Rapallo, the pearl of the Tigullio Gulf

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

Rapallo is a small town nestled in the heart of the Tigullio Gulf in Liguria, Italy. An excellent starting point for exploring the Riviera di Levante, and is known as "Rapallo, the pearl of the Tigullio Gulf". A tourist destination since the 19th century, loved by famous people such as Nietzsche and Hemingway, Rapallo conquers the hearts of its visitors with its Art Nouveau palaces and villas, the picturesque "caruggi" (alleyways) and the small pebble and gravel beaches.

The natural beauty of Rapallo consists of its bay embraced by rolling hills, the narrow alleys of the historic centre, and its ancient porticoes with low arches and squat columns.

© iStock / Simona Sirio

The historic centre is a cluster of ancient buildings, almost forming a defence wall against pirate attacks. Buildings of notable historical and artistic interest are the ancient castle, the cathedral, the civic tower and the Porta delle Saline, the only gate to the city still visible.

In Rapallo, art is widespread in the streets, where you least expect to find it. Just walk with your nose up and you will see small niches, the "edicole", containing images and statues of the Virgin Mary, with sculpted marble and artistic stucco.

© iStock / Simona Sirio

What is striking is that every church, even the smallest and least central, holds a treasure just waiting to be discovered. There is so much to discover in Rapallo, the pearl of Tigullio!

The low season is the best time to discover the beauty of this corner of Liguria: the beaches are not crowded, and walking in the historic centre is pleasant and relaxing. Trekking is also widely practised in these places, on the numerous panoramic paths and along the ridges of the hills, it offers spectacular views.

The Cableway

The Rapallo-Montallegro cable car is the only cable car in Liguria and connects the town of Rapallo with the Sanctuary of Montallegro. The ride lasts 7 minutes, with an altitude difference of about 600 meters, leaves every half hour, and offers a breathtaking view over the entire Gulf of Tigullio. In operation since 1934, it is one of the few cableways in Italy not intended to transport skiers.

© iStock / Garsya

The ancient castle by the sea

Built on a rock surrounded by the sea and connected to the mainland by a pier, the castle is the symbol of Rapallo and is closely linked to the history and legends of the city. It was built in 1549 after the sacking of Rapallo by Turkish pirates. It was used as a prison for a long time and is now home to exhibitions and conferences. On the occasion of the "July festivals" fireworks, the castle is "set on fire" by a cascade of fire, creating a unique show in the world.

© iStock / Marina 113

The historic centre and the legend of false windows

Painting houses in colour is a characteristic of all of Liguria. In Rapallo, many houses are decorated with frescoes, made with a technique handed down for generations.

© iStock / Simona Sirio

Many of the historic buildings are decorated with painted windows, like trompe l'oeil, and for this, there is a historical reason: at the end of the 18th century, the Republic of Genoa introduced a tax on windows, so many of the existing windows were closed, and fake window decorations appeared in their place to circumvent the tax. Tavoid having to pay this tax, the Genoese people decided to brick up the windows and paint them. Here is the reason for the countless windows designed in the colourful historic buildings of Genoa and its surroundings.

© Rapallo Municipality / unknown author

Basilica of Saints Gervasius and Protasius

The Basilica is located in the heart of the historic city centre. It was built in the Gothic-Romanesque style, probably in the Middle Ages. Over time several renovations were carried out, which led to the cancellation of its original architectural appearance, giving it an eighteenth-century appearance. The bell tower dates back to 1753, and in the second half of the 19th century, substantial changes were also made to the interiors and the new neoclassical-style façade. Finally, in the early years of the twentieth century, there was the construction of the monumental dome, which ended in 1920.

© iStock / tosha11

The Music Kiosk

Right in the centre of the Lungomare Vittorio Veneto is the Music Kiosk, an Art Nouveau building to host concerts and musical events. Inaugurated in 1929, the kiosk was commissioned by the inhabitants of Rapallo, who emigrated to Chile and gave their hometown a suitable venue for musical concerts. The dome of the kiosk was decorated with splendid frescoes depicting the most illustrious musicians in history, from Verdi to Beethoven, from Mozart to Bach and others. A recent restoration has made it possible to recover the kiosk and the entire square.

© iStock / yrabota

Sanctuary of Montallegro

The Sanctuary of Montallegro is one of the most important places of worship in Liguria. It was built in the mid-1500s after a farmer had the apparition of the Virgin Mary in this place. Every year the apparition anniversary is celebrated for three days, from 1 to 3 July, with important religious celebrations and beautiful fireworks over the sea. Inside, on the main altar, is kept the miraculous image left by the Virgin Mary in the place of the apparition as a token of love to the community of Rapallo.

Together with the prodigious gushing of a source, whose waters have been channelled into a small fountain still found in the side chapel of the sanctuary. The church walls are covered with votive decorations left by people who have received a pardon. The sanctuary stands in a splendid panoramic position, about 600 meters above sea level. From the square in front, you can enjoy an extraordinary view of the western coast of the Gulf of Tigullio, with the towns of Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure, up to the unmistakable shape of the promontory of Portofino. The sanctuary can be reached by car, by public bus or with the already mentioned cable car, which leaves from the city centre. From the sanctuary, there are ancient paths and mule tracks for trekking and mountain bike enthusiasts, allowing you to reach the Ligurian hinterland.

© iStock / Faabi


As for the beaches closest to Rapallo, the city bathing establishments are almost all on bridges and stilt houses. The Lido & Flora baths are an exception, they have a beach but are at the mouth of the stream, and the water is not very clear. On the coast of Rapallo, there are a series of tiny pebble and gravel beaches, many of which are equipped with umbrellas and sunbeds. Among the city beaches of Rapallo, there is also one of the very few sandy beaches of the Riviera di Levante, it is the Lido Beach, an arch of golden sand, unlike most of the beaches in the area, which are pebble. The Lido Beach is perfect for those who love comfortable holidays, with coffee shops and all services close at hand, it is also a beach suitable for small children. To discover a magnificent place to swim, you can take the boat and swim in the bay of San Fruttuoso, dominated by the beautiful medieval abbey. Other beautiful beaches in the area are Pozzetto Beach in ZoagliPomaro Beach in San Michele di Pagana and Paraggi Beach, known by all as Portofino Beach.

© iStock / Dcelotti

Sleeping in Rapallo

Rapallo is not a city to visit with a "hit and run" tourism in one day because it offers numerous trekking itineraries and a large number of places to visit, it is not for nothing that it is called "the pearl of the Tigullio Gulf". Therefore, my advice is to stop and sleep here for at least two or three nights to get a good look at the beautiful Gulf of Tigullio, the Cinque Terre, Portofino and all the places of interest in the area.

If you love staying in the city centre for the comforts it offers and the ease of moving around, I can recommend Il Girasole B&B, which is located near the Rapallo railway station, but the rooms are soundproofed so restful tranquillity is assured. The owners are very cordial and affable people who know how to give the right advice to get to know the city and the surrounding places. The rooms are very clean, and the breakfast in the garden is excellent and plentiful.

© Booking / unknown author

On the other hand, if you prefer to stay closer to the beach and still stay in the city centre, you can choose the Portofino Hotel, in a strategic position, located in a 19th-century style building, with breakfast included and excellent quality/price ratio.

© Booking / unknown author

Or, again, if you love waking up in the morning and opening your eyes to the sea, you can choose the Meravigliosa Vista Mare structure, which offers an apartment with a beautiful view of the gulf. In addition, the apartment is located in a strategic position for visiting the other surrounding towns.

© Booking / unknown author

Well, there would still be a lot to tell about Rapallo, the places I have described are just a few, there are many other places to see and activities to practice in every season. I can assure you that a holiday in Rapallo covers all the main aspects of tourism: culture, history, art, good food, good wine, breathtaking landscapes, sea, nature and much more… But find out for yourself because Rapallo, the pearl of the Tigullio Gulf, awaits you! Enjoy!

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