cultivation benefits. On the Promontory of Portofino – as in other inland areas of Liguria – there are still large areas covered with chestnut trees; at Niasca, among other things, there is an ancient hermitage, the presence of which may have encouraged the cultivation of chestnut.
The changing socio-economic conditions since WW2 to the present have led to the desertion of chestnut cultivations, with the invasion of alien tree and shrub species. In this specific location, a chestnut tree has grown right by the sea, just below the coastal chestnut forest; here, thanks to the sheltered position from the high seas, plants can grow close to the coast in harmony – a fact witnessed by the development of symbiontic fungi as well.
The Pines on the Promontory of Portofino
On the Promontory of Portofino – as well as along the entire Ligurian coast – there are three very common species of pine: Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) and Stone pine (Pinus pinea). These species, although they may be considered ‘natural’ or ‘native’, have been used on several occasions over the centuries for reforestation. Some botanists question the origin of Maritime pine (mostly found on the western coasts of Portugal and northern Africa), while it is certain that the specimens of European Black pine (Pinus nigra) present on the Mount of Portofino were planted during the last century.
Aleppo pine, able to withstand more extreme weather conditions, also lives on the rocks that are almost at sea level; it is recognisable by its irregularity and the lighter colour of its foliage, as well as for its shorter needles. Stone pine has the characteristic wide umbrella crown and its seeds are used in cooking since Roman times. Maritime pine for several decades has been attacked by a cochineal (Matsucoccus feytaudi), which has devastated many pine forests on the Ligurian coast.
The pine forest undergrowth is a difficult environment due to the nature of the substrate, made acid by the break-up of pine needles; these conditions can be tolerated only by some special plants such as Tree Heather. Among the animals that manage to live in this harsh environment there are many insects and reptiles, but especially red squirrel. This beautiful small rodent, with its coat that is easily confused with the colours of the undergrowth, removes pine cones off the trees, then gnaws them with its strong incisors to get to the seeds, leaving only the ‘cores’. The tallest pines often host different birds, including nesting ones: passerines and woodpeckers are quite widespread; Great Spotted Woodpecker is a fairly common species.
Plants of the Coastal Rocky Cliffs
Along the coast of the Promontory of Portofino, on the rocks that lie just above sea level, the ground cover is scarce or absent – in the same way as water supplies are – which is why plants grow in extreme conditions. The trees – mostly oak and Aleppo pines – have special adaptations: leaves with waterproof cuticle and stomata that are kept closed during unfavourable periods to reduce perspiration; these plants usually undergo stages of quiescence until the arrival of the rainy season. To cope with the lack of water, some plants have developed fleshy leaves and stems, rich in liquids, such as those in Sea Fennel, or ‘glaucescens’ adaptations (greenish grey colour), or those of the maritime Jacobaea, which limits the absorption of solar rays by the tissues also thanks to a thick whitish fuzzy insulator. Other plants – like Inula viscosa – in order to reduce perspiration produce volatile aromatic oils (essences) that, by evaporating, create a layer of separation between the leaves and the surrounding atmosphere, or there are even adaptations such as those of Spurge (Euphorbia sp.), that is subject to the phenomenon of ‘summering’ – which means losing leaves in the summer, and remaining in a state of rest until the fall. Among the plants that are resistant to drought very well is also Ampelodesmos mauritanicus, which is capable of living just a few meters from the sea, in the crevices of the rocks that are not hit by waves.
Even plants of the Mediterranean scrub and garrigue are capable of withstanding high peaks of aridity, and are often seen along the coast; they show in fact adaptations similar to those of the above mentioned plants. Typical examples of these are Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), with thick and leathery cuticle leaves; Phagnalon and Helichrysum sp., showing a whitish fuzz on the leaves; many Stonecrops (Sedum sp.), which have succulent leaves (with fats), together with Thyme and Rosemary, which are also strongly aromatic.
The Chestnut Forest and Civilisation
The chestnut forest that covers the ground above and below the paths that lead to Portofino Vetta (as in locality Pietre Strette, for instance) is fairly dense and has in its undergrowth many species typical of the mesophile forest, composed mainly of hornbeam, replaced by man with chestnut in historical times. There is shade, moisture and coolness here even during the summer, encouraging also the development of a rich undergrowth of ferns – especially in the rocks’ cracks and hollows, which are home to small streams or other water supplies. Splendid specimens of ferns are found everywhere; amongst them, the very common Eagle Fern (Pteridium aquilinum), the soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum), Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis) – especially the Cornwall type –; the very common Polypodium and many Asplenium species are present as well. Even Rustyback (Ceterach officinarium) is frequently found on the rocks, along with the rarer Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) and Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Rare in this area, but present, is also Hart’s Tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium), whose fronds are not broken down like in other ferns.
For the rural population, the cultivation of chestnut, widespread in Italy for many centuries – in particular in the Liguria, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscan regions – was once regarded as a very important activity in order to ensure each year a secure source of food, sometimes the primary (it was a staple food). There are many varieties of chestnut, selected since ancient times starting from wild plants with small fruits; for this reason, even in the Promontory of Portofino, the harvest that resulted from trees planted at different times and of different varieties was often heterogeneous. The chestnuts – partly consumed, or sold shortly after harvest – were often dried to obtain dried fruits and white chestnut flour, with which to prepare simple but delicious desserts such as the castagnaccio (also known as panella) and – by mixing it with wheat flour (when available) – homemade pasta like the famous ‘trofie matte’ (that is trofie noodles – ‘fake’ because of the chestnut flour).
Chestnut trees provided excellent timber too, from which roof beams were obtained, as well as everyday objects such as bowls and wooden cutlery. With the young and flexible branches baskets were produced, as well as other containers. The leaves were great for making bedding for farm animals; furthermore, the symbiontic fungi once represented food, but also a potential source of income for farmers. Today, on the Promontory of Portofino, chestnut trees are no longer exploited and their function is mainly naturalistic – hosting numerous animal and plant species – and touristic, as chestnut is linked to the great variability of its landscape in the various seasons of the year.
The Mesophile Forest
In addition to the arboreal and shrub layers, the mesophile forest includes an undergrowth made up by sub-shrubs and a herbaceous layer, which thrive especially in early spring, when trees are still bare and light reaches the ground almost entirely. The sub-shrubs are perennial plants (their maximum height is about 50 centimetres), which generally have herbaceous ramifications and a woody base; they consist mainly of spring-flowering species, such as Winter Heath (Erica carnea), Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) and Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola), but some – as in the case of Heather (Calluna vulgaris) – have an autumn flowering.
The herbaceous layer is represented by several species of higher plants and ferns. First to bloom are some rhizomatous and bulbous species; among them are several anemones, like Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis), Wood Anemones (Anemonioides nemorosa and A. trifolia) and other plants such as Hellebores (Helleborus viridis and H. foetidus subsp. foetidus), Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), Crocus (Crocus neapolitanus), Dog’s Tooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis), Italian Garlic (Allium pendulinum), Italian Bluebell (Hyacinthoides italica), followed later by Small Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea subsp. lutea), Dark Columbine (Aquilegia atrata), Solomon’s Seals (Polygonatum multiflorum and P. odoratum) and Orange Lily (Lilium bulbiferum subsp. croceum).
Among the many species of Orchids are Provence Orchid (Orchis provincialis), which is relatively common, as well as Man’s Orchid (Orchis anthropophora) and Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis). In spring many Primroses (Primula vulgaris and P. veris) and Violets (Viola odorata and V. alba) as well as Wild Geraniums (Geranium nodosum) blossom, together with Snowy Woodruff (Luzula nivea) and Bladderwort (Physospermum cornubiense) – a very common plant belonging to the Umbelliferae family: all of these species are quite widespread, and therefore relatively easy to spot when walking in the woods too.
The Sella Gaixella (Gaixella Pass) is a crossing point between the eastern and western side of the Promontory of Portofino. Today, the site is wooded, because nature has reclaimed its territory, colonising it with native tree species, but until a century ago – as shown in photographs dating back from the early 1900s – it was bare and covered with a mantle of grassland, used mainly for grazing domestic animals. At the top, the imposing Grand Hotel Portofino Vetta – today called Portofino Kulm – stood isolated, and is still visible from this location.
The predominant vegetation in this place is now mesophile mixed forest. The mesophile environment takes its name from the climatic conditions – neither dry nor wet, but intermediate between the two. In this forest, the tree species present are mainly Hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), alternating – in some areas – with specimens of chestnut, Pubescent oak or the rarer Manna ash. In addition to the tree and shrub layers, there are more formations made up by young individuals of small tree species – like Common Holly, Cornelian Cherry, Hawthorn, Laburnum; the herbaceous layers thrive especially in early spring. In these woods there are also some species of birds related to the mesophile environment – like Bullfinch, Green Woodpecker and Short-toed Tree-creeper; the latter is found even in the pine forest, and it is known for its curious way of prey hunting, climbing the trunks. All these animals mainly feed on insects, many species of which are perfectly camouflaged on tree trunks, making it difficult to identify them.
A small wetland was created in the Sella Gaixella area to encourage the reproduction of some amphibians present in the Park of Portofino. It is, of course, a tiny site set for educational purposes, to allow observation of the different stages of growth of these important animals. The artificial lake is kept in a completely ecological manner, fed by fountain water that springs high on the trail; therefore, please avoid any alteration to the micro-environment that may disturb the animals.
Many other streams and wetlands on the Promontory of Portofino provide important breeding areas for amphibians too – creatures that are exclusively linked to an aquatic habitat for reproduction. It is therefore necessary to prevent unauthorised water withdrawals or other alterations that would jeopardise these sites; in addition, Red Frog – typical of the Apennines – uses only cool and not much disturbed areas to reproduce. In the Park, even the presence of Pelodytes punctatus (a small amphibian) was reported, but after that sighting it has not been seen again for many years.
Areas of Geological Interest
Portofino conglomerate constitutes the main rock on the southern side of the Promontory. Conglomerate (or ‘puddinga’ in Italian, from the English word ‘pudding’) is a clastic rock that was formed by the dismantling of more ancient rock formations; in the case of Portofino, it was originated from a conoid (or ‘fan’) delta. Conglomerate is made of pebbles (‘clasts’) of diverse nature, generally rounded, and of different dimensions (from a few millimeters to some metres), immersed in a calcarenitic matrix – the sand that works as connecting agent – and held together by an invisible calcareous cement. Portofino Conglomerate is constituted by a series of layers of variable thickness (between 0,5 mm and 7 m), containing:
- sedimentary rocks (limestone, marls, calcarenite) and, in a minor way, basic metamorphic rocks and metamorphic jasper at the base;
- basic metamorphic rocks and metamorphic jasper; marble and Dolomia in the middle;
- quartzite, quartzarenites, conglomerate and crystalline metamorphic rocks (mica-schists and quartzo-schists, para- and orto-gneiss, sometimes magmatic) in the upper section.
The deposition of Mount Antola limestone has taken place between 90 and 50 million years ago, while Portofino Conglomerate was formed between 34 and 23 million years ago. The ways in which conglomerate was deposited has caused that the pebbles coming from older (more ancient) rocks are now found in the upper sections, higher in altitude, and on top of formations younger than conglomerate. The hardiness and relative fragility of this rock, and the ways in which it was being fragmented, are at the origin of suggestive forms such as Monte Campana, also known as ‘the sleeping giant’ or – when seen from afar – ‘sleeping little man’.
Here are some highlights from the two Geological Routes that cross the territory of the Promontory of Portofino.
Geological Route no.1 allows you to appreciate:
Stop 1, Punta Cannette: warped layers of alternations of carbonate and marly rocks belonging to the group of Monte Antola limestone;
Stop 2, near San Nicolo’ and the Scogli Grossi: these are the contact areas between the two different rock groups represented in the Park of Portofino, described above: Mount Antola limestone and Portofino conglomerate;
Stop 3, Port Pidocchio (see below);
Stop 4, Punta Chiappa: unwarped layers of conglomerate, like at Port Pidocchio. Punta Chiappa is a geological laboratory ideal to carry out observations on the characteristics of the Portofino conglomerate; for this reason it has been set up with metallic numbered disks, the position of which is marked on the map.
In Port Pidocchio, as at Punta Chiappa, one can observe unwarped layers of conglomerate: they are formed by small clasts at the basis, while the larger ones are positioned on the surface; this kind of formation is called ‘inverse grading’. Being conglomerate a sedimentary rock, we would expect the heavier clasts to be set close to the sea bottom, where the rock was formed, and that they should be in the lower layers. Actually, deposition of the clasts happened in the mud, where the heavier clasts hit one another (we can see the marks of the bangs on their surface) and sprang up; as a consequence, the bigger clasts – those with more energy – were dispersed above, in the upper part of the layer.
Here follows a brief description of the most notable points of geological interest at Punta Chiappa.
(1. Clasts) Conglomerate is a sedimentary rock, consisting of clasts immersed in a matrix composed of little fragments of rock cemented together (calcareous cement). During deposition, the clasts hit one another, leaving signs of the bangs on the surface.
(2-3. Fossils) In the conglomerate one can find little levels of coal immersed in an arenaceous (sandstone) matrix, and the fossil remains of Crinoids in calcareous clasts. Portofino conglomerate originated from the consolidation of a river mouth (‘fan delta’), which was created by alluvial floods following the demolition (from about 37 million years ago) of an ancient mountain formed by at least four rock units that have remained within the conglomerate, which is today like a big geological library.
(4. ‘Ciottoli embricati’) In some parts of the conglomerate one can find a particular disposition of the clasts; during the deposition of the bigger material, the action of the stream has set them like books on a shelf without lateral support; or like the tiles of a roof.
(5. Boulders) The big clasts are called boulders; the word comes from the Swedish ‘bullersten’, meaning “noisy stone”.
(6. Porphyry diabase) It is a clast of a rock called ‘porfirica’ (rich in porphyry) for the visible presence of isolated crystals, immersed in a micro-crystalline paste.
(7. Twisted layers) On a clast of calcarenite, here one can see various small twisted (or convoluted) layers, in particular sedimentary structures generated by the pressure of the above layers on the not yet consolidated sediment.
(8. Intra-formational clasts) These are clasts of matrix taken from the levels below (not yet solidified), and later deposited where they are now.
(9. Pillow lava). This clast is formed by basalt – a rock which was consolidated on the sea bottom 150 million years ago. The strange pillow shapes derive from the fast consolidation of lava due to the low temperature of the water, with a flow formed by ‘pillows’, set one on top of the other (hence the name 'pillow lava').
(10. Fault-line) A fault is a fracture in a rock in which the two generated blocks have moved. At Punta Chiappa – marked by a white calcareous line – one can see a fault that concerns also the opposite rock wall; moreover, at the end of the point – jutting out into the sea – one clast is divided into two parts that have slightly shifted.
(11. Texture) Rocks, like fabrics, have a weave; conglomerate presents both levels with a weaving matrix – where the clasts are not in direct contact, but are divided by the matrix – and other levels with weaving clasts that are ‘sustained’ (‘sostenuti’), in which case clasts stick together with only little spaces filled with matrix.
Geological Route no. 2 allows you to appreciate:
Stop 5, Sella Gaixella: the passage area between the group of Mount Antola limestone and Portofino conglomerate;
Stop 6, Pietre Strette, with further examples of Portofino conglomerate;
Stop 7, Castelluccio, with examples of magmatic intrusive and effusive rocks;
Stop 8, where anagenites – old conglomerate clasts – appear;
Stop 9, a notable geological spot with magmatic gneiss, an old metamorphic rock.
Portofino conglomerate is a huge geological library; the stops by the Pietre Strette show you some particular clasts. At Pietre Strette one can see very clearly conglomerate layers, thick from about 1 to 2,5 metres, which have – like fabric – a ‘weave’: one can thus appreciate, in the lower part, some levels where the matrix (the ‘sand’ that cements the clasts) holds the clasts together ("matrix-supported conglomerate"), while in the layers settled above the clasts are touching one another ("clast-supported conglomerate").
In Castelluccio one can find different examples of clasts of magmatic rocks, due to a phenomenon of lava consolidation. Gabbro and granitoid, which solidified slowly inside the earth’s crust (intrusive rocks), are formed respectively from a basic lava and an acid lava in the middle of a porphyry diabase, with smaller crystals, which solidified faster and less in depth than in basic lava; finally, basalts are also basic rocks which solidified near the surface (effusive rocks). At stop 8 clasts of sedimentary rocks – more than at least 230 million years old – emerge: they are anagenites, a conglomerate mainly formed by quartz. At stop 9, near a magmatic gneiss – a rock originated 340 million years ago from a first sedimentary layer – one can find another geological hotspot.
Notable Sights in the Park
Around Punta Chiappa
The Fishing Museum
In the warehouse used in the past to store fishermen’s equipment in front of the stretch of water (fifty meters from Port Pidocchio), where the Parco del Monte di Portofino (Mount of Portofino Regional Park) and the marine reserve where the ‘tonnarella’ is situated and takes place each summer, the Fishermen’s Co-op of Camogli has promoted and created the ‘Museo della Pesca’ (fishing museum). The heart of the museum is an interactive video station; here, visitors get a chance to view an extensive selection of material. The audiovisual section of the museum presents also a permanent screening of images: there is a photographic display of places and protagonists: people who were fishermen in recent decades. The exhibition is completed by a collection of equipment and tools that were employed in the past for the different systems of fishing – in particular the materials that are used each year to set up the tuna trap system (‘tonnarella’ – read below).
The ‘tonnarella’ of Camogli is an old fishing trap system that uses fixed nets dropped from April to September in the water below San Rocco and west of Punta Chiappa, extending for about 340 metres. Run by the Fishermen’s Co-op of Camogli, it is the only ‘tonnarella’ of this kind still existing in Liguria and one of the few still active in Italy. The trap is set perpendicular from land out to sea, and consists of a coconut fibre net from India, hand-woven each year using the pigna technique (an ancient wooden device) by the fishermen of San Fruttuoso. At the end of the season, this net is left to drop to the sea floor, since it is made from a natural fibre – hence it poses no danger to the environment, but it is 'recycled' as fish food. The oldest news relating to the existence of the tuna fishing nets date back to 1603. A decree of the Magistrate of the Censors ordered that ‘tuna caught in the fishing trap of Camogli must be given to the inhabitants of Camogli and Recco for their use (…)’. In the first half of the 17th century, part of the revenue from the fishing catch served to build the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Boschetto and to extend the dock at Camogli.
The ‘bigo’ of La Foce (Port Pidocchio). The presence of the ‘tonnarella’ of Camogli (tuna fish net) in the waters in front of the ancient port of La Foce (Port Pidocchio) dates back to the early 1600s: this activity gravitated around the work of many people, distributed between Camogli, Punta Chiappa, San Fruttuoso and, sometimes, even the hinterland. Until the 1970s, the inhabitants of the three locations were sharing the work: the fishing nets were prepared in Camogli; the coco fibres were transformed into cordage at San Fruttuoso, while the preparation of the steel cables (‘pamella’) and of the anchors – used to anchor the net – happened in Port Pidocchio. On this rock – called by the fishermen in Camogli ‘in pae’ – the ‘bigo’ (boom) has always existed. The ‘bigo’ is a wooden structure, now restored, with a mast and one boom – very similar to that employed for loading goods on a ship –, used by local fishermen to hoist the steel cables: these cables were once wrapped by a rope and ‘tarred’, or treated in the oven with pitch and then fixed in a block of cement in order to achieve greater and more prolonged duration. The tar still present on the rocks remembers this. In La Foce (Port Pidocchio) there were two other similar structures on the ‘passerina’ (the path connecting Port Pidocchio to the local Trattoria) – both for the loading of the ‘lampare’: fishing boats with lights, used in a particular type of fishing that illuminates with lamps (‘lampare’) the water surface to attract and catch fish in the net at night.
Also known as ‘cianciole’, the net used is usually called ‘lampara’ too: it is a purse seine net, very high and large, used since the early 1900s. When built with natural fibre (cotton), it was necessary to spread the nets to dry, in order to prevent their deterioration, with the help of a ‘bighetto’ (small boom) to hoist the nets from the boats and then spread them, by force of arms, on the various posts that were then present throughout La Foce. It was wonderful to see a set of vertical and horizontal poles, made white from salt in the air and use. The fishermen climbed and then jumped from one staff to another, spreading the nets with immense effort, since the wet cotton nets were much heavier than those in use today. The lamps of the ‘lampare’, initially supplied with acetylene, oil and gas, after the WW2 were powered with electric batteries, which were stored and recharged in a small room adjacent to the Museum through a powerful electric line from the trestle located on the Mount of Portofino. More recently, second ‘bigo’ was then used to hoist aboard the heavy batteries. Today the presence of diesel generators on board the boats makes the power of the ‘lampare’ autonomous.
Punta Chiappa and Port Pidocchio
Punta Chiappa is a rocky outcrop that extends out to the open sea for about fifty meters from the Mount of Portofino – a natural divide between the Golfo Paradiso to the west and the sea adjacent the promontory of Portofino to the east. On this tiny peninsula – one of the very few sites with a conglomerate formation in Liguria – an altar dedicated to Stella Maris ('Star of the Sea') was built, with a mosaic depicting the Madonna and Child that helped some fishermen caught in a storm. In 1821, the famous English poet George Byron stayed here and used the beauty of the landscape as inspiration to compose a short lyric poem called precisely ‘Punta Chiappa’, found on a memorial tablet in his long-standing residence, Stella Maris: “There is enchantment in the woods with no trail/there is ecstasy on the solitary beach/there is an asylum where no importunity penetrates/at the shoreline of the deep sea/and there is a harmony in the breaking of the waves…’
San Nicolò di Capodimonte
The foundation of the church and adjoining convent of San Nicolò dates back to the first half of the 12th century. It was built by the San Rufo order of friars, who were forced to abandon the site in 1440 due to the continuous raids at the hands of the Saracen pirates. The two buildings were then bestowed in commendum to centuries-old abbots (the first one being the count of Lavagna, Lorenzo Fiesco). The whole complex was confiscated and fitted out to provide a home for the fishermen, then it was reopened for workshops in 1870, and forty years later it was declared an Italian national monument. There are very few traces of the primitive frescoes in the church: a Madonna with Child and two Saints is depicted on the outside, above the tympanum over the main entrance; the Virgin appearing to two fishermen surprised by a storm at sea is painted instead on the inside walls of the presbytery; probably, the altar in the central apse is also from the same period as the frescoes. The square bell tower rises on the left arm of the transept and the bell that tolls here was made in the 1930s from part of the material salvaged from the wreck of the English steamship Washington, sunk in the sea off San Nicolò during the Great War.
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