And just like that, the days of inland explorations are over, shutters remain closed throughout the day to keep out the sun, and everyone makes a mad dash for the sea. In the first weeks of June, when summer is new and fresh, the heat is warmly welcomed, and flowers are still in bloom, the beaches are not yet filled and traffic is not yet exasperating. During the work week is all the more idyllic, with no morning rush to secure your beach spot, and no reservation necessary at the still shiny Langosteria Paraggi.
My sister and I set out on the winding, single-laned highway on a Monday morning, en-route to one of the mediterranean’s legendary ‘dolce vita’ ports (of yachts, not cargo): that of Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso. We check into the lovely Cenobio dei Dogi in Camogli, the next town over from Santa Margherita, situated at the end of the seaside town and gifted with a sense of seclusion and peace above the Ligurian sea. With a private rock beach and a pool with a horizon-wide sea view, our plans to freshen up and head out for a sunset aperitivo are met with summer laze and rightly challenged by the beckoning views. And so, within moments of arrival, we find ourselves in an evening sun haze, glued to the chaise lounges and the glittering sea, dosing in and out as the waves lap and the sky morphs from an azure blue to shades of pastel pink.
Camogli itself is a postcard perfect Ligurian town when viewed from a boat, but we much prefer neighboring towns for hopping about during the day. We drive up the mountain and back down again to reach Paraggi, a town which exists merely to locate its gem of a beach and two or three beach clubs. Shaped like a horseshoe and surrounded by greenery, the water is an emerald green, even more gemlike in contrast with the chic orange towels set out by Bagni Fiore, perhaps the most well-groomed beachclub in the region.
To add style to style, Langosteria has thrown its oysters into the Paraggi bucket, opening its fourth location (three in Milan) at Bagni Fiore. Beach goers slip on their designer cover-ups at lunch hour and take a seat with an emerald sea view for the revered seafood, outstanding specialties and daily specials, and the most divine mango sorbet ever to be created. This is restaurant theater at its finest, set on a summer stage with a handsome, fun-loving, yet beyond professional team, working from the restaurant tables to the beachside service without hiccup. Have your morning caffe at the red lacquered bar, lunch served to you on a genius-ly branded beach tray at your chaise lounge, the beyond impressive mid-afternoon fruit platter on ice in one of the Langosteria banquets, and return at night for dinner and Italian vitality well into the wee hours.
As one of the few clients at Bagni Fiore during the first week of June, we have the run of the mill. When I return a few weeks later, it is packed to the very last chaise lounge, and the ambience is quite the opposite. Two or three weeks takes you from heavenly and peaceful to lively and boisterous, with a lot more plastic surgery and cigarettes, barely there bathing suits, and wandering eyes. They each have their positives. Surely a beach scene is more spirited with various groups of gregarious Italians, but if you are looking for a secluded beach come July 1, go fish.
A different, more American scene, can be found at the pool at Hotel Splendido, situated above its bay overlooking some of the world’s most impressive yachts. If you yen for a salt pool overlooking the Mediterranean as opposed to the emerald water of Paraggi, check into this forever splendid property with its one in a million views and exquisite, tropical landscaping.
For lunch in Portofino, da i Gemelli is a front row ticket to the horseshoe port and is run by two tan and adorable twins from the area. Fish is simple and fresh and service friendly and professional. Tucked into the town is U Batti, a charming, petite restaurant with a handful of tables in its minuscule ‘piazza,’ an unassuming, romantic ambience for an evening meal. Known for their prawns as well as their pesto, which everyone around us ordered with question, we tried neither, and so a return visit is a must.
Over in San Fruttuoso, reachable by boat (row or speed, your choice), has one of the most written about trattorias hidden behind its humble, quintessentially Ligurian pebbled beach. Da Laura is another family-run, straight-from-the-sea option for lunch and dinner. Babbo was sitting on the deck de-bearding mussels in a bucket, and his son was setting the table on the simple, shaded veranda overlooking the entrance to the ancient abbey. To be on the water is in itself a freeing pleasure at the sea, so even if you do not snag a beach chair in the pebbles, the 25 minute boat trip is well worth the salty sea breeze. If you find yourself at the cusp of June, with lines to the ferry and amount of bombolone-high children increasing, the cost of a private boat is potentially priceless against the risk of losing your Ligurian cool.