Deep blue sky, even deeper azure sea flanking a leafy hillside of sun-faded yellow, pink and terracotta houses: the view from our shower thanks to a perfectly positioned window. Through the gentle strobing of palm trees in the gardens, our balcony is treated to the same eyeful of Camogli Bay. We may be in the Terrace Room (one of Villa Rosmarino’s humbler bedrooms) but, to me, it’s perfect.
I know lucky individuals with pals that hand over keys to renovated palazzos with swimming pools, staff and easy access to the sea. Anyone not so blessed: consider Villa Rosmarino’s owners Mario and Fulvio those kinds of friends instead – their warmth and attention to detail make staying here like being lent a home. On arrival, Mario gives you keys so you can come and go as you wish, and a detailed map marked with insider essentials.
Villa Rosmarino is the kind of place you can spend time doing a) a lot; b) not very much; or c) absolutely nothing. Genoa is half an hour away, there are excellent coastal walks, and there’s a swimming pool with sunloungers, magazines and espressos on tap to keep you from going anywhere. My plan? To enjoy as much pasta, focaccia and ice-cream as possible – guilt-free. And anyway, pounding up the steps to hilltop San Rocco for supper tonight is surely equivalent to a good Stairmaster workout?
The season hasn’t properly begun and still all six rooms are taken – yet over the weekend we rarely collide with another guest. We admire fabulous artworks amid clean, modern lines, and witty touches such as a red vintage kids’ scooter. Leather sofas and a long refectory table (which heaves under fruit salads, yoghurts, breads and croissants at breakfast-time) deck out a ground-floor room that opens out onto lemons, rosemary, lavender, roses and pomegranates. Another sitting room offers shelves of art, design and photography books, testament to the owners’ previous careers in advertising.
Camogli’s panificios fill the snack-sized hole left in our afternoon. You can’t miss the bakeries – they crop up every few shops, wooing you in with their aromas and breads laid across large trays. Revello on the seafront
is the pasticceria where the local sweet cream-filled crostate pastry originated. I choose an olive oil-, salt- and oregano-sprinkled focaccia; Mr Smith pounces on a thin slice with melted cheese. They’re all the more delicious eaten on a beach surrounded by Italians, equally appreciative of the spring weather, shedding layers and bringing out their bambini to soak up the sunshine.
Dusk falling, we pick up the path to San Rocco, following winding steps up past gardens and dry stone walls. Lights twinkle on across the hillside and a gentle mist falls. As we turn corners and more stairs appear, my mental pedometer pats me on the back while mutterings of ‘Oh God’ emanate from an under-the-weather Mr Smith. ‘What do you mean there’s a bus that takes you from outside the villa to San Rocco in one stop?’ he asks as we reach the top 30 minutes later. Just then, hewn into the cliff-face, we find the perfect tonic: a bar. Perched at a candlelit table, we toast our climb with a pre-dinner glass of Ligurian red and some saltines before taking our table for dinner at a cosy, family-run trattoria.
La Cucina di Nonna Nina is the kind of restaurant you dream of stumbling across. A sweet waitress translates the Ligurian-dialect menu and soon we’re devouring ancioe pinn-e (anchovies cooked like whitebait), Nonna Nina’s special fish ravioli, a beany Genoese minestrone and coniglio alla Genovese.
Revived by wine and oven-roasted rabbit, we make it down again and up back to Rosmarino. Lamps glow from the garden room, music plays softly and the honesty bar awaits. Over a nightcap, I suggest walking back up that hill tomorrow, along the less hair-raising path to San Fruttuoso. A by-now-sniffly Mr Smith doesn’t take it well. We reach a compromise: painkillers and a boat ride.
Waiting for ferry tickets at a café in the boat-bobbing harbour the following morning, we hear from a local how the little port got its name. Ca’ mogli is from casa delle mogli meaning ‘house of the wives’, a reference to the ladies left running the village while their fishermen were away. Seafaring inspired its festivals too, a waiter chips in. He gestures to a vast frying pan set on the harbour wall used to cook for the Sagra del Pesce, a street party in May that honours patron saint of fishing folk, San Fortunato. Then in August, a special mass is held for Stella Maris when candles in paper cups are nudged out to sea to remember lost sailors. A rainstorm breaks and Mr Smith eyes the water suspiciously.
Amid thunder and lightning, we reach the tiny cove of San Fruttuoso at the foot of Mount Portofino. I am told that the statue of Christ of the Abysses is below us – sadly it’s only just visible when the waters are calmer, so we head straight for lunch at La Cantina, another Mario tip. Galvanised by crab and fish cooked the Ligurian way with potatoes, parsley and garlic, we snoop around the Benedictine abbey. Above is a tower used by 16th-century monks as a pirate lookout. We ponder more exploring but those heading up the hill have big boots, metal poles and crampons (although I hear the Italian ladies do it in high heels). I pause instead to sketch a monk-like Mr Smith. ‘I’m pondering mortality,’ he tells me, looking contemplative. But knowing how good Mario and Fulvio’s hospitality has been, I suspect he’s casting his thoughts ahead to cocktail hour on Villa Rosmarino’s terrace. And who could blame him?