Rapallo is the largest seaside resort on the Italian Riviera and a gateway for exploring the region. There's a picturesque castle on the sea, a small harbor and seaside promenade, pedestrian shopping streets in the historical center, and good seafood restaurants. The funivia, or cable car, ride up the hill to Montallegro is breath-taking.
Rapallo is in northwest Italy's Liguria region, on the Italian Riviera. It sits in the Tigullio Gulf between Genoa and the popular Cinque Terre. Rapallo makes a good base for visiting nearby Italian Riviera villages as it's well connected by public transport and has a fair number of moderately priced hotels.
What to See in Rapallo
- Rapallo Castle - The small, picturesque castle on the sea was built in 1551 to guard against pirate attacks.
- Historical Center - Rapallos's historical center has beautifully painted buildings and pedestrian shopping streets. There's one gate remaining from the ancient walls, the Saline gate. It separates the historic center from the seaside promenade.
- Basilica of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius - The church, in the historic center, was started in 1118 but remodeled in the early 17th century. A new apse was added in 1679. Its bell tower is a leaning tower.
- Municipal Tower - The clock tower, dating from 1473, is next to San Stefano Church.
- Church of Saint Francis - This church was begun in 1519 and restored to its original form in the 20th century. The front is painted in gray and white patterns.
- Oratorio dei Bianchi, next to the church of Santo Stefano, has a collection of processional crosses.
- Gaffoglio Museum - In the former Clarisse convent is the Museo Gaffoglio with collections of gold, china, and ivory.
- Lace Museum - Museo del Merletto, in Villa Tigullio, has a huge collection of lace from the 16th to 20th centuries with over 1400 items. There are also patterns used to make the lace. Same opening days as Gaffoglio Museum.
- Seaside Promenade - Lungomare Vittorio Veneto, a traditional red-brick promenade lined with palm trees, skirts the semi-circular harbor. Along the promenade are Art Nouveau buildings, restaurants, bars, and hotels. In the summer, small music groups sometimes perform in the early 20th-century band shell, Chiosco della Banda Cittadina.
- Beaches and swimming - There are a few small strips of beach, and artificial lidos allow for swimming and sunbathing.
Cable Railway to Montallegro
The spectacular ride up the hill to Montallegro on the funivia, or cable railway, takes eight minutes. It leaves every half hour between 9:00 - 12:30 and 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm (later in summer) from Piazza Solari. The cable is 2349 meters long and ascends 600 meters to Montallegro, where there are beautiful views of the gulf and the hills.
At the top is the large Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro, built in 1558 to commemorate a picture left by the Virgin when she appeared to a peasant. Its marble facade was added in 1896. On the walls inside are many offerings, mostly for miracles at sea. There are also two hotels, both with restaurants open for both lunch and dinner. Several hiking trails start from Montallegro.
Festivals and Events
The most important festival is July 2, the Festa dell' Apparizione della Vergine, celebrated in Montallegro above Rapallo. There's a procession from town up to the church. The small theater in the former Clarrise convent holds concerts and plays and during summer movies are shown outdoors in the town park by the Villa Tigullio. There are many small weekend festivals, outdoor markets, and concerts throughout the year. Sailing regattas are sometimes held in the gulf.
Where to Stay and Eat in Rapallo
The Rapallo seafront and the streets leading off from it are lined with hotels, many built in the Liberty style, the Italian equivalent of Art Nouveau. They range from modest two-stars with homey atmospheres, such as Hotel Portofino, to grande dame five-stars like the Excelsior Palace. At the Hotel Riviera, a modernized three-star in a historic building, Ernest Hemingway once stayed and wrote his story, The Cat in the Rain – although the hotel was called the Splendid then. As in other seaside towns in Italy, many hotels in Rapallo shut down from November to March.
There are several seafood restaurants along the seaside. In the pedestrian zone, we had an excellent seafood lunch at Trattoria da Mario, Piazza Garibaldi 25/2. It's been around since 1962 and is popular with locals. Whatever restaurant you choose, look for places that seem to be frequented by Italians, rather than tour groups and tourists.
Rapallo is on the coastal rail line that runs from Ventimiglia (near the French border) to Rome. The train station is centrally located. Buses connect Rapallo to many smaller towns both on the coast and inland. Arriving by car, there's an exit off the A12 autostrada. The closest airport is Christopher Columbus airport by Genoa.
Ferries run to Santa Margherita Ligure, Portofino, and San Fruttuoso. From July through September there are some ferries to Cinque Terre. See the Tigullio Ferry Schedule. There's also taxi boat service in the harbor.
Tourist Information Office
The tourist information office is near the sea on Lungomare Vittorio Veneto. There you'll find information about events and hotels. Outside the office is a map showing hotel locations.