Rapallo for many people might be the perfect base for exploring the Riviera di Levante. We’ve stayed there a couple of times ourselves because it can be a lot cheaper than Santa Margherita Ligure and is a very normal Italian town with a greater choice of hotels and restaurants in every price range. But that’s not to imply that the seafront is any less attractive than its more famous neighbor less than two miles away because, as our photographs attest, Rapallo is also very much a Ligurian jewel with its own charm.
If your goal is to try to see as much as possible along this coastline then Rapallo has better rail and road connections than Santa Margherita Ligure with more trains that stop here and a better bus service. It's also closer to the autostrada exit and parking is definitely easier.
Rapallo has many surprising literary connections and there is a book being published later in 2021 by a faculty member at my old university called 'The Poets of Rapallo: How Mussolini's Italy shaped British, Irish and US Writers'. Among the various poets to be discussed in the book during the years 1928-35 is the poet and fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound who lived in Rapallo for 20 years until apprehended by partigiani in 1944 and handed over to the Americans.
He was subsequently repatriated and jailed, singularly lacking in contrition, and on his return to Italy in 1958 his first act was to raise his arm in a fascist salute. He lived out the last ten years of his life in the hills above the nearby town of Zoagli.
Many years earlier Ernest Hemingway apparently was the person who recommended Rapallo to Pound and on a visit here in 1923 Hemingway wrote his short story 'Cat in the Rain'. Earlier still, in Paris in the early 1920s, Ezra Pound was an important editorial influence on the young Hemingway, who was later to say that Pound had taught him "to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust people in certain situations." Today there is a small and largely insignificant neo-fascist movement in Italy called CasaPound in homage to the American poet but we didn't see any memorials to him in Rapallo. The native son of this area, Christopher Columbus, however, has a fine statue looking out to sea, thankfully unmolested so far by the cancel culture mob who are busy pulling down Columbus all across America, a sore subject in Italy.
One glance at the boats in the harbor is enough to tell you that Rapallo is not a playground for the rich and famous because it’s mostly full of small crafts with outboard motors reflecting the normality of the town and the people who live there.
This is a place where you can be on holiday but at the same time observe the rituals of daily Italian life without sensing that everyone else around you is also on vacation and from somewhere else. This aspect should not be underestimated if you want to properly experience Italy and it’s often a difficult combination to find, but Rapallo is one of those places that has it.
All of the various land and sea activities we described in the article on Santa Margherita Ligure apply equally to Rapallo given the short distance between them and Rapallo is also on the regular boat service so all the walks we’ve mentioned can be enjoyed from here as well. Rapallo has one additional attraction which is the cable car that goes 2,000 feet up into the mountains to the Santuario di Montallegro. There’s a restaurant and hotel at the top as well as fabulous views and the church has an impressive interior.
If you’re staying in Rapallo and want to go to Santa Margherita Ligure the easiest way is to simply walk the 1.75 miles along the coastal road. Until very recently there were some quite
dangerous sections of blind corners with no pavement but finally that’s now been corrected and there’s a proper sidewalk the whole way.
It’s an easy very pleasant walk, especially early in the morning before the traffic picks up, and half way along you come across the tiny hamlet of San Michele di Pagana (below), technically part of Rapallo but there’s a little separation between them.
It’s a walk that will take you past some of the storied hotels, old villas and lush tropical gardens, starting with the Excelsior Palace Hotel on the first promontory as you leave Rapallo. The early 1920s was the heyday here with its gambling license attracting much of the Monte Carlo crowd and at the Imperiale Palace Hotel further along the Treaty of Rapallo was signed in 1922 between the Soviet Union and Germany.
There are three small bays in quick succession before reaching Santa Margherita Ligure.
They are Pomaro, Trelo and Prelo and the last one still has the old fishermen's houses right on the water (above) but now more likely to be airbnb apartments; if you find one of these available and plan to drive here make sure it comes with a parking space.