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Sestri Levante on the Italian Riviera - Photo by Jesse Andrews
Glorious, Sestri Levante a Sea Side town on the Italian Riviera - Photo by Jesse Andrews

Sestri Levante

Cities and Towns in Liguria

Sitting on the Riviere Levante, which is an extension of the Italian Riviera half wa between Genoa and La Spezia at the south  end of the world famous Cinque Terre, this smallish town, nesteld between sea and mountains at the mouth of the Grimolo River, is becoming a favourite vacation destination - and for good reason.
 
The centro storico - historical center of Sestri Levante - spreads itself on a peninsula that parts two bays - the beautiful Baia del Silenzio (also known as "Portobello") on one side and the stunningly attractive Baia delle Favole on the other. “Baia delle Favole” or “Bay of Fairy Tales” was named to honor Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Sestri for a short time.
 
The town's history is generally that of the rest of Liguria, but more specifically as a town originally devoted to fishing, but now to the tourist industry.  The towns charming old streets, its water side ambiance and the usual array of cafes, trattorias, gelaterias and an increasing number of upscale shops appeal to people looking for a relaxed and amiably good time.
 
There is a small castle, whose foundations date to about 1089 AD overlooking Sestri Levante. In those days, the village was part of the Republic of Genoa.  During the ensuing decades, like other towns and villages along this coast, it was subjected to brutal raids by Saracens and pirates.  The Castel was extended and fortified in 1145.  The town itself was also encircled with walls containing four gates, cirtually none of which remain today.  Inside the walls, betwen 1151 AD and 1190 AD, the first major church, Chiesa San Nicola, was built.  It remains in sacred operation to this day.  Further fortifications, in the shape of two other castles were built, one in 1310 AD, and the other, the Castle of the Eagle, in 1440.
 
Not much else of architectural importance, occured in Sestri Levante until the 1920s, when most of the peninsula was acquired by a lawyer and industrialist named Riccardo Gualino.  Using materials scavenged from local ruins and materials brought from southern Italy, Gualino built 3 new "castles" - or rather large villas (Cypress Castle (for himself), Holm-Oak Castle and Agaves Castle)  incorporating capitols, columns, mullioned and three-mullioned windows and combining an eclectic range of styles from Byzantine to Liberty.  These castles now form part of a four star hotel complex, the Hotel Vis a Vis.
 
The Cypress Castle also figures into the increasingly long history of  telecommunications.  It was here, in 1932, that Gugliemo Marconi conducted an experiment on blind navigation - navigation based on radio signals beamed from the Castle to a boat, the Elettra, that had the been dispatched to Sestri from Santa Margherita.
 
Sestri Levante awaits its next major event with an equable attitude.  In the meantime, the languid atmosphere of Sestri Levante can induce a pleasantly lazy feeling in even the most pro-active traveler, but if one can bestir one's self, there are a number of interesting things to see:
 
  • Gualino castle (Cypress Castle)
  • Church of St Nicolò dellisola
  • Rizzi Gallery
  • Palazzo Fascie
  • Dolphin Nativity Scene
  • Church of St Sabina in Trigoso
  • Church of St Stefano del Ponte
  • Church of St Maria of Nazareth
  • Church and Convent of the Cappuccini order
  • Convent of the Annunziata,
  • Palazzo Negretto Cambiaso, and
  • various historic Villas
By Jesse Andrews, Dec 22, 2007

 

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