Is there a better start to the morning than a brisk sail in a fresh breeze? I don’t think so.
About 56 kilometres from Genoa you’ll find Sestri Levante. Once a little fishing village, today about 18000 people call it home; more than ten times that in summer. It’s a popular holiday spot among Italians, and lately, other Europeans have begun to notice the village by the bays as well.
And yes, that’s plural. Sestri Levante lies on a promontory surrounded by two bays with oh so lovely names: Baia del Silencio and Baia delle Favole – Bay of Silence and Bay of Fairytales. As you may have surmised, there is an artistic connection here, as is so often the case in la Bella Italia.
It is a literary link this time – and a Scandinavian one; Baia delle Favole is named after Hans Christian Andersen. Just like Byron and Shelley, his artistic temperament was drawn to the shores of Liguria: he even lived here for a bit in the 1830s.
In Sestri Levante, my day begins with exploring both bays in an 8-metre-long sport boat. (If you’re interested in sailing, or taking sailing lessons, or even participating in a regatta here in Liguria, Andrea from Tigullio Sail can organise this.)
We’re not long on the water: an hour, hour-and-a-half, maybe. I haven’t sailed in years, but after this morning, I’m left wondering whyever not. Nothing but the sound of the wind and the waves; so utterly refreshing and peaceful. I don’t want to go back ashore.
But I must. I’m going to cook, or rather, watch these two sailor clad charmers cook, which, considering my tendency to burn things, is probably the safest. We’re in Baia del Silencio now, locally known as Portobello – at a bay front restaurant also called Portobello.
Fish and vegetables are the main ingredients in the Ligurian kitchen, and anchovies is a local speciality. Now, forget the tinned version you might be used to. Forget the egg-and-anchovy sandwiches from Sunday breakfasts (if you’re Scandinavian or British) or anchovy pizza (if you’re American). Anchovies in Sestri Levante is nothing like this.
Here, they’re fresh from the sea, and eaten in a variety of ways, most of them simple, with few other ingredients. Not many are needed.
In Portobello, I learn how to make bagnun. This is an ancient fishermen’s staple for long days and nights at sea. Anchovies are boiled in a rich tomato Soup, with garlic, onions, parsley, white wine and olive oil, then ladled over hard ship’s biscuits and served piping hot.
Bagnun isn’t often found in restaurants, but to keep the tradition alive, the Sagra del Bagnun festival takes place every July, as it has for the past 40 years. It’s also easy to make.
In Portobello, I can’t resist the wonderfully named Biblioteca della Poesia del Mediterraneo.
Bubbles from the Abyss
Anchovies is all well and good, I hear you say. But where’s the wine?
Why here, of course.
A speciality of the region is Abissi Spumante Bisson, Bubbles from the Abyss. Rather than leaving the wine to age in the wine cellar, it’s stored in metal boxes and sunk to 60 metres depth on the ocean floor. After 13 months at a constant temperature of 15°, you have a unique, slightly salty sparkling wine.
Have you been in Sestri Levante? If so, what did you enjoy the most?
Disclosure: I was a guest of Turismo in Liguria and Vis-a-Vis hotel in Sestri Levante. As always, I retain complete freedom to write about all or nothing, whatever takes my fancy, good or bad… you know.