È la Liguria terra leggiadra. Il sasso ardente, l’argilla pulita, s’avvivano di pampini al sole. È gigante l’ulivo. A primavera appar dovunque la mimosa effimera. (Vincenzo Cardarelli)
The east coast of Liguria, which is part of the province of La Spezia, after the arch of the Cinque Terre is called Riviera Spezzina and is mainly composed of four villages: Levanto, Bonassola, Framura, Deiva Marina.
Nestled in the east Riviera (Riviera del Levante), Levanto takes the name after this area, and is considered as the entrance door to the Cinque Terre (the five sisters), an amazing example of advanced landascape development.
Closed inside a natural niche similar in characterists and advantages to the one of La Spezia (forty kilometres far away), the village is in the centre of a picturesque valley, and is protected on two sides by Punta Mesco and Punta di Levanto, both territories are situated in a wonderful landscape covered by the green of the olive tree groves and vineyards.
Levanto has just over five thousand inhabitants, letting plenty of well designated space to the thriving tourism. However we mustn’t neglet the existence of the small hamlets, gathered around its municipality; they are a proper lively and vibrant reality: each one has maintained its old identity colours, name but also the structure.
Following the road half way on the coast, that connects the villages, starting from the Convent of Annunziata, the tourists may reach Lizza, Lavaggiorosso, Groppo and Dosso. Passing from the other side, on the central ridge we reach the village of Montale, that was in the past, an old centre of the valley and further down Casella. On the side ridge there are Ridarolo, Legnaro, Chiesanuova, Fontona, Pastine and Vignana.
A bit of history...
Documents of the roman age prove that the village of Levanto already exhisted at that time, it was probably known as the small hamlet of Ceula. It was a key point of great importance, as it was located on the old via Ligure that went from the hinterland to the coast.
More generally speaking, starting from its deep historic landscape and following the various identities that the small town has had in the different periods, it started in feudal times when they used to farm on the hills of Bardellone, it then became a merchant maritime town at the time of the Republic of Genoa, and finally reached the actual shape, that attracts many tourist thanks to the high enviroment landscape value, we understand how this village can be considered as a proper gem with historic anedocts left on the contemporary beach.
As time passed the village was first under the Malaspina family during the Reinassance, then under the noble family Da Passano and after as part of the Republic of Genoa.
From this period on, the economic life of the village was mainly focused on its merchant actitivities, the red Levanto marble, wine and local olive oil, the trade was helped by the roads that led towards the Pianura Padana (via Francigena) and also by the shipping routes on the whole Mediterranean Sea, this is demonstrated by looking at the Loggia and the Docks.
After the Middle Ages the ancient hamlet, gathered around the church of Saint Andrew and the hill of Saint James underwent a considerable and obvious development; a second phase of expansion can be dated XV century, when Borgo Nuovo or Stagno was built in the plane of Ghiararo, this was due mainly to the economic and political role given to Levanto by the Republic of Genoa, the area of the Medioeval hamlet was insufficient, that’s the reason of the birth of Borgo Nuovo, along Via dei Monti, connecting the small hamlet to the valley: this settlment has been kept as it was, with its interesting buildings of XVII and XVIII centuries, that overlook on both sides Via Garibaldi and Via Guani, they have been recently renovated thanks to the project of the E.U. “Progetto Raffaello”. During the XVII century the village was the seat of the Captaincy of Genoa conquered by Napoleon’s empire. Under the French domination the area became part of the Department of Vara as chief town.
In 1815 after the Congress of Vienna of the previous year, Levanto became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. A further expansion of the town planning, took place at the end of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the birth of the actual Corso Italia and Corso Roma .
In the first half of the past century Levanto reached the present shape, promoting and remembering with care its history, with particular attention not only to the recent religiuos buildings.
Just think of the former convent of the Poor Clares, under the shade of the porticos, today it has been converted and hosts the library, the Town Hall or also the well preserved Council Loggia. In Via dei Forni it is possible to visit the Permanent Exhibition of Material Culture, an important initiative of Levanto that tells us about its rural past, in the village you can spend your time not only visiting churches or admiring its past splendour, but also taking part to cultural initiatives, in a peaceful cohabitation between new and old.
Levanto nowadays concentrates mainly on seaside tourism and on the traditional Ligurian cuisine, and has been included with merit in the circuit of “CittaSlow”.
What makes Levanto so special is an ancient bond between sea and mountain, the thin sand and the piedomont hill.
It is part of the territory of the Park of the Cinque Terre and also of Riviera Spezzina, offers, to the careful visitor, two magnificent views, that go from the marine protected area to the park covered with pine groves, that never cease to amaze.
It is connected to the Cinque Terre by two roads, the inner state road and the trail that overlooks the coast, we mustn’t forget that there are also less important roads that go from the sea to the mountain, that are part of the thick net of paths which are among the vegetable gardens, the olive tree groves, the vineyards and the Mediterranean maquis.
They are more than eighty, frequented and non, they are all connected to the neighbouring hamlets and can also be reached by car.
The majority of the foot paths is not difficult and is suitable both for excursionists and for families who love tracking, there are signs along the path that indicate the distance in minutes, to the nearest hamlets.
We suggest three options: the path that goes from Levanto to Monterosso, along path number 1 (it starts from the sea front of Levanto) and CAI path number 10, that follows the coast and goes through the National Park of the Cinque Terre; another one that goes from Fossano to Montale, through paths number 30 and 30A following the medioeval hamlets of Lizza, Lavaggiorosso, Groppo, Dosso and Casella, not to be missed the ancient water mill at the beginning of the trail; the last path goes from Madonna della Guardia to Ghiare, following the ancient paths 12, 30 and 30A, it goes through the villages of Ridarolo, Fontona, Chiesanuova, Legnaro, Lerici, Pastine and Vignana, it is quite a comfortable trail but some parts before you reach Ridarolo, are steep.
A new promenade that connects Bonassola, Framura and Levanto in both directions, has been recently inaugurated, there are many green areas and a comfortable cycle lane.
In the surrounding nature of Levanto, it is easy to come across hawks and buzzards, the first one are native while the others come from Tuscany, there are also a large variety of mammals such as foxes; we have often mentioned, the occasional visits of the wolves that travel along the Appenine.
Special attention must be given to the frequented paths during the hunting season, seldom they are not well marked, as they have been created by hunters and are among steep pine groves, for obvious reasons, near the dens of wild boars, so choose only trails which have proper signs.
You must wear tracking shoes in the summer and spring as the environment is favourable to vipers and water snakes. Further attention must be given while crossing the area, in order to keep the park clean, as one of the duties of the Park is to protect and maintain the terraces which have always been part of the territory.
The coast stretches for about a kilometre, it has wide sandy and pebble beaches and evocative cliffs on the two ends, there are equipped beach resorts, also for disabled and areas left free for bathers, and a nautical centre equipped with modern facilities for renting boats.
You will be able to make excursions along the coast, searching caves and coves where to swim and also go diving with a guide.
Places of interest
Acurious thing about Levanto, is the possibility of visiting on foot all its main places of interest, following an itinerary that completes the village in a triptyque of town, sea and nature. The centre of the small town contains the oldest part of the village, that still maintains the city walls and the entrance gates that marked the borders and have becone wider, as time passed, the castle, the medioeval dock, the loggia and the roads that led “outside town”.
Along with the many evidences of its past, rich in history and culture, there is a modern town, that has developed thanks to the railway and the roads of the near motorway, it has become a dynamic commercial net with excellent services dedicated to a sustainable tourist use.
Right next to the modern buidings, it is possible to go along the carrugi, or the well known “Pietra” promenade that leads to Villa Agnelli and its gardens; it is not only a pleasant refreshment place, but also an avant-garde area with a private beach, tennis grounds and swimming pools.
The villa and the green area lead the proper historic centre of the village, nearby we find the ancient defensive building, the Castle, with its characteristic bas reliefs of the Annunciation and that of Saint George, that can be viewed inside, then we can go along the narrow streets adjacent to the medioeveal city walls, till we reach the Gothic church of Saint Andrew, that also gives the name to the square, after we find the adjacent Piazza del Popolo; here we are in front of the medioeval Loggia, a main gathering place, if we want to reach the ancient village and the oratory of Saint James, going back to the beach passing through the docks.
In the far outskirts of the village, the imposing and sunny sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia, is waiting for us for the Sunday holy mess that gathers all the near and far inhabitants. We kindly suggest you to visit the hamlet of Lavaggiorosso, an extraordinary example of rural Ligurian planning with its carruggi tight around the houses, all built in height along the hilly arch and Chiesanuova, Lizza, Groppo, Dosso, Montale, Fontona, Legnaro.
Accommodation, tourism and events
We have already mentioned the importance of Levanto among the circuit of “CittaSlow” towns, but if its delicious dishes are worth to mention, we have to give the same importance to its focaccia.
We certainly know that of Recco, yet the soft dough and the stuffing with anchovies, onions or potatoes, makes this Levanto dish a suitable tasty snack to take to the beach or when we go along the quiet foot paths.
There are many focacciarie, that offer homemde products, a kind word must be spent about the skillfull cuisine of “Il Falcone” and also to the taverns that overlook the street.
A classic place for eating, is trattoria Cavour, situated in the centre of the village, it is specialised in starters and fish dishes and grilled meat. Two are the major events of the village, particulary looked after by the inhabitants that love the historic tradition of their village.
The sea festival, dedicated to Saint James, patron saint of seamen, takes place in july, it remembers the founding of the village, there is a magnificent medioeval procession, organized by the folkloristic group “Borgo e Valle” and the celebration of Saint Andrew, in November, the official patron saint, the event takes place in the evening on 24th and goes on till the day after; there are jousting swords exhibitions, in Cavour square, accompanied by the red colour of the fires, the acrobatic flag wavers, the next day, on the 25th,the whole village takes part to the procession where huge wooden crucifixes are carried by men, who walk from the village centre towards Pietra promenade, where the procession ends, the gulf is then lit with ten thousand coloured candles.
During the second festivity, which is more intimate, the spiritual bond of the patron saint is reinforced, there is even the celebration of the major honours of honorary and merit citizenship. The nativity is also dear to Levanto, every year there is a remarkable choreography made by the inhabitants of the villages on the hills, you may enjoy visiting the tour “I presepi nei presepi”, which takes place all along the valley of Levanto. In the evening the valley is lit by a soft, moderate light, which is ready to welcome the many performances that take places in the villages.
The tour takes place in the afternoon, on two days during the Christmas holidays, transport by bus is free, there are stops in the villages, to look and visit the Nativity and free tasting of local dishes. The third sunday in May there is Mangialunga, it is a gastronomic walk through the paths of the valley of Levanto, with stops in the ancient villages.
t is organized by the Town Hall and by the tourist consortium “Occhio blu – Levanto informa”, with the help of over a hundred volunteers that help to clean the paths, provide assistance along the paths, prepare the menus and distribute the dishes, there is food and wine tasting of typical traditional products and music entertainment.
Stralevanto takes place in October, this event will make you feel hungry after a foot race competition, it is replaced in February by another race, Corri sul Mare, that takes place along a path that goes from Levanto to Bonassola, on the cyclepath that overlooks the sea and on the provincial road that connects the villages, passing through the hills.
Punctual and faithful to the tradition of a tourist village, Levanto is ready to offer an organized hospitality to its increasing international clients, each spring the village opens the season with a number of interesting events that will make you enjoy and appreciate its historic and natural beauties.
From the pedestrian historic centre you can reach the many coffee bars for a yummy breakfast with freshly baked croissants, or why not try one of the many bakers, that sell different types of traditional focaccia, you might not know which one to choose. For lunch you will be spoilt by the choice, book in one of the restaurants that offers fish dishes and traditional dishes of the hinterland.
In recent years Levanto has also become the village of street markets.
he particular shape of the historic centre, its roads and the small stone paved squares, its public gardens with flower beds and trees with high trunks, equipped with games for children, represent a rather evocative scenery to host stalls, gazebos and choreographic settings using the most varied products.
From Spring to autumn, almost every weekend the centre livens up with the coloured stalls that offer farming products at 0 km, flower creations, antique objects and D.I.Y. creations that show the result of hours spent by these artisans doing their own hobby.
In any case all these fairs are worth to visit and a direct contact with the creators, with whom it is always pleasant to spend some time, trying to discover the secret skills for making the objects on display, learning a lot also from professionals who prepare delicacies and are the pride and a warranty of the quality of the local food and wine.
Music in the village with Rassegna Corale Levantese, promoted by Gruppo Vocale Musica Nuova (directed by the teacher Aldo Viviani), thanks also to the help of the local municipality of Levanto, the local tourist workers and Rassegna Organistica, this year is its tenth edition, the aim is to help spread the knowledge of organ music among people increasing value of the three historic organs that are inside the Town Hall in Levanto.
From July onwards don’t miss the concerts of classical music promoted by “Amfiteatrof”, dedicated to the most important cellist of 1900, a Russian artist who while he was in exile, arrived in Levanto with his family, he then hosted in his house many intellectuals of the time. Thanks to an uncommon combination of sirocco winds, sandy sea bottoms and large bays, the sea in Levanto is also known for being the perfect surf machine of the Riviera, just after Recco and its big waves.
Every year young surfers gather here, bodyboard lovers and vocation divers, to celebrate the almost three metres high waves; in their honour the town has hosted famous theme events such as Quicksilver Big Wave and Salomon Blue Games in 2005. It is not just like a third festivity, but almost. Levanto is above all a real paradise for divers and snorkeling lovers.
Finally Levanto is the ideal place for practicing outdoor sports throughout the year. Football and athletics find space in the stadium located in Moltedi, in the area behind the railway station, the cycle path “Maremonti” allows you to go jogging, cycle or walk along the former railrwayoad, that overlooks the sea from Levanto to Framura, the carriage roads of the valley commit cyclists and trained runners, the dirt roads that climb up along the highest peaks towards the mountains Rossola and Bardellone, open breathtaking views of the coast to the more interested and lively people, who are ready to enjoy the beauties of this place, unique in its kind.
Even Levanto takes advantage, from the perfect Ligurian tradition of the products and of the land, displaying on the table, the best of its vegetable gardens, its daily catch and why not also the skills of its housewives.
There are in fact many olive oil mills, cooperatives and cheese factories that have shops in the valley, with convenient offers and prices; salami, cakes and pies, stews without forgetting the crunchy focaccia, the onions from Pignone, the well kept secret recipes, made by the skillfull hands of the local women. But let’s see what kind of slow food Levanto has to offer. We start with an excellent wine to taste with savoury cheeses or game, or the traditional Ligurian rabbit: Colli di Levanto red wine, full bodied and persistant. To accompany your stay with a particular and unique main dish, we cannot say no to “gattafin”, the typical ravioli stuffed with wild herbs, chard, eggs, cheeses and a pinch of majoram, they are flavoured with the never forgotten extravergin p.d.o.olive oil and parmigiano cheese from the near area of Parma.
There are two theories about the name Gattafin, one mentions the women who used to pick wild herbs in an area called La Gatta, the other one mentions the fourth century word “gattafure” a sort of Reinassance cake that was fried and eaten, the recipe was then changed to look like the modern ravioli. Other tasty main dishes are Panissa, a sort of pancake made with chickpea flour, sliced and then fried, it is often served as a starter; Torta di riso, rice cake, savoury and sweet made with boiled rice, eggs and cheese, baked in the oven, Cannolini with broth, short pasta with cheese, served with plenty of grated pecorino cheese, crepes with pesto sauce, and besciamella, rolled and put in a hot oven tray. The delicious Preboggion, a minestrone that enhances the first Savoy cabbage, borage and wild radicchio, together with the local wild herbs. We take advantage of the dinner, to discover the wonders of the clean sea full of fish, we are willing to taste everything that has to do with anchovies, sea breams, snappers and the very fresh octopus, served with potatoes and onions, both products can be found in abudance in the valley of Pignone. The anchovies are a fundamental ingredient of the cuisine in Levanto, we can find them marinated, salted, in bagnum, on focaccia and mainly stuffed, served as main dish with tomato and grated bread. A winter dish absolutely to order is Stoccafisso, served in stew with potatoes, in spring it can be replaced by the famous “cima” a meat pocket stuffed with minced meat, eggs, peas and the unmissable majoram.
Olives and stuffed vegetables, prepared with wet bread crumbs, parmigiano cheese, mortadella, chopped garlic and parsley, colour the dishes. Another dish which is still served is rabbit cooked “alla Ligure” with olives and pine nuts. Among the cheeses the mature pecorino from Levanto stands out. We finish with the desserts, chestnut honey, with a light smoked taste, suitable to be accompanied by ricotta cheese and fresh fruit and for the most demanding tastes home made citrus marmelade, to spread on buttered bread. At the end of the meal Canestrelli biscuits are waiting for you, they are made with flour, eggs, butter and sugar, and Baci di Levanto a local product which have been made for over fifty year, the recipe comes from a Sicilian cake, they are made with a hazel and almond heart, closed inside a chocolate shell.