A Beautiful Seaside Walk along the Portofino Coast.


The Red Carpet Walk from Rapallo to Santa Margherita.  

A Great Thing to Do - Explore Between Rapallo & Santa Margherita.


 Enjoy the Attraction of Villas, Free Beaches, Grand Hotels and a Baroque Church.


Aerial of San Michele di Pagana with Pomaro, Trelo (Travello), & Prelo Bays.  Beyond is Santa Margherita & Parco Naturale di Portofino.
A beautiful coastal walk through San Michele di Pagana with its three bays: R. to L. Pomaro, Trelo (Travello), & Prelo.
Santa Margherita is beyond with Parco Naturale di Portofino as a backdrop. Photo: Archivio Storico della Regione Liguria.

It's now a pleasure to walk from Rapallo to Santa Margherita Ligure (SML) along the coast between these pretty Ligurian towns - thanks to recent sidewalk improvements. The walk was inaugurated with the World's Longest Red Carpet - 8 km. from Rapallo to SML to Portofino. The carpet is gone now, of course, but the beauty remains.  This article covers the first half of the coastal walk, the second half is our popular article  Walk or Hike from Santa Margherita to Portofino  which also describes an easy hill hike with beautiful overviews.

The route is full of sea scenes and garden glimpses and villa views so you can really get a feel for this beautiful area.  We recently explored it and we discovered four free beaches (spiaggia libera); a WWI Memorial forest; a Baroque church; and all the while we were surrounded by grand mansions and hotels, gardens and the sea. 

Villa Lagomaggiore in Rapallo on Capo Pomaro (Punta Logon).
Our walk passes inland behind Villa Lagomaggiore on Capo Pomaro.
The walk is great for both kids and adults and the hills are gentle. This route is about 3 km. (2 miles) and it can be done in 45 minutes, but don't you dare hurry. Allow 90 minutes to be leisurely, and it's easy to spend a couple of hours if you are experienced in smelling the roses. It is quite doable with a stroller except harder in the Punta Pagana section where there are two short sandy beaches and two staircases. There are some services at the first beach at Pomaro about 1/3 of the way, but bring some water anyway.

You can create a personalized round trip using the bus that runs along the seaside road or by boarding the ferry at SML or Rapallo or Portofino. See the links at MORE INFO below.

OUR DIRECTIONS:   WALK THIS WAY.
We begin on the western side of Rapallo - across the canal-like Boate river - where we follow Corso Cristoforo Colombo as it heads toward the sea from the intersection with Via Aurelia Occidental. This is near the Hotel Stella and there are blue traffic signs pointing the way to SML and Portofino. As you start, there are good views of Rapallo's extensive harbor which is a major port for private boats of every description and tax bracket. Soon the road  curves away uphill past the Hotel Excelsior Palace. Corso Colombo changes names, but it's always the largest choice. It's known later as Via San Michele di Pagana then as Via Bridiga Morello a/k/a Strada Provinciale 227 (SP227).

We walk all the way from Rapallo to SML on the sidewalk along this road and we just take one detour at Travello. We describe several sights you will miss without that detour around Punta Pagana (a small peninsula), and we add details on some places you'll see along the way.

HOTEL EXCELSIOR PALACE

This 5 star grand hotel dates from 1901 and began life as the Kursaal Rapallo. It was quite a sensation in its early days, drawing the European not-yet-jet set known as the 'beau monde' to its casino tables and to Rapallo's climate. It was so prominent that it rivaled Montecarlo until 1927 when San Remo inexplicably stole its gambling license.  Featured in newsreels and films of the day and the site of several international conferences between 1917 and 1922, it has at least 127 very nice rooms and you might as well just stop walking now and book it:  Excelsior Palace Hotel.


 Pomaro Bay, San Michele di Pagana, view toward Capo Pomaro & Rapallo.
 Pomaro Bay, San Michele di Pagana, view toward Capo Pomaro & Rapallo.
PORTO SAN MICHELE

After a couple of curves you quickly come to a pretty view of the first bay called Pomaro . On your left is the headland called Capo Pomaro or Punta Longon with the large Villa Lagomaggiore. There's a stairway from the walkway leading down to a small free sandy beach.

Across the bay is Travello Beach with Point Pagana behind it. You are now in the community of San Michele di Pagana which is now part of Rapallo.

Along the bay is Porto San Michele - with traditional buildings holding small businesses. There's La Cava al Mare pizzeria, boat rentals and a Diving center and a dock and beach. Most of the beach area is devoted to two bagniBagni La Marina with umbrella and chaise rentals and a bar and tavola calda and Bagni Pagana with beach rentals, drinks and salads. There's also a small Playa Loca free beach with ice cream and rentals available. These are the last services before Santa Margherita.

Shrine at Trelo, San Michele di Pagana.
Shrine at Trelo, San Michele di Pagana.


TRAVELLO BEACH

After walking around Pomaro bay, you'll arrive at a sharp corner formed by a block of traditional Ligurian buildings. On the left, near the shrine in our photo, there's a stairway down. We suggest you take these stairs on a detour from the Red Carpet path.

Behind the buildings is Travello beach a/k/a Trelo. Trelo is a public beach with a low key, local vibe. It's open to all though it's a gravel not a sand beach. At the far end, we think there are rentals for lounges & umbrella & kayaks in busy season at a boat club called Pontile AR.DO.PA, but we couldn't confirm it.

The colorful block of tall buildings is a typical Ligurian / Genoese style and you'll see this type in Camogli and Portofino and Portovenere.




Colorful Ligurian buildings overlooking Trelo beach, San Michele di Pagana, Rapallo.
Colorful Ligurian buildings overlooking Trelo beach, San Michele di Pagana.
Trelo is still called a fishermen's beach and you can easily imagine small fishing boats tied up near these buildings.

While it's less obvious in this small setting, one original advantage of this building style was defensive as the solid building wall can serve as a city wall in an attack from the sea.

Behind the facade for part of the complex is a typical Ligurian caruggio - a lane or alley perfectly suited to ventilation and gossip.




WWI MEMORIAL & SAN MICHELE CEMETARY

WWI Remembrance Memorial, Trelo Beach, San Michele di Pagana.
WWI Memorial, San Michele di Pagana.
Just behind the Travello beach is a unique Park of Remembrance on a small wooded hillside with a winding path. Plaques attached to trees give the particulars and sometimes the photos of soldiers from this area who died. There's also an artful memorial stone from 1930. The displays are showing their age now, but it's moving nonetheless. WWI memorials like this common in Italy and testament to the magnitude of Italy's losses in the Great War. As a percentage, its loss of 3.5% of the population exceeded Britain's hideous 2.2% loss. The resulting social chaos in the young Italian Kingdom facilitated Mussolini's dictatorship, and the ruination of Italy in WWII.

At the top of the hill is the modest sized San Michele cemetery. Italian cemeteries are like all cemeteries in imposing a contemplative mood on the visitor, but the Italian practice of including photos of the deceased on the grave marker makes it personal. Some of these graves are from the exuberant period around 1900 when the families expressed both emotion and status by honoring the life of the deceased with an expressive statue. Behind the cemetery is the watchtower mentioned in the next section.

AROUND POINT PAGANA

Walk Travello beach toward ocean and when the sand ends, a paved path begins. This walkway leads all the way around Point Pagana with a rocky, wooded coast on one side and the Gulf of Tigullio on the other. It's a splendid seaside stroll and there is usually a sampling of local people along its course. If it's sunny, some folks will be splayed in pained positions on large rocks, but it's bad form to offer to help them - they do this voluntarily.

Above you, and well hidden, is a Genoese watchtower built in 1562 to give early warning of pirates or other hostiles. Named Torre di Punta Pagana, it's accessed from a path near the cemetery.  Piracy was a huge problem in Liguria from ancient times into the 1800's. An attack on Rapallo by the Turkish admiral Dragut in 1549 prompted the construction of this tower. His forces looted the churches and carried off over 100 children as slaves. The tower is one of the best preserved along the Ligurian coast. Today you can show solidarity with this ancient fear by keeping watch for ferries full of foreign invaders in frightful attire.


Prelo Free Beach on the Gulf of Tigullio, San Michele di Pagana, Rappallo.
Prelo Free Beach on the Gulf of Tigullio, San Michele di Pagana, Rappallo.
PRELO BEACH

The walkway comes round the point into the bay called the Seno di Pagana or Prelo Bay and there are views of the next peninsula with historic Villa Malta (see below) visible over the trees. The path ends at a secluded free beach called Prelo or Stella. Turn right to climb a long staircase – this is a famous Ligurian 'creuza' – a narrow lane – which became a Ligurian icon with the 1984 hit song Creuza di Ma (Lane to the Sea) by the late Genovese singer-songwriter Fabrizio De Andre. At the top of the stairs is the....(continues below Amazon ad)...



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CHURCH OF SAN MICHELE PAGANA

San Michele di Pagana Church. Rapallo, Liguria.
San Michele di Pagana Church. CC by Davide Papalini.
This gentle church once was visible from afar before the coming of walled villas and summer homes. It was built in 1133 replacing a 7th century Lombard church. Of Germanic origins, the Lombards a/k/a Longobards were real fans of St. Michael the Archangel and so the church retained that patron saint. The Lombards, though, had some beliefs that didn't square with Rome so the pejorative term of pagan (pagana) was tacked on and the church's name became the community's name.

The church served the entire hilly parish between Rapallo and SML and benefited from having the local Orero and Spinola families as supporters. It was renovated in 1581 and the present Baroque-ish renovations date to the 1700's.

The wooden crucifix over the altar is notable. It's from the school of Anton Maragliano who was a Genoese carver known for introducing Baroque to wooden sculpture late in the 1600's. The style is still seen today in creche figure carvings (presepe). The church also has paintings by unknown Flemish artists from the 1400's and works from the Genoese school from the 1600's. The painting of a praying figure with Saints Bernard and Francis is Van Dyke's last painting before he left Italy, dated 1627. The figure is Francesco Orero, builder of Villa Malta, who commissioned the painting.


VILLA PIAGGIO

Walking straight out from the church, you'll rejoin the Red Carpet main road to SML.  Across the street you'll soon see the looming crenelated tower of the Villa Piaggio (photo below). It has a painting of a religious figure near the top. It was built in the early part of the 1900's, but from the sidewalk you can see from the stonework that it incorporates a much older structure. 


Villa Malta a/k/a Villa Pagana or Villa Spinola. San Michele di Pagana, Rapallo.
Villa Malta or Villa Pagana or Villa Spinola from the early 1600's.
View from the sea. CC by Davide Papalini.
VILLA MALTA

Further along behind a fancy gate with accessory buildings, on the seaside of the road, you'll catch glimpses of a large light orange and red villa with a crenelated tower and extensive grounds and a lot of names. This is the most historic of the villas you'll see. A sign says Villa dei Cavalieri di Malta (Villa of the Knights of Malta - a Catholic lay order), but that's only since 1959 when a genuine Spinola family descendant bequeathed it to them. It's also commonly called Villa Pagana.

The villa is from the early 1600's and begun by that praying figure - Francesco Otero - whose descendants sold it to some Spinola ancestors. You may catch sight of part of the Castle of Pagana amid the large cedars of Lebanon – it was built by Genoa in 1625 to defend the Gulf against pirates and the Kingdom of Savoy.


Villa Spinola (Villa del Trattato) & Villa Piaggio, San Michele di Pagana.
Villa Spinola (del Trattato) & Villa Piaggio (background).
View from the sea. CC by Davide Papalini.
VILLA SPINOLA

As you come to a fairly sharp turn to the right, you can see a different style of villa on the left (seaward).

Also built in the early 1900's by the Spinola family, this villa was indeed intended to look British - and it does with a hint of Italian in the design and the use of terra cotta.

It is also known as Villa del Trattato because a post WWI peace treaty was signed here between the Kingdoms of Italy and Yugoslavia in 1920.

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 Five star Imperial Palace Hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure. ex-Villa Costa.
The 5 star Imperial Palace Hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure.
Built as a villa in 1889, then expanded in 1905 to be a hotel.
THE IMPERIALE PALACE HOTEL

The only property on our route that hasn't accommodated the new sidewalk is the 5-star Imperiale Palace Hotel. You must endure this short indignity near an overpass leading from the hotel to golf carts used to ferry guests to the hotel's private beach!

This hotel was originally built as a villa by the Costa family from Corsica in 1889 - hence the mansard roof in the older section. It became a hotel in 1905 when one wing was added and it was further enlarged in 1910 with another.  In this Belle Ã‰poque era, it welcomed the aristocracy and royals and divas and even some American guests who thought nouveau riche was a compliment. In 1922, the Treaty of Rapallo between German and Russia was signed here.

There are 89 rooms and they quote rates of $400. to $1100, for a stay. They have a pool in addition to the beach, and every amenity and service imaginable, except apparently neighborhood outreach. Please, sir, use our link to book your month long stay:  Imperial Palace Hotel


SANTA MARGHERITA

Traditional Ligurian buildings with trompe l'oeil. Santa Margherita Ligure.
Traditional Ligurian buildings with trompe l'oeil. Santa Margherita Ligure.
Entering SML, on the sea side there is a good sized free beach adjoining the grounds of the four star Hotel Metropole. It has good views of the town and the harbour and also offers equipment rentals.

 On the land side, the city begins in earnest with more colorful tall Ligurian buildings lining the street - these with trompe l'oeil decor.

There are lots of restaurants to choose from, and since the overall quality is high, it's hard to choose - the reviews all sound the good refrain. But, of course, we are required to give a recommendation.


Excellent Tagliarini Frutti di Mare at Angolo 48 Restaurant, Santa Margherita.
 One writer's share of the Tagliarini Frutti di Mare at Angolo 48 Restaurant.
AN SML LUNCH

After our walk, we relaxed with a great lunch al fresco at Angolo 48 restaurant in Santa Margherita. It's a quality restaurant with good service and food in keeping with SML's atmosphere.

We had two antipasti (Mussels with Black Pepper & Octopus Salad) and we split a primo piatto (Tagliarini with Seafood), a 1/2 Liter of house wine, bottled water, and coffee. We spent 57€ (2018) including cover charges.

Restaurant Angolo 48 at 48 Via Palestro just inland from the Duomo. Angolo 48 on Facebook




WHERE TO STAY

Rapallo    Full search:  Booking.Com Rapallo  
Best Western Tigiullio Royal    € Moderate to expensive pricing.
Close to the market, the beach, the ferries and the train, this 7 story hotel with a friendly helpful staff will help you figure out your logistics.  Free wifi, breakfast 5€, on site parking 14€.  34 rooms.
Hotel Astoria                               € Moderate pricing. A family-run Art Nouveau villa right on the water, this place has free wifi, free buffet breakfast including good fruit and vegetable selections, and on site parking available for 16€. The staff is happy to recommend walking tours and help you get around. 22 rooms. 
Hotel Il Gatto                                € Economical pricing.
If you want to be in the center of town, this inn is on the first floor up on the central street, close to the train and 10 minutes from the harbor.  A little noisy because it’s so central, some rooms have pleasant balconies.  Wifi is free in public areas, breakfast included, no parking, but ask for a temporary permit for street parking.  16 rooms. 
Santa Margherita Ligure   Full Search:  Booking.Com Santa Margherita   
Hotel Santa Margherita Palace     € Moderate to expensive pricing.
Here you’re close to shops, restaurants, and the train, and a few blocks in from the water.  The rooms are spacious, with a black and white motif, and there’s a glass elevator to transport you.  Wifi and breakfast are free, parking is available.  26 rooms.
Hotel Villa Anita                          € Moderate Pricing.
Just out of the busy center you’ll find lots of amenities in this boutique style hotel, such as an outdoor pool, (seasonal, of course), hot tub, and fitness room.  Ask for a balcony room to enjoy the view.  The town is a 5 or 10 minute walk away, if you don’t mind stairs, and they make up for it with free parking, free wifi and free breakfast.  12 rooms.
Il Timone B & B                           € Economical pricing.
Just 50 meters from the port, this B & B is close to restaurants and shops.  Although there aren’t really common areas, the rooms are clean and spacious, the friendly owners respond quickly to phone calls.  Wifi throughout is free, as is breakfast.  No parking, but it’s available nearby.  3 rooms.
Portofino   For most people, we hesitate to recommend staying in Portofino as the town is rather small and the prices of hotels and restaurants are rather large.  However, if you're looking for that special experience, then Portofino might be the place for you. 
Full Search: Booking.Com Portofino  
Belmond Hotel Splendido             € Very expensive pricing
If you’re looking for luxury in a gorgeous setting and are willing to pay for it, this might be for you.  Fresh, casual, classy hotel outside of the town hustle, with heated salt water pool, spa, etc. and a knockout view.  The welcome extends to services: free wifi, free breakfast, and free outside parking (garage parking 35€).  68 rooms
Eight Hotel Portofino                   € Expensive pricing
Set back three blocks from the water, this place is friendly and quiet.  While they don’t have beachfront, they do have a free shuttle to the beach at their sister hotel, and a garden with a hot tub you can reserve.  Free wifi, breakfast, and parking.  18 rooms

See About Us & Disclosure below - we hope we've helped you. Using our links does not affect prices.  

MORE INFO

SANTA MARGHERITA TO PORTOFINO Walking via the sea road is a beautiful 5.4 km (just over 3 miles) and level. There's also a hike over modest hill yielding fine views. See our  popular article: Walk or Hike from Santa Margherita to Portofino

FERRY TIMES Look at our article: Portofino Area Ferry Boats  It covers ferries around the Gulf of Tigullio including Rapallo, Santa Margherita, Portofino, San Fruttuoso, Chiavari, Lavagna, Sestri Levanto, as well as some boats to Cinque Terre.

BUS INFO.  ATP Buses run regularly between SML and Rapallo on routes 7, 8 and 98. For starters, look for the little blue bus icon on Google maps.  In SML, the Rapallo buses start or pass the central Piazza Vittorio Veneto (near the tourist info booth).  Buy tickets at a ticket machine, the tourist office or a news kiosk. Remember to validate your ticket upon entering the rear of the bus.

For more info use the ATP Bus Website. Click the dot at the top for Servizi per Utente / then click Percorsi e Orari on the left / then click the town / then click the bus route for times. Frankly, this stuff is obscure, so it makes sense to ask at a newstand, bar, or your hotel.

PORTOFINO PENINSULA HIKES & MAPS
  •  Portofino Park Trail Schematic  To download the Parco's hiking map PDF. 
  • A good local paper map is Il Parco Regionale di Portofino by Studio Cartografico Italiano available at local newstands. It shows the Portofino Park with trails at 1:10,000, and the larger region at 1:25,000.
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Our Liguria Ferry Articles
Complete Cinque Terre, Portovenere, La Spezia Boat / Ferry Schedules  The only place to find a full year's schedules for planning.
Portofino Area Ferry Boat Schedules  Gulf of Tigullio: Rapallo, SML, Portofino, San Fruttuoso, Chiavari, Lavagna, Sestri Levante.
Camogli, Recco, San Fruttuoso Ferry Schedules  Hint: From Camogli you can switch to Portofino area ferries at San Fruttuoso!

About Us & Disclosure

We are Martha and Mike from Boston - recently retired photo editors who enjoy travel, food, and helping people. We have visited Italy for three decades, and we live in Liguria part-time. We have no connection to the car rental or hotel industries, and we receive no payments or free stuff for our writing or opinions. As is internet convention, we receive the standard commission for clicks on many of the commercial links that result in a purchase.

Written by Martha

The photos captioned CC by Davide Papalini are found on Wikimedia and used via a Creative Commons license.   Photos not otherwise credited are copyright by us, be they good or bad.