Camogli or Ca’ mogli as it once was, literally translated as the ‘house of wives’ reflecting the fact that for centuries the men of Camogli were always away at sea plying their trade as fishermen, is one of the most photographed and written about towns in Italy. We’ve been there many times but rarely stayed overnight because it can be a difficult and frustrating place to enjoy without a lot of hassle.
As I was looking through all our photographs to decide which ones to add to this article I was reminded of the exquisite grigliata mista di pesce (mixed grilled fish) that we had a few years ago on the harbor front in Camogli. By now, in the middle of 2021, we must have visited more than three quarters of the entire Italian coastline at least once, missing only the Calabrian toe, the top of the Italian boot from Venice to Trieste and some of the islands. And after eating innumerable plates of grigliata mista di pesce in our travels, it’s the one in Camogli that sticks in the mind for both the generous portion and variety of fish as well as the skill of the chef. So kudos to the restaurant Vento Ariel in Camogli, because this dish is something that restaurants by the sea everywhere in Italy pride themselves on.
Camogli has something else in its favor, and that’s the sunset. With all of the twists and turns of the Riviera di Levante and the fact that it’s not a north/south coastline or even a west/east coastline but something in between, means that sunsets in these coastal towns are not always a given. Camogli’s situation just happens to be perfect and so at the magical aperitivo hour continuing on into the summer sunset dinner time, this is very definitely the place to be and the town becomes animated and lively, especially at the weekends, and the bars and restaurants fill up quickly.
Grabbing a table next to the water with the evening sun exaggerating all those colorful Ligurian buildings behind you is what a holiday in Italy is all about and is something that in an instant can make all of the hassle of traveling worthwhile. Although the views and ambience by the water are exceptional you won't find the best food right on the seafront in Camogli. The restaurants without the views have to work harder for their customers and tend to be better. We have had good dinners before at Da Paolo and also a fabulous Sunday lunch one time just outside town at Mille e Una Notte.
Given the popularity of Camogli do not try to drive here anytime from mid-afternoon onwards in the summer, weekends especially, because we’ve tried and failed twice to find anywhere to park and finally learned our lesson.
The train station is conveniently located just steps from the water but if you prefer a slightly grander and more scenic arrival and would like to imagine how the fishermen returned home una volta, then the ferry service is the perfect way to approach Camogli and is a very atmospheric way to experience this part of the coastline.
Every town in Italy, or even village, seems to celebrate a festival at some time in the spring, summer or autumn months. Sometimes it’s just an excuse for a party but there is always a theme, typically based on the local product. They don’t all go back centuries however and there are often commercial or tourism interests at play but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. This type of festival is called a sagra and Camogli has one of the more famous and extravagant of these in its annual Sagra del pesce, held every year in early May.
It was first held in 1952 and within a few years the main feature had become the enormous frying pan they used, as big as a room with a 13 foot diameter and consuming 3,000 liters of olive oil to cook 3 tons of fresh fish over the course of just one day. One of the earlier pans, now retired, can be seen attached to a wall in town and there are some photographs inside of the sagra from various decades showing how the fish is fried using lots of smaller baskets floating around inside the giant pan.
Camogli is much smaller than it looks with just one seafront promenade and a small harbor, so we've never felt that it was worth more than one full day given how much competition it has from the other Riviera di Levante towns. It has always seemed to us the most crowded and claustrophobic of them all and as you can imagine from these photographs, the accommodation in town is often high up in tall buildings with no elevators. In the past we have preferred to stay in the hills above town towards the San Rocco area where there is more open space but still easy access to the center of Camogli.
But if you've never been to Camogli before, it is definitely worth a visit for a long lunch or dinner and a stroll around to soak up the atmosphere. And right next door to Camogli is the small town of Recco, certainly not as scenic but there you will find the restaurant Da Ö Vittorio and the famous Focaccia di Recco shown in the video here.