Enchanting Liguria: What to Do, See, and Eat between Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure

Barbara Tassara
copertina itinerario travel liguria

Journey into the world of Renaissance Ligurian cuisine and memories—a journey into the flavors of the 'salt and wind artisans' between Rapallo and Santa Margherita Ligure.

There's a magic that feeds the soul, made of incredible flavors and the colors of emotions. It's a rediscovery of a rare treasure found by the sea—the marvelous Gulf of Tigullio, which captivates and enchants the gaze. It's narrated in the picturesque caruggi alleys, brimming with tradition and familiarity, where hidden Italian excellences await to be preserved and passed down.


The "craftsmen of salt and wind", as Genoese chef Edoardo Ferrera, owner of Österia Ö Magazin in Santa Margherita Ligure, lovingly calls them, are truly worth talking about. We start in Rapallo and then head to what is affectionately known as 'Santa.'

SANTA MARGHERITA Edo Ferrera Osteria O crediti fotografici di Benedetta BassanelliEdo Ferrera e il suo team a Osteria O Magazin

The culinary excellence of Liguria is passed down and renewed in Rapallo

The city of Rapallo, beloved by illustrious figures like Guy de Maupassant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ernest Hemingway, is just a few steps away from Santa Margherita and only 8 km from Portofino. It offers a seamless blend of ancient and modern architectural elegance along the Vittorio Veneto seafront promenade and the pedestrian caruggi alleys. The central Piazza Garibaldi connects to other small squares through a labyrinth of narrow streets and colorful houses, maintaining a timeless charm.

rapallo hd

The ancient castle, built around 1500 as a defense against pirates, now hosts art exhibitions, festivals, patron saint celebrations, and conferences. It is connected in memory to other fortifications in Santa Margherita, San Michele, Paraggi, and Portofino. Il "Chiosco della Musica" (Music Kiosk), located in the middle of the seafront promenade, stands nine meters tall and spans about ten meters, surrounded by 12 columns and adorned with a dome frescoed by Giovanni Grifo, honoring artists like Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Bellini, Auber, and others.

rapallo chiosco musica
Chiosco della Musica

If you wish to relax in the mild climate, you can choose one of the numerous platforms built over the sea, visit the Lido & Flora baths, the only ones with an extended sandy beach, or the legendary Porticciolo baths, considered among the best (and most intimate) in Liguria, along with the coves beyond the city, particularly those in San Michele di Pagana.

bagni lido e flora rapallo
Bagni Lido e Flora

Some stops are a must, starting with Gelateria Frigidarium, right on the seafront promenade, run for years by the Barbetta brothers, Lorenzo and Francesco. It's a tradition of hand made creams (made with fresh eggs broken one by one), with traditional or special flavors (including gluten-free and lactose-free options) like pine nuts, malaga (rum & raisin), salted caramel, seasonal and wild fruit sorbets, chocolates, along with excellent unusual coffees and gin tonics. They are also available for delivery and in a strategic stress-relief kit, a dispenser of happiness upon your return, if you encounter long queues towards the city.

antica gelateria frigidarium rapallo
Geateria Frigidarium

In the alley behind, you must make time to visit the ancient Pasticceria Canepa 1862, located at Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi 41, which bakes recipes following traditional guidelines (such as Cubeletti, shortcrust pastry sweets filled with quince jam, and the typical Genoese pandolce). Like the shops of old, this pastry shop and grocery store is renowned for its assortment of medicinal herbs, spices, distillation essences, syrups, fine wines, and liquors. Notably, it has recently been awarded for crafting the best Panettone in Italy.

pasticceria canepa
Pasticceria Canepa
pasticceria canepa Pandolce genovese
Il pandolce di Canepa

In the characteristic alleys, on Via Giuseppe Mazzini, you'll find the shop 'Parla come Mangi' (Speak like you Eat) with Italian specialties, from Franco Fassone's Pesto to Francesco d'Ambruoso's Burrata dell'Alta Murgia from Putignano or artisanal gorgonzola. Also, there's Gianfranco Giannello's butcher shop with delicious roasted meats and chickens, offering excellent quality at a reasonable price. In Piazza Venezia, with a counterpart at the Mercato Centrale in Genoa, a group of young entrepreneurs has opened 'De Mà,' a modern fish market that preserves and offers the goodness of fish products, both white and blue, mollusks, and crustaceans, contributing greatly to the rarity of new sea shops.

parla come mangi rapallo
Parla Come Mangi

You must know and venture to find at the end of Via della Libertà, at number 64, opening in the morning, the Franco and Silvana Pasta Factory, which works as it once did, producing unforgettable artisanal fresh pasta: fish ravioli, the 'special' ones closed by hand at the moment, pansoti filled with ricotta and spinach, squid ink trofie (delightful with clam sauce), giant tortelloni with stracchino ready to be fried, and ravioli with Val di Vara cheeses. Kicking it into high gear comes from the fact that the founders have young heirs, a new generation that brings knowledge, the same enthusiasm, a sense of taste, and kindness, a certain hope to continue their excellence into the future.

pastificio franco e silvana rapallo pasta fresca
Pastificio Franco e Silvana

In the historic center of Rapallo, tables indoors and outdoors multiply with the arrival of the beautiful season. A strategic address is Rapalà, a name coined from the fish-shaped bait, with views overlooking Piazza del Pozzo, indoor spaces, and a covered private patio. The restaurant focuses on Ligurian and Mediterranean cuisine and its raw materials, starring in dishes like pesto-filled ravioli, ravioli stuffed with amberjack with sautéed shrimp and vegetables, or burrata and shrimp-filled ravioli. The menu also includes tagliolini with scampi and cherry tomato, a breadcrumb variant with anchovies and crispy bread, seared tuna with arugula and truffle oil, raw fish, catch of the day, fried squid, and even Fassona beef. Unexpectedly, it offers the best desserts of Sicilian tradition.

rapala rapallo

A breathtaking view of the entire Gulf of Tigullio is offered by Ristorante Le Cupole, led by chef Graziano Duca, on State Road 1 along Via Aurelia. It follows a contemporary concept of hospitality within the five-star Grand Hotel Bristol, a recent member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, part of the R Collection Hotels, a family-owned hotel group with properties also on Lake Como and in Milan.

R COLLECTION HOTELS Grand Hotel Bristol Rapallo Ristorante 1

Located in an elegant historic mansion in Rapallo, built in 1908 and overlooking the Portofino promontory, it combines gastronomy with wellness, with collaborations from the world of art (Nuar gallery by Valentina Ferrari and Flaminia Ciattini) and music (it has a dedicated music designer). Le Cupole, situated on the top floor on the panoramic terrace, combines a skillful fusion of tradition, creativity, and innovation.

RAPALLO chef Graziano Duca Hotel Bristol
leonardo 20540 153655654 365253

"I started my career twenty years ago," explains chef Duca, a former student of Alain Ducasse and a guest at the Splendido in Portofino. "With a passion for the sea, both as a place and as a source of inspiration for my dishes. I prefer large fish and have recently ventured into the world of fish aging. Technically, it's a practice similar to what is done with meat, and it greatly enhances the flavor, especially considering the international clientele. I love rediscovering local dishes like Cima alla Genovese or Vitello Tonnato, reinterpreted with modern techniques while preserving their clear, authentic, and genuine taste. I also emphasize vegetables and cheeses, carefully selected from small producers in the nearby hinterland."

RAPALLO hotel bristol graziano duca food18 top

Born in Piedmont, but adopted by Liguria, he is part of Les Tables de la Collection, a brand under Chateaux&Hotel Collection, operating in the field of hospitality and fine dining (whose president is Ducasse himself). There is a seven-courses tasting menu, the pinnacle of the chef's creativity and cuisine, or a thoughtful à la carte selection, guided by the attentive and knowledgeable front-of-house staff. Trofie al pesto and Pansoti with walnut sauce are a must, along with Anchovies with basil air and white asparagus cream, Santa's Red Shrimp with orange marmalade, licorice foie gras, and crispy brioche.

RAPALLO La Cupole hotel bristol food10 top
RAPALLO La Cupole hotel bristol food8 top

Among the signature dishes are the Scallops with mushroom soil, pea cream, tomato wafer, and fresh cheese, seared on one side only; Bottoni stuffed with ciupin (Genoese fish soup); raw royal fish and catch of the day, to be salted or Ligurian-style or in fusion versions.

RAPALLO La Cupole hotel bristol PAGELLO FRAGOLINO top

The dinner is accompanied by Ligurian wines from small producers, in addition to important Italian and international labels. Graziano Duca lends his expertise to La Veranda bistro, The Silk Lounge bar, and the 2023 novelty, Flamingo Pool Bar & Pizzeria, where you can enjoy the iconic regional focaccia, poké, hamburgers, club sandwiches, and incredible gourmet pizzas.

grand hotel bristol
Grand Hotel Bristol

The Glamorous Santa Margherita rediscovers the cuisine of gratitude

Santa Margherita, a coastal town sheltered within a bay on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline, has been known as the Pearl of Tigullio since ancient Roman times. It has a history of struggles against Saracen pirates and a splendor from the Belle Époque era, renowned by European nobility. The tranquil beach life and the elegant small town center are enhanced by the surrounding beauty, including the Villa Durazzo-Centurione with its seventeenth-century park and Italian garden, the church of San Giacomo di Corte housing the famous Madonna della Lettera statue and frescoes by Nicolò Barabino, and the central Castle created for defensive purposes.

foto santa margherita
Santa Margherita Ligure

You must visit Portofino, famous for its beautiful Paraggi Bay and the San Fruttuoso Abbey in Capodimonte, hidden in a sea-facing park, where the Christ of the Abyss is located, an unmissable bronze statue for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts, lying at a depth of fifteen meters, placed there by Guido Galletti (1954) in memory of the victims of war. Upscale shops and vintage boutique signs maintain the aristocratic charm of Santa Margherita, a stronghold of Milanese culture, but not exclusively, as it seasonally welcomes visitors to shine in its most glamorous aspect.

santa margherita ligure shutterstock
Santa Margherita Ligure -Schutterstock

Everyone has visited La Gelateria Simonetti, opened since 1963 and managed by the same extended family, now spread to Rapallo, Moneglia, and Chiavari, the latest addition in honor of the 60th anniversary of activity. The art of ice cream, started by Ermanno Simonetti and his wife Tina, continues under the direction of Claudio Vaccaro, the father-in-law, and Giacomo, the son, along with partner Amedeo Figari, daughters Lorena and Alma, and the new generations.

1 SANTA MARGHERITA gelati Simonetti dal 1963
Gelateria Simonetti

Ice creams, sorbets, semifreddos, and cakes become a must- stop for pleasure, where you can discover new flavors like amaretto and cinnamon, plum, pineapple, and basil, Modica’s dark chocolate with oranges, salted peanut, zabaione, bread butter and jam, truffle, mojito, mango and rum, marron glacé, and rice milk. At the beginning of the caruggi, Drogheria Seghezzo, at Via Cavour 1, is another must-visit place, always open from Monday to Sunday, where time seems to have stopped, and authentic flavors have been exchanged since 1905. The Seghezzo family has sought to maintain the vintage appearance of an old grocery store while creating ideal conditions for an international clientele with refined tastes. Among the loyal customers are celebrities in search of unexpected and hard-to-find products. Shelves and gastronomic counters are filled with Ligurian dishes, cured meats, cheeses, mushrooms, truffles, fish, meat, and vegetables, fresh pasta, various sweet treats, coffee and tea blends, liqueurs, and a wide selection of wines. The special soap section carries the intoxicating scents of ancient times. The motto is: "Ask for what we don't have. And we will find it."

SANTA MARGHERITA gelateria Simonetti dal 1963
Gelateria Simonetti

The meeting between Emilia and Simona Mussini and Edoardo Ferrera gave birth to Osteria Ö Magazin, with the ambitious project of offering high-quality traditional cuisine defined as 'cuisine of gratitude.' It's a concept of kitchen craftsmanship, where the legacy of stories and knowledge is entrusted to the responsibility of Edoardo Ferrera and his young team, including his son Filippo Ferrera and Emanuele Guglielmi. You can dine on the outdoor tables or in the hall with vaulted ceilings frescoed by trompe l'oeil artist Cambiaso (late 1500s), antique furniture, and vintage table settings.

SANTA MARGHERITA crediti fotografici di Benedetta BassanelliEdo Ferrera e il suo team a Osteria O Magazin

Born in Genoa, Edoardo Ferrera attended what he calls the 'school of the stool,' meaning close observation of his grandmother Tecla at work in the kitchen of Archivolto Mongiardino, an iconic trattoria of Genoese bourgeoisie. A nomadic spirit, he joined the Navy at the age of sixteen and embarked on the Amerigo Vespucci, where he continued his culinary journey. This was followed by extensive training in Italy, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, and finally in France, at Alain Chapel. Ö Magazin marks a new beginning for the rebellious chef with numerous past successes at Don Carlos in Milan and George's in Rome, and a deep and mature study of 'seaside' regional cuisine, which starts from the Ligurian countryside and reaches the sea, in a journey full of surprises. More than a chef, he prefers to be called a "chêugo," which means a cook who considers substance and local cuisine (with contemporary appeal and accompanied by an important bottle) the real new trend.

SANTA MARGHERIOTA O pansoto co a sarsa de noxe O MAGASIN jpg

"We thought long and hard before opening the restaurant because we wanted to create a prestigious and long-lasting destination throughout the year," says Ferrera. "From January to the end of March 2023, we served more than 1,200 covers, a good sign as a start. I firmly believe in the project of Ligurian cuisine, which is indissolubly linked to the Mediterranean diet, a UNESCO heritage with precise standards. The challenge was to realize, after earning stars everywhere, that we had the most important thing right in front of us, something to be grateful for and that can be 'recognized' and replicated worldwide."

SANTA MARGHERITA Il Menestrun alla Genovese BY O MAGAZIN ph Benedetta Bassanelli
SANTA MARGHERITA I raieu co o tocco de Capello do Praeve by O Magasin

A declaration of intent and love opens the menu, dedicated to 'A Mae Génte' and the roots he carries on his skin, "a matter of salt and wind, scents and colors... a natural inclination towards being and doing, like craftsmen of life, sailors, and conquerors of lands and souls." "I like to blend fine cuisine with the traditional one," continues the rock & roll chef who uses dialect to name the dishes and even provides a dictionary for them, "and I like to see myself as a place linked to the territory. I have just bought land to create gardens and raise backyard animals in the mountains of Portofino, so that we have fresh and readily available raw materials.

SANTA MARGHERITA A Cimma alla Genovese O Magasin

I care about the plaque and not the star; being there and doing well, without overexposure. Cooking is a slow process and takes time, a savoir-faire that must be recovered and transmitted correctly to young people, made of love and patience, not for fame or easy profit. I have another project in mind, the 'Edo Ferrera Academy,' which is completely free (studies, practice, food, accommodation) to train new generations in the area, for me and for my fellow chefs, to create a circular economy, expertise, and jobs." His favorite dish, in a Ligurian cuisine made of preserved fish (salt cod and salted anchovies), ancient complex preparations, and genuine slow food products, is lo scabeccio (blue fish pickled in salt, vinegar, and sweet and sour vegetables), which embodies the principle of not wasting anything. It's followed by anchovies, the 'bread of the sea' in Liguria, long-cooked sauces, fillings, and aromatic herbs, not to mention pesto, which is a kind of alchemical drug of the region, or focaccia made in that unique and special way. Soon, he will open 'La Porta Accanto,' (Next Door) another Osteria venue, where you can enjoy cheese focaccia and 'pissalandre' (Pizza all'Andrea), dating back to 1300. On the menu at Osteria Ö Magazin in Santa Margherita Ligure, we tasted the Raieu with a rich filling (veal, offal, brains, bread, and sweetbreads, mixed with borage) dressed in Tocco, a beef and pine nut sauce cooked for eight hours.

SANTA MARGHERITA Il Latte Dolce Fritto con lAmarascata Luxardo O MAGASIN

Together with Çimma and Il Menestrün alla Genovese, O pansöto co-a sàrsa de nôxe and 20 botanical herbs that release their aroma one by one, the Squid Lard with rosemary honey, chili, and zest of Limonina, the Seafood Fry (with cod in focaccia batter, small fish, and shrimp), and the Sweet Fried Milk with sour cherry compote. Among the other signature dishes are the variation of I Raieu lóngo, green tagliolini dressed with Tocco de Fónzo, i.e., meat and mushroom sauce, Trenette al Pesto with green beans and potatoes, Crostino with Baccalà fois gras and sweet and sour onion compote, and, of course, Coniglio alla Ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit). To finish, there's another ancient traditional dessert, the single-portion Sacripantina cake, with alternating layers of dome-shaped sponge cake, white butter cream, and cocoa, with a canestrello, a typical Ligurian biscuit, hidden inside. The wine list goes against the grain and serves as an ambassador for lesser-known but high-quality Italian winemakers, without risking boring the guest with certainties encountered elsewhere.

Photos and Food images by Benedetta Bassanelli.

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