I’ve travelled to Liguria in every season of the year, and the summer is when Liguria seems to be at its most exuberant, outgoing best. All along the coast, towns and villages are bursting with life and an all-pervading enjoyment of the sea and the sun. From late spring onwards, this sense of fun gets an extra kick with the start of the many local festivals, or sagras, which take place to honour and celebrate all manner of traditions and themes. There’s the Sagra del Pesce in Camogli in May, for example, when tons of fresh fish is cooked and served from the world’s largest frying pan. Or the Sagra della Ciliegia in Castelbianco in June, celebrating everything and anything to do with cherries. But for me, it’s the fireworks festivals which signal the start of summer.
Beginning in July and taking place throughout Liguria, from Dolceacqua to Diano Marina, there is something undeniably romantic and exciting about a warm summer evening, crowned by a spectacular firework display, set against the mountains or the sea. Probably the most famous of these events is the Sagra del Fuoco in Recco, held at the beginning of September. For two days, local teams compete to create the most breathtaking pyrotechnical shows, attracting visitors and admirers from around the world.
July is also the time when even the most sensitive of souls can start swimming in the ocean. By the time the first nights of fireworks come around, the Ligurian Sea is wonderfully warm. My suggestion: Take a dip in the late afternoon, then retire to a beach bar to enjoy the sunset and aperitifs. But to which beach? While summer brings the crowds to some parts of Liguria, those in the know will be sure to tell you of a “local’s spot”, where there’s always space to relax. My own one – keep it a secret – is in Bonassola. From around 5pm onwards, you’ll find mainly Italian families and local residents here. The bay down the coast at Levanto might be wider and easier to reach, but it’s also very popular in July and August. Drive a little further along the serpentine coastal road, or cycle along the shady converted railway track that runs alongside the sea, and you’ll find that the water in Bonassola’s cove is crisp and clear, and that there’s a table free for a Spritz or a cool beer. And a little slice of foccacia, of course.
While the air might be warm, the tastes of the summer in Liguria are succulent and fresh. Just-picked green figs from the garden, cooled in a bowl of iced water. Sweet, plump tomatoes dressed with the region’s light, fruity taggiasca olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Young zucchini, stuffed with a mixture of ground meat, breadcrumbs and parmesan, served barely warm as a starter. It’s amazing how perfect this unaffected cuisine tastes outdoors, whether combined with the saline tang of a warm coastal breeze, or the pepper-and-herb aromas and shade of Liguria’s mountain forests. Yet just as these simple pleasures leave you wanting more, the gentle arrival of autumn confines the long nights and slow days of the summer to memory, and a new season erupts in golden and orange.
So what really makes a Ligurian summer? For me, it’s the sunny days spent with family and friends, our tousle-haired kids running in and out of the ocean, an easy lunch in the cool garden of a hillside restaurant, and the anticipation of many more such summers to come.