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Ligurian Coast & Lake Como: Moscardini, Missoltini and Much Else

Ligurian Coast & Lake Como: Moscardini, Missoltini and Much Else

Oct 8th, 2008, 04:07 AM
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Ligurian Coast & Lake Como: Moscardini, Missoltini and Much Else

LIGURIA AND LAKE COMO ..10 days, September 2008

I returned recently from another splendid visit to Italy and will share some of my notes here. I traveled with two friends, a married couple, and we rented a car for the latter part of the trip. We departed from JFK and flew to Genoa via Paris CDG; we returned home on a direct flight from Milan Malpensa. Much of this report will be centered around food, as this is one of my prime interests. Before I begin I want to thank everyone: Zeppole, Julie Vikmanis, Vicenzo, SeaUrchin, Traviata, Dayle, Lewis, Steve James, and everyone else who so patiently answer my barrage of questions and I do apologize to those I have inadvertently left out of this lineup.

Resources for this trip included the two relevant Cadogan guides: �Cadogan Italian Riviera & Piedmont� and �Cadogan Lombardy & the Italian Lakes,� as well as Fred Plotkin�s essential, �Italy for the Gourmet Traveler.�

Also indispensible for anyone with an interest in Ligurian food:

�Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera,� also by Fred Plotkin.

And finally, the Slow Food guide, �Osterie & Locande d�Italia.� The English translation lists places to stay as well as SlowFood eating spots, but I believe that the original Italian version details restaurants not found in the English translation. Just before I left home I ordered �Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera,� by David Downie, and am recommending this book on the basis of what I have read so far.


And finally, a memoir I read last year would make good reading for anyone with an interest in the Ligurian region and its food:


Our hotels were: Cenobio dei Dogi, Camogli�3 nights


Grand Hotel Miramare, Santa Margherita Ligure�3 nights


Grand Hotel Victoria, Menaggio�4 nights


We had 2 hours to connect in Paris and so I was a bit worried when the Air France flight departed JFK 1.5 hours later than the scheduled time of 7pm. Fortunately, we made up the time en route and landed in Paris on time. Those of you who have transferred in CDG know that this can be an ordeal. There is a LOT of walking involved, and passengers must pass through passport control and security before boarding another flight. After a bus ride, we arrived on time at the brand-new Terminal 2G, where we boarded the small aircraft that would whisk us to Genoa in 65 minutes.

Upon arrival in Genoa, we determined that there are no set fares for taxi rides outside the city limits. I tried to determine the going rate from the woman at the TI desk, without luck. We were fortunate to meet up with two women who were also headed to Camogli and ended up sharing a large taxi with them for a total price of 75 euro. (A regular-size taxi would have cost 60 Euro). (There are also public transportation options throough Genoa) It was on the short taxi ride that we got our first view of the marvel that is Ligurian tunnel engineering. The autostrada is cut through the rocky uplands that rise from the sea and the drive passed through a series of beautifully constructed tunnels before winding down to the sea near Recco (home of the renowned Focaccia al Formaggio, which I would sample for the first time the following morning).

We arrived at the Cenobio dei Dogi in Camogli around 1pm. I was given a single room, #81, in the red/pool building. The room was small, as expected for a single, but it was comfortable and had a terrace overlooking the front of the hotel/parking lot, and a nice sized bathroom with small stall shower. I was so thrilled to be here, and at 155 euro per night, it was just fine. My friends were accorded a larger, airy double room with sea view on the same floor. The best part of the Cenobio dei Dogi is its location, at the southern end of the idyllic village of Camogli, close enough to walk to the heart of town on 5 minutes, but far enough removed as to insure quiet. The hotel consists of two main buildings perched above the sea, and it has a large pool (too cold to swim when we were there) and a idyllic beach area, where the swimming proved to be delicious (offshore or via a metal ladder descending from a pier)! Be aware that there are several sets of steps to negotiate in order to reach the beach; this would be an issue for anyone with limited mobility. Also, be sure to pack rubber beach shoes since the beach at the hotel is rocky. (The town beach, which is also lovely, appeared to have sand that was a bit finer. In any case, I always bring water shoes if I plan to swim in the sea Italy). The water here is crystal clear and we saw many people snorkeling. It is possible to swim from the hotel beach to the town beach and we also saw several swimmers doing that each morning. The distance is perhaps half a mile each way.

After checking in, our first goal was a light lunch, so we headed to the hotel terrace, where we would have our first taste of the celebrated seafood of Liguria.

ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 8th, 2008, 06:19 AM
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Welcome back. So excited to read your report. So much good information already and you're only on day 1. Nice job describing the Cennobio Dei Doge and its relative merits. Looking forward to the rest.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Oct 8th, 2008, 07:15 AM
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Thanks, Julie! I stayed in three of the hotels that you have experienced and liked them all. You were invaluable in helping me plan this trip!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 8th, 2008, 12:15 PM
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hi ekscrunchy!

Can't wait for the rest!

Just for the archives, the beach throughout Camogli is pebbly, not sandy, so anybody planning to swim in the sea there should plan to wear swim shoes -- which in the summer are usually available for sale in the shops around town.

The Cenobio dei Doge is indeed quiet -- but Camogli is pretty quiet wherever you book. People booking into I Tre Merli should be aware that fishing boats use the harbor under the windows, sometimes early in the morning.

Also, the pristine water in and around Camogli is part of the environmentally protected park of the Portofino peninsula, which is one of the reasons it is favored by snorklers. There are also scuba diving outfits in both Camogli and Recco for people who would enjoy doing that. In high season, there is an hourly ferry between the two towns.
zeppole is offline  
Oct 8th, 2008, 02:59 PM
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Here is a bit more:

By the time we were ready for lunch, the main hotel restaurant was closed for service but we were shown to an outdoor table overlooking the sea and told that we could be served there, instead. Excellent! Diving right in to the delights of the Ligurian sea, we shared three dishes. Two of these were not listed on the menu but offered as choices when I asked the waiter what was best that day. As I have mentioned in previous trip reports, menus in Italy are often just a general guide and jumping off point. Entering into a discussion with the waiter, or owner, will usually produce the best dishes on offer that day. Show your interest in the food of the place and you will often be rewarded. For that first lunch of the trip, we sampled:

Octopus with potatoesterrific combination that we would see often on local menus

Mixed seafood plate composed of fresh anchovies, grilled squid, heads-on shrimp..each superb

Platter of mosciama..a shaved smoked tuna (similar to the mojama of Spain). According to the waiter, this dish used to be made with dolphin, (perhaps something here was lost in the translation to English) but since it is now illegal to take that fish, todays version is made with tuna. In any case, strongly flavored (fans of bottarga take note!!) and delicious.

With bottled water, three fresh lemonades, and one pineapple (!) dessert, the bill came to 60 euro for three of us. Both the views and the service were top notch.

After lunch, I went for quick first swim in the Mediterranean and then set off to explore the town and find the bakery of Rocco Rizzo who, according to Fred Plotkin, makes the best focaccia di formaggio (cheese focaccia) in town..

ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 02:12 AM
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Looking forward to the rest. We are thinking of going there after our Paris stay next year so I am very happy to hear the details. Keep them coming.

schnauzer is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 03:56 AM
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Here is another small bit, more to come soon:

Camogli is a joy to behold. No sooner was I out of the hotel and headed for the bakery when I noticed the first of the remarkably beautiful trompe loeil paintings for which this part of the Ligurian coast is known. Tall, narrow buildings (some reaching 7 stories high) painted reds, pinks, golds, yellows, blues and greens proudly display garlands, angels, geometrics, and a wealth of architectural detailsall painted on the facades in incredible detail. Fool your eye, indeedthese designs are marvelous and it was difficult to keep my eyes on the road as I strolled through the streets. The trompe loeil alone is reason enough to visit this part of the world. I was enraptured!

The second detail that distinguishes Camogli is the lack of cars! The two main arteries of the town, the Lungomare along the sea and the Via della Repubblica which runs parallel to the Mediterranean along the bluff, as well as the smaller connecting streets and lanes of the town center, are a pedestrian delight. And of course, there is the Mediterranean, which is crystal clear even verging on aquamarine in these parts!

I eventually made it to the Paneficio Rocco Rizzo, at Via della Repubblica, #134, and found his son, Luigi, behind the counter. It was quite a thrill to behold the Camogliese pastries for which the town is known, and to see the sheets of cheese, plain and onion focaccia, called fugassa in this part of Italy. Belin che fugassa! is a sign you will see all over; it apparently attests, in off-color dialect, to the wonders of this ancient hearth bread whose root comes from the Latin focus and attests to the central place that the hearth or communal oven found in ancient Liguria. Sr. Rizzo was overjoyed when I told him that I had read about him in Fred Plotkins book and he proceeded to explain a few focaccia basics. Fred had lived in Camogli and was apparently very well received by the townspeople, if this was any indication!! This trip was just a reconnaissance mission for me, as it was almost time to think about dinner, and I planned to return the next morning for a full sampling. And so I wandered back to the hotel along the lungomare. On this Saturday in late September there were a fair amount of tourists, most of them Italian. (I saw no other Americans in the town, although there was a group staying at the hotel as part of a cooking tour from a Cincinnati-based school..they would depart two days later).

That evening, we set off for our first dinner in Camogli, at Da Paolo on Via San Fortunato, near the working fishing harbor at the other end of the town.

Here are a few photos (not mine), of the trompe l'oeil:


ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 04:17 AM
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Hi Eks - Bentornata

Glad you enjoyed Camogli - it's a delight, isn't it? Another place it's time I re-visited ...

Looking forward to more ...

Steve_James is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 04:20 AM
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I so love trip reports with an emphasis on food - especially Italian. Please keep the details coming!
Dee_Dee is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 05:14 AM
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Glad you are enjoying. Please forgive the usual slow pace! I promise that more food is on the way!

Steve: Yes, a total delight! Pretty close to the ideal seaside vacation place. Gorgeous setting, great food, good beach with excellent swimming, many day trips in the immediate area possible by both car and train....easy access to a major international airport.. Roads that are well marked and easy to navigate...

And not overflowing with foreign tourists..

What did I forget? The glorious architecture..

ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 05:39 AM
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Question: In my wanderings around Camogli, I noticed a plaque set in the facade of a building facing the harbor. Can anyone translate this phrase, directed at the sea?

"Mare, Tu sfidi il tempo,

Dall'Alba del mondo"
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 06:06 AM
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I think it'd be something like -

'Oceans (- Sea) - you defy Time, since the Dawn of the World (- Creation)'

- or some variation thereon.

Steve_James is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 06:09 AM
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Thanks, Steve!!

Not far from Da Paolo, on Via Piero Schiffino, we came across the Bottega di Mastro Antonucci, where artisans have been transforming Ligurian wood into furniture and kitchen objects at this location since 1954.
Bruno, the delightful proprietor gave us a tour of the workshop and my friend purchased an olive wood cheese board for a reasonable 20 Euro. (I was hoping to find another olive wood salad bowl but none were available; I believe the shop would fill orders, though).

Here are the details:


ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 10:15 AM
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I am SO enjoying your trip report! You are making me hungry and now I'm convinced I need a SlowFood guide before my next trip.

I have to laugh about the 'painted ladies". When we visited Portofino, my friend was completely disillusioned! She thought the shutters and decorative painting see in pictures were real. When she found out they wre only "painted on", she decided it was all "fake" (which it is) and that she didn't like Portofino at all!
Dayle is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 11:28 AM
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Oh, ekscrunchy! Here is your trip report! I had almost given up on Fodors after reading the Lounge too often and then here is your delightful report, an example of what I originally starting logging onto Fodors to experience.

I am glad I helped in any way and I am so eager to read about your whole trip, don't leave anything out !!

Oh, I wish I were there right now! It was exactly a year ago that I was in that area!

Thank you so much, now more please!
SeaUrchin is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 04:20 PM
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Mahya2 is offline  
Oct 9th, 2008, 10:22 PM
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I always love your trip reports EK.

I feel like I am right there with you.
aussiefive is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 04:27 AM
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We had an 8pm reservation at Da Paolo, Via San Fortunato,14. I made the reservation a few days before our arrival, with the help of the hotel concierge and I was glad that I did, as the restaurant was full. Da Paolo is an attractive restaurant a few steps from the fishing harbor. There is no view of the water, however. The welcome here was less than effusive, somewhat surprising, in my experience, for a restaurant in Italy. Apparently the woman in charge is known for being a bit of a grump and for me, this detracted a bit from the appeal of the place. The food, however, was very good:

Da Paolo is known for their pate of seppie, or cuttle fish. I had never heard of this creature being prepared this way. Well, I will not forget it, as this dish was the hit of the evening! (13 euro) One of the food highs of the week, even!

I continued with spaghetti alle vongole, or spaghetti with tiny clams (12 Euro) Very good! Oh, I was happy to be back at the table in Italy!

We struck up a conversation with a couple at the next table who were enjoying a primi of spaghetti alle seppie neri which looked, and apparently tasted, terrific. Da Paolo apparently has a reputation for this dish, too. This couple, by the way, had a hired car and were lodging at the Villa Rosmarino, above Camogli. They spoke very highly of this small inn.


A green salad for my companions appeared next, followed by our secondi:

Gamberi grillata (30 Euro!) for mevery good grilled large shrimp served with heads on. And for my friends: Grilled corvina, a small white-fleshed fish, and a platter of grilled seppie (21 euro) Both were pronounced delicious. I will add that the corvina, which would be purchased as a whole fish and then filleted, as per my friends request, was brought to the table on a platter with several varieties of fish. My friend asked a few questions, chose the corvina, and then approved as the woman in charge told him that the price would be 18 euro. I suspect they do this to avoid any issues with the final bill. So if you are in doubt about the price of a while fish, just ask!

With a carafe of local white wine (7 euro), one beer (3 Euro) , bottled water (2.60 Euro), and cover charge, the bill for three of us totaled Euro 120.00, or about $US162.

After a stop for excellent gelato near the fishing harbor, we ambled home and to bed. The next day we would be meeting Zeppole and her husband, and another Fodors poster, for Sunday lunch at the celebrated Nonna Nina, in the hills above Camogli!!

ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 05:00 AM
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Oh YES!!! This is going to be a gooooood weekend. Bookchick and Eks are writing reports.
marigross is offline  
Oct 10th, 2008, 06:49 AM
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The next morning, I received an 8am walk-up call and was in the breakfast room of the hotel shortly after. Breakfast at the Cenobio dei Dogi is served in their main restaurant, a large, airy room wrapped with large glass windows which juts out over the beach and overlooks the sea on three sides. The breakfast buffet includes all the usual suspects. I concentrated on the fresh peaches (one word: Wow!) and the excellent croissants. A variety of yogurts, jams, cereals, cakes and pastries, foccacia, and eggs and meat rounded out the selection. The croissants were top notch. On that first morning, I tried to limit myself, as I planned to make a return visit to Panificio Rocco Rizzo soon after breakfast (!). (Surprisingly, even though we ate three meals daily including multi-course lunches and dinners, I lost weight on this trip, a loss that I attribute to the emphasis on seafood and to the walking and swimming).

A walk along the seafront and up the steep flight of steps to the Via della Repubblica took me to Rizzos bakery. With so many treats spread before me, it was difficult to limit myself! I concentrated on the focaccia, and for 1 euro, received a fresh-from-the-oven square of focaccia col formaggio. This Ligurian classic is made with olive oil, salt, flour, and crescenza, a soft, tangy cows milk cheese produced mainly in Liguria and Lombardy. Cheese focaccia, which has been made since at least the 12the century and reportedly reaches the peak of perfection in the neighboring town of Recco, is nothing like the spongy focaccia found in bread baskets of every other Italian restaurant in the US. This is a thin, crepe-like sheet of unleavened pastry, topped by a film of tangy white cheese. Addictive, to say the least!!

Panificio Pasticceria Rizzo Rocco, Via della Repubblica, #134, Camogli.

(There are at least two other well-regarded bakers in town; more on one of these later...)

ekscrunchy is offline  

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