This post is from the series about our honeymoon in October and November 2015. You can read more about it here.
After a wonderful four days in Genoa we arrived on a sunny October afternoon in the resort town of Rapallo, right in the heart of the Italian Riviera. If you are scratching your head to think of where Rapallo is or to imagine it in your mind, don’t worry. Neither of us had heard of it either.
Rapallo sits on the Italian Riviera, also known as the Ligurian Riviera which runs the coastal length of the Italian region of Liguria on the gorgeous Ligurian sea, facing the gulf of Genoa. Way across the sea are French Riviera resorts such as Nice and Monaco and just across the bay from Rapallo is it’s much more famous sister, Portofino, where the Rooney’s got hitched, and the place which drew us to the Italian Riviera in the first place.
After finding out just how much it costs to stay, or do anything in Portofino I settled on Rapallo as our long stay destination. The plan for the honeymoon had always been to combine a city break with a longer stay by the seaside. Somewhere dripping in class where we could relax, swim and eat great food. Somewhere old fashioned and Agatha Christie like. We certainly got that in Rapallo.
Whilst Portofino attracts today’s stars and glitterati, Rapallo was where Europe’s royalty, well-to-do and movie stars headed in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Rapallo might not be well known to us Brits it seems very well known to the Italians as a holiday spot. Whilst today it might lose out to its neighbour in attracting hoards of tourists, Rapallo is a more elegant, refined, interesting town to visit and stay in. Not to mention being a darn sight less expensive!
It fitted in perfectly with my vision of the perfect honeymoon. The waterfront restaurants and our hotel still have waiters dressed in perfectly pressed shirts, black bow ties, waistcoats and dinner jackets. There are still old men with leathery faces sitting under the shade of the Mediterranean pine trees which line the seafront promenade. Perfect.
Stepping back in time
Our last day in Genoa was also our first in Rapallo. We arrived mid-afternoon after a pleasant two hour train journey. My first impression of Rapallo was of stepping back in time. Genoa felt like we were in the past, in a very good way, but the modern world still encroached on the city. Rapallo feels like you really have stepped back a generation or so. That’s not to say you can’t find Wi-Fi when you need it, but that the town looks like it hasn’t changed in appearance in a long time.
Rapallo is a perfectly situated to explore the Ligurian coast with easy day trips to a wealth of little fishing villages, towns and even some city destinations like Pisa. With a slower pace of life and lack of nightclubs Rapallo might not be the destination for everyone but for us, for a romantic get away, it was perfect. We enjoyed evenings is bustling and packed restaurants and bars where the locals enjoyed great food (oh god the food!) and excellent local wine.
The station is set back from the waterfront and you’ll walk through the main part of the town to reach the gorgeous sea. Our first glimpse of the seafront and harbour was lovely and though Rapallo didn’t seem very big, it was very pretty. A short walk from the town centre was our home for the next ten nights, the resplendent, charming and sophisticated, Excelsior Palace Hotel.
Where to stay in Rapallo
The Excelsior Palace Hotel is a huge pile of a place sitting on a hill overlooking the marina and town on one side whilst looking out to the Ligurian sea on the other. The views are truly spectacular whether from our room’s balcony or from the main restaurant and terrace areas, or even from the infinity pool in another part of the hotel across the road, right on the waterfront.
The Excelsior Palace Hotel in Rapallo is quite an upmarket affair. A five star hotel with interiors, staff and service to match. Where we thought we’d been treated extremely well at our hotel in Genoa, here we were treated like movie stars from the 50’s. The whole place, not just hotel but Rapallo and the wider area (especially in Portofino) felt like stepping back to the 50’s. Back then all manor of European royalty and Hollywood stars stayed at the Excelsior and from the foyer to the bar, to our room, the spa and terrace, even the staff in bow ties, the whole place drips elegance from every pour.
Our room was just a gorgeous as you’d expect with a balcony complete with table and chairs. The bathroom was lovely and the tub is more than big enough for two if you want to have a romantic evening together.
The Excelsior Palace Hotel Rapallo isn’t cheap and you’ll need to save up a bit, more so if you’re having a ten-night stay.
What to see in and around Rapallo
We spent most of our time in Rapallo exploring the beautiful old streets, eating delicious seafood, pasta and wine, relaxing, going on lovely walks and just enjoying the town and our hotel. There’s a historical tower, the Fieschi and the Torre Civica to see.
The old town walls are all but gone through remnants, such as the Porta delle Saline are still around and close by it is some of the best food you will ever eat, food so good you could almost cry, at the Hostaria Vecchia. We ate there twice and I can honestly say it is some of the best food I have ever had. At one point when I was eating my second main course (I was on holiday!) Hana said I actually did have a tear in the corner of my eye.
The town itself isn’t too big and walking around the town centre takes barely a morning or afternoon, and that’s if you’re lingering in shop windows along the way. Exploring the wider town can keep you occupied for a day or so and there are always a lot of great restaurants, cafe’s and bars to while away the hours.
And if you have a hotel as nice as ours, or the many other great places to stay in town there is always hanging out by a pool with a nice drink or indulging in some spa treatments, which we certainly did!
Rapallo doesn’t have too much beach space but what there is is very lovely and in the height of summer I can see it being quite crowded! The promenade which encircles the bay is lovely to walk along or just to sit at and relax watching the ferry go in and out, or watching a cruise ship dropping of day trippers.
Where to eat in Rapallo
Apart from the aforementioned Hosteria Vecchia Rapallo is home to several great places to eat. You can see more about where and what we ate during our stay in Rapallo here.
A head for heights
If you have a head for heights I would well recommend a trip in the Rapallo Cable Car to the Cathedral Santuario Nostra Signora di Montallegro which sits atop a mountain overlooking the town and bay below. The bottom station is a few minutes walk outside the main town centre. During the off season the car runs less frequently and the last trip down is before sunset so make sure you check before you head up. A single journey is €5.50 with a return €8.00.
The cable car has been a feature of Rapallo since 1934, I hope the cables have been replaced since then! The 600 meter climb lasts around seven minutes, depending upon the time of year and weather conditions and the views really are gorgeous, as you can see!
The cable car is the only one of its kind in Liguria and the views you get across gorges and up to mountains above as you traverse the 7 minute journey are spectacular. Frankly I don’t have a head for heights and whilst the chapel at the top was lovely the the views down over the Gulf of Tigullio are beautiful I really didn’t have the head for going back down via the cable car.
Thankfully whilst the cable car is the swiftest way to the top it’s not the only one. You could take a bus which would wind around the roads on the way back to town or wander down the gorgeous mountain path as the day turns to evening and the sun goes down. It is a lovely walk at sunset but as it can be a little precarious at times make sure you finish your walk before it gets properly dark.
Places to visit close to Rapallo
Alternatively to staying in and around Rapallo itself along the Ligurian coast there are quite a few fishing villages and towns such as Santa Margherita Liguria, San Michele di Pagana, the beautiful Portofino and Camogli which are an easy day trip via (a very cheap) train or ferry ride, most taking just a few minutes. A relatively short train ride away is the city of Pisa with its leaning tower which is well worth a visit.
Over the course of our 10 days or so in Rapallo we visited all of these and I’d heartily recommend all of them as beautiful and great places to stay.
On our first full day in Rapallo we decided to walk to Santa Margherita as it looks a short walk along the coast. Along the way we passed through San Michele, where we saw a beautiful chapel and a lovely little beach. Again I bet it would be very, very busy in the summer months. I’d very much recommend going just out of season like we did. Unfortunately we didn’t get much further along as the coastal path gives way and the road where Italian drivers corner at unbelievable speeds wasn’t an option we really wanted to take! However we did visit Santa Margherita by boat and train a few days later.
Rapallo was a wonderful place to stay for our honeymoon. I don’t think we could have asked for anywhere more pretty, more classic and more peaceful than Rapallo. From old fashioned restaurants to cafes, stunning pasta to ice cream and views you could never tire of, Rapallo is one of the best places I have been lucky enough to stay at.