The glory days of Rapallo

The glory days of RapalloRapallo…Rapallo…

It always seems to me like you are always getting just a little bit over shadowed by towns like jet-set Portofino and the chic Santa Margherita Ligure with its elegant port, trendy bars & restaurants and fashionably dressed Milanese.

Then there’s Sestri Levante with its quaint historical center, beaches and the beautiful Baia del Silenzio.  And Chiavari (one of my personal favorites) with its porticoes & antique storefronts, daily fruit & vegetable market, bars and small fashion forward boutiques…let’s not forget Camogli and its picture perfect rows of pastel colored buildings and cute little fishing port.

But, you are really such a nice city too.

The travel guide Lonely Planet writes about you with admiration stating, “WB Yeats, Max Beerbohm and Ezra Pound all garnered inspiration in Rapallo and it’s not difficult to see why. With its bright-blue changing cabins, palm-fringed beach and diminutive 16th-century castle perched above the sea, the town has a poetic and nostalgic air.”

Even Travel & Leisure magazine mentioned you back in 2011 comparing you to a town which was strung like “an expensive jewel” on the Italian Riviera along with Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli of course.

However, I just feel that Rapallo deserves so much more recognition given its glorious past.

Maybe people just don’t know that at the end of the 1800’s and the start of the 1900’s when tourism first started in this area, Rapallo had not only hotels for the wary traveller arriving by train, but luxury hotels, cafes and restaurants, cinemas, dance halls, bath houses and beautiful villas in the Liberty and Neoclassic style.

With its warm and mild climate, Rapallo would entice many well-to-do tourists from England, France and Germany, since it was the really the place to be at the time.

The strong presence of precisely these tourists would bring about the opening of one of the first casinò in Italy in 1902 in the rooms of the Kursaal Hotel in Rapallo, known now as the Excelsior Palace Hotel. The casinò only lasted till about 1927 and was later moved to the town of San Remo.

This hotel, with its dominant position over the city and elegant Liberty style, would welcome guests such as the Duke of Winsor with Wallis Simpson, King Farouk (the last King of Egypt and Sudan), Hussein the Crown Prince of Jordan, Constantine of Greece and Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth and William Holden… just to name a few.

For the history buffs…this hotel is also where in 1917 during the Rapallo Conference, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George proposed the formation of the Supreme War Council, which was used to coordinate Allied military strategy and serve as a forum for a potential peace treaty settlement during World War I.

The Treaty of Rapallo, between the Kingdom of Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes  was also signed in Rapallo in 1920, in an attempt to solve disputes over territories in the former Austrian Littoral in the upper Adriatic and in Dalmatia.

Prior to all this however…

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would come to cure his illness here in 1882 and compose the first part of his piece Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) one year later.

Visitors in this period would also include the composer Franz Listz, French writer and poet Guy de Maupassant, Italian theatrical actress Eleonora Duse and Italian poet/writer Sam Benelli.

Even the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt would come for a visit in 1910.

Ernest Hemingway while visiting friend American poet Ezra Pound in Rapallo on various occasions, would stay at the Hotel Riviera in 1923 and cite it in his work  “Cat in The Rain” part of a collection of short stories about an American man and his wife on vacation in Italy.

He wasn’t the only famous person to stay at the Hotel Riviera over time, there was also King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Duchess of Kent, Princess Elettra Marconi (daughter of Italian Nobel (1901), inventor and physicist Guglielmo Marconi) and English pop artist Sir Peter Blake (most famous for co-creating the sleeve design of the Beatles’ album Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).

Here is Eva Peron in Rapallo in the year 1947, during The Rainbow Tour of Europe. She was on her way to the Concorso Ippico Internazionale di Rapallo, a horseback riding competition.

And the Hollywood Actress…Myrna Loy in Rapallo in the 1950’s.

Here is the Empress Soraya of Persia on vacation in the 1960’s in Rapallo.

And let it be known, that Rapallo has the Sanctuary of N.S. di Montallegro (1557) with its breathtaking view over the city and its gulf as well as its intriguing history. The cable car ride is a fun trip up or you can hike on a trail from the city.

There is a very quaint historical center with its main 12th century Cathedral, the church of Santo Stefano (10th century) and its Civic Tower (1473), gastronomic and fresh pasta and pastry stores, clothing stores and cute little Piazza Venezia with its fruit & vegetable sellers.

There is the Castle on the Sea from 1550 and its tower from the 16th century and the Romanesque Hannibal’s Bridge where legend has it that Hannibal crossed it before leaving for the Second Punic War.  You have the ruins of the Cistercian Monastery of Valle Christi (in Santa Maria del Campo a hamlet of Rapallo) from the 14th and 15th century.

Not to mention that Rapallo is also host to a magnificent firework display held annually for three days from the 1st to the 3rd of July celebrating its Patron Saint the Madonna di N.S. di Montallegro. This celebration also includes a religious procession on 3rd that is worth seeing.

Plus this city, is open all year round…great for people visiting off season.

So…as I finish this post I just wanted to leave you with this thought…

(Wait, I must channel my inner poet/writer…Ahem…)

It is not just an exit from the highway to and from…

Nor just a glimpse through the window of a tour bus or porthole from a distant cruise ship.

You must get out and walk here and take a stroll by the sea.

Go through the park, sit on a bench, enjoy the shade of a large palm tree.

But before you leave, make sure you look up, so perhaps you will notice

The decaying facade of a once glorious building…perhaps a hotel now left for the birds.

So that you can enjoy the bittersweet taste of a more glorious past.

A fond memory of what it was once…and hope for all that it will be.

A special thanks to: Rapallo è Sempre Rapallo’s page on Facebook for their great collection of vintage photographs and postcards featuring Rapallo, Agenzia Bozzo Camogli for the postcard picture of the Kursaal Hotel, the Regione Liguria (Photo Archive) and the Comune di Rapallo and IAT Rapallo for historical facts and information.

by Mireille 2015