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Seaside base in Liguria??

I am trying to decide upon a good base on the coast in Liguria, a town with great local eating and good connections for day trips. I would love to hear the opinions of other chowhounders who know this area..currently looking at Camogli and Santa Margherita Ligure but would welcome other ideas, too. What is the chow scene like in these towns..are there good places off the tourist trail? Neither has Slow Food mentions for eating..

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  1. It's been 7 years since I was there, but Santa Margherita was a great place to stay. If you will have a car, you will find it quite central to other places you might want to drive to, such as Portofino. If you are traveling by train, it is accessible, and the hotels are mostly close to the station. There were some good restaurants in town, the one I remember was Trattoria Cesarina, where they serve a huge prix-fixe dinner of seafood, with no choices, just course after course of great food, very reasonably priced. Whether you have a car or not, you should take the train to the Cinque Terre. For lunch there the best bet is Vernazza. We ate at one of the restaurants on the main square facing the sea. The food was simple, honest, and very good.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rrems

      Rrems you are always helpful. We will try NOT to have a car. I asked this on a travel site and SML seems to get the nod over Camogli. Do you recall if there is any kind of beach in Santa Margherita Ligure? We want to do some sea swimming after all the great eating!!

      We would also spend a few days in Genoa so I would welcome chow ideas in that city as well. I found next to nothing in a search here..surprising!

      Many thanks!

      1. re: erica

        Yes, there is a beach. It is not sandy, but rather rocks/pebbles. We were there in early May and it was too cold for swimming, but I understand it is very popular in summer and people lie on chaises. Since you won't have a car, this is really a great place to stay because or the choice of restaurants you can walk to, and you can take a boat or bus (or a 1 hour hike) to Portofino, and trains elsewhere. The hotel where we stayed, the Albergo Fasce, is just a few minutes walk from the station, and though it is not on the water, it is in a nice location, and was a very good value.

        1. re: rrems

          Rrems, thanks! I've heard people say that there is no beach, only large rocks, so I envisioned having to clamber along, jumping over the large gaps in the rocks. It sounds as if it is just a regular rocky Med beach, which is just fine and what I would have thought. Rental chairs are fine for me! More important, SML appears to have a larger choice of restaurants than Camogli, plus good access to transportation to the other towns nearby. Would you say that this is a great chow destination? Will I find good local places in addition to the ones oriented towards tourists, that is, does the town (SML) have life apart from the tourist trade? I know you have been to Amalfi coast; can you offer any comparisons between these two coastal destinations?

          We are thinking of about 6 days in a seaside town, just to walk, eat, and take day trips, followed by perhaps 3 nights in Genoa, in late September. Anything you can tell me will be much appreciated!

          1. re: erica

            We were only there for 2 nights and one full day, which gave us just enough time to have 2 dinners, visit the Cinque Terre, and take a quick drive to Portofino. I think BN1 sums it up pretty well in the post below. My impression is that there is plenty of good food to be had. I think I prefer Sorrento and the Amalfi coast for a longer stay (we were there for 5 days) but we had a car and did a lot of touring. We did not encounter a lot of other tourists in either place, but in high season, I am sure they will be quite busy. I think SML will be very nice for a relaxed trip. The food tends to be simple, traditional preparations, done very well.

    2. I just visited in Santa Margherita Ligure this last March where I stayed at the Metropole Hotel. They have a developed swimming beach and sea wall along with a rather renowned restaurant. This is one of my favorite places worldwide. SML is a great place to access the Cinque Terre by ferry boat or the local train, which runs often and costs next to nothing. This gives you access to all the Slow Food options in neighboring towns. There are also great hiking trails in SML; you can walk to Portofino then return by bus or ferry. SML has more reasonable dining and lodging options than some of the other towns in the area, while remaining relaxed and pedestrian friendly. You probably know about the underwater national park for diving fans. The only negative thing that I have encountered is a snack of pasta I got eating outdoors on a sunny day at a little place in Portofino, when I thought I might have to get a bank loan to pay the bill. The picture is of a public park being resurfaced (sorry) and the “beach”, hotels and restaurants along some of the SML promenade in March of ‘07.
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383963

       
      1. In 02, my wife and I stayed in Rapallo and daytripped to SML, Portofino, and Cinque Terre. Looking back, I wish we had made it to Genoa. The ferries and trains were affordable and very convenient, and we loved the Ligurian cuisine (trofie al pesto, pollipo e patate, etc.). If you find yourself in Rapallo, try La Goletta and/or Antica Maria.

        1. I have been to SML every summer for last few years and am continuing the tradition this year. In SML, Da O Batti is a must. One of the best meals of my life and one of the reasons I continue to go back. It has a small menu but everyone orders the same things: the Gavi house wine, lasagna pesto, scampi and then berries for dessert. There are starters also if you are really hungry. Reservations are a good idea on the weekend, and it is cash only. Also worth checking out is Seghezzo, http://www.seghezzo.it/, an upscale market that sells prepared food, meats, cheese, wine and other things. A great place to pick up some quality meat (sopressata is especially unique there -- it is like testa di porco, or pig's head, which is very fatty) and cheese (great grana padano) and other snacking essentials. A great semi-regional wine is Lupi, http://www.vinilupi.it/eng/dove_siamo..., which is very cheap and very excellent. Otherwise the food in town is simple yet good and fresh. The restaurants/pizzerias in the square are a bit more touristy and quality could be lacking at some of them, so I would stick to the two closest to the luongomare, which are quite good. I would avoid eating in Portofino, as doing so is expensive and really nothing special. However, it is an experience just sitting there and people-watching so it might be worthwhile to do it once. I would, though, avoid Da Puny. It gets wonderful reviews but I found it to be good yet not worth the hype (try its neighboring sister restaurant instead if you choose to eat in Portofino -- reservations needed well in advance for both, even for lunch). Another good Portofino option is to get drinks/snacks at the outdoor bar/terrace of the Hotel Splendido, especially if done around sunset on a clear day. The view is outstanding, though the experience will cost you, as anything at the Splendido will be very expensive.

          15 Replies
          1. re: mpierce64

            Thanks, everyone, for the real outpouring of help! We are firming up our plans and still trying to decide between SML and Camogli. SML sounds as if it has more options for eating, but Camogli appears to be less tourist-oriented. Such a difficult decision! In my searching, I did find this listing of four Camogli restaurants from what looks to be a valid site, in Italian.

            http://www.qristoranti.it/recensioni/...

            Also, is there a way to find the restaurant reviews from L"Espresso online?

            1. re: erica

              Just a small update: We are spending 3 nights each in Camogli and SML so if anyone has further recommendations for these two towns, please let me know! Many thanks!

              1. re: erica

                Wondering if Erica made that trip...and if so whether you had any new recs for Camogli, we will be there in May...possibly only on a day trip, so looking for a lovely lunch spot for one great Ligurian meal!

                1. re: jinx

                  Jinx: I did make the trip and it was wonderful. For the one great Ligurian meal, you should travel by bus or car into the hills overlooking Camogli, to Nonna Nina. The bus ride will take 20 minutes or so. There is a stepped path that you can follow back to Camogli after lunch.
                  I had a truly excellent lunch here--heavy on the seafood that the area is famous for. Here is the website; please feel free to ask for more details:

                  http://www.nonnanina.it/eng/index.asp

                  There is also very good eating in the town itself but I would make the effort to go to Nonna Nina. Second choice on my list would be Rosa, which is a short walk of about 10 minutes from the harbor in the direction of Recco. Ask for a table near the window overlooking the fishing harbor. Also superb for seafood, pastas, and local fare. Lovely people.

                  In SML, we unfortunately did not have time todine at U Batti, described so well above. But we did have a marvelous meal at Trattoria Cesarina onVia Mameli, the highlight from the orally recited menu being the mixed seafood appetizer featuring moscardini, a form of tiny octopus which you must try if they are in season at that time. Closed Tuesday.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/599435

                  1. re: erica

                    More on Nonna Nina, Camogli:

                    If you have to choose only one restaurant during your time in Camogli, there is no doubt in my mind that this should be the one. I was so involved in the conversation, and in trying to get my dining neighbor to keep his fork from wandering over to my plate, that I may be omitting some of the dishes, but from my notes, this is what we feasted upon that Sunday in September:

                    Assorted seafood antipasti. The dishes kept coming during this course:
                    Torta of anchovies (in Liguria, a torta is a savory pie, not a dessert as in many other regions of Italy); carpaccio of smoked swordfish (thin-slices of fish that were a highlight—do not miss this dish, which is served throughout the area); whole white fish topped with pesto; moscardini (the most incredible baby whole octopus, about 2”long, served in a terra cotta cocotte with tiny new potatoes—another do-not-miss in this part of the world. You have not eaten octopus until you have eaten moscardini; this is octopus elevated to the nth degree!) Since it is much more costly than larger specimens, many restaurants do not have it on their menus. Whole triglie ( red mullet, a popular Mediterranean fish) and slices of crudo (raw fish) rounded out the offerings for this first course.

                    Primi: The classic pasta dish of Recco. Trofiette (diminutive of trofie, slightly irregular, skinny twists of pasta) with green beans and pesto. Vivid green, it was glorious to look at and glorious to devour. (Local legend tells that when a local housewife rubbed her hands together to clean them of the dough that was clinging after making long pasta, the short curls that resulted were too precious to waste and hence, trofie). All pasta here is made in house.

                    My main course: Giant scampi (larger than the gamberi, which were also on offer as specials that day; these were the size of langoustines), sautéed and presented fanned out on a large white plate. Heads on, of course. I have never eaten sweeter! Incredible!

                    We drank a white wine from Imperia (Liguria).

                    And for dessert: House-made almond cake topped by crema-flavored gelato.

                    Highly recommended. (For those without a car, the bus is convenient; there is a stepped pathway linking Camogli with San Rocco; the steps are reportedly lit at night and the path reaches town next to the Cenobio dei Dogi; there is also taxi service in Camogli but taxi prices in this region are quite high).

                    La Cucina di Nonna Nina, Via Molfino (the main road), San Rocco, Camogli. About 40 Euro per person with water and wine. Closed Wednesdays.

                    1. re: erica

                      Thanks Erica, Nonna Nina sounds amazing and we will make every effort to go there! In fact that may be our goal for the day. We will have a car and will be coming down from southern Piemonte (which is a whole 'nother restaurant discussion, of course!)

                      1. re: jinx

                        2 years ago we did a 10 day food trip of Liguria with Camogli as our base. It is not a great food town itself, but it is centrally located, gorgeous and not touristy. The food writer, Fred Plotkin spends much of the year in Camogli. His books have many great recomendations. Without question, you must take a ferry from Camogli to San Fruttuoso for the most unbelievable pesto in the world at Da Giovanni. I can taste it now.

                        1. re: jeff g

                          JEFF: Is it true that the owners of DA GIOVANNI will come pick you up (and drop you off) if you are in Camogli? We will be there in September and would love to check this place out. Thanks!

                        2. re: jinx

                          One more food recommendation for Camogli: You must try the Farinata from Revello Bakery, on the Lungomare not far from the fishing harbor. I believe they begin selling it at 5pm; there will be a sign out front confirming this. This chick pea pancake is among the characteristic dishes of the region.

                          Plotkin discusses the bakery of Rizzo on Via di Republica; I did sample their wondrous foccacia but I believed that they have closed since my visit last fall. Try to find the cheese focaccia at another spot, such as Revello.

                          http://www.revellocamogli.com/

                          1. re: erica

                            Looks like I'd better pick up the Plotkin book. I was trying to avoid bringing any more books and this one is 700+ pages, but sounds worth it... Thanks for the tips!

                            1. re: jinx

                              I don't think you ned to carry the entire heavy book. But you should try to find a copy of his book about Liguria and read the text parts (interspersed among the recipes) before you go:

                              http://tinyurl.com/btrp6x

                              1. re: erica

                                Hi All,

                                I'm jumping on this great thread because we'll be staying for 5 nights in CAMOGLI this September. If anyone has any must-visits, let me know.

                                What day is Camogli's fish market? We may be doing a little cooking while we're there.

                                Santa Margherita sounded a little bit cruise-ship-heavy... which discouraged us from wanting to stay there, although it might be a good choice for a little nightlife? Cheers!

                                1. re: erica

                                  I will post a couple of reports from September, 2008; here is the first:

                                  DA PAOLO, CAMOGLI:

                                  We had an 8pm reservation at Da Paolo, Via San Fortunato,14. I made the reservation a few days before our arrival, with the help of the hotel concierge and I was glad that I did, as the restaurant was full. Da Paolo is an attractive restaurant a few steps from the fishing harbor. There is no view of the water, however. The welcome here was less than effusive, somewhat surprising, in my experience, for a restaurant in Italy. Apparently the woman in charge is known for being a bit of a grump and for me, this detracted a bit from the appeal of the place. The food, however, was very good:

                                  Da Paolo is known for their pate of seppie, or cuttle fish. I had never heard of this creature being prepared this way. Well, I will not forget it, as this dish was the hit of the evening! (13 euro) One of the food highs of the week, even!

                                  I continued with spaghetti alle vongole, or spaghetti with tiny clams (12 Euro) Very good! Oh, I was happy to be back at the table in Italy!

                                  We struck up a conversation with a couple at the next table who were enjoying a primi of spaghetti alle seppie neri which looked, and apparently tasted, terrific. Da Paolo apparently has a reputation for this dish, too. This couple, by the way, had a hired car and were lodging at the Villa Rosmarino, above Camogli. They spoke very highly of this small inn.

                                  http://www.villarosmarino.com/index_e...

                                  A green salad for my companions appeared next, followed by our secondi:

                                  Gamberi grillata (30 Euro!) for me…very good grilled large shrimp served with heads on. And for my friends: Grilled corvina, a small white-fleshed fish, and a platter of grilled seppie (21 euro) Both were pronounced delicious. I will add that the corvina, which would be purchased as a whole fish and then filleted, as per my friend’s request, was brought to the table on a platter with several varieties of fish. My friend asked a few questions, chose the corvina, and then approved as the woman in charge told him that the price would be 18 euro. I suspect they do this to avoid any issues with the final bill. So if you are in doubt about the price of a while fish, just ask!

                                  With a carafe of local white wine (7 euro), one beer (3 Euro) , bottled water (2.60 Euro), and cover charge, the bill for three of us totaled Euro 120.00, or about $US162.

                                  1. re: erica

                                    I always copy the pages I need from these heavy books, dbl sided, and throw them away to reduce weight as I move through my itinerary.

                                2. re: erica

                                  Also, we had an excellent meal at Rosa, just up the hill from the Camogli fishing harbor towards Recco. Lovely people. Window tables and terrace have a great harbor and town view. Recommended!

                  2. I lived in Rapallo for a while and I'd have to point towards Camogli personally. I just like it much more as a town and I think that the lower budget food is a bit better. If you were legitly avoiding the tourists trail then Santa Marg is not the place to go. You might even consider Zoagli but I'm not sure if their train schedule is the same as the rest of the towns. You'd do well to get a scooter during your stay as you can use them on the small local roads that link the towns (the public transport is BAD and getting into Genova by train can take longer than driving. At least that's how it was about 5 years ago. Maybe it changed?)

                    Santa Marg has the best sand beaches in the area, but I like Camogli's beach during the summer (it's a rock beach) as it's really lively and has mostly locals. Also, Santa Marg's beaches down the road to the west of the town are generally tourist free. In fact, when you're not around Cinque Terre you can go days without seeing tourists sometimes (especially in Genova which is an AMAZING CITY but is for some reason TOTALLY ignored by the tourists.)

                    Portofino is the most overrated place on Earth. Make sure you see San Fruttuosso (walk to it if you're up for it.) Also, Snata Marg and San Lorenzo both have huge saint's day festivals over the summer.

                    For the food... Camogli has some respectable foccacerie and the town gets REALLY fresh seafood on a very regular basis (fisherman still go out more or less daily.) Even the tourist oriented places on the street near the beach are pretty nice and have screamingly fresh sardine pies and the like. The food along the Cinque Terre trail never struck me as impressive. I was eating at home during most of my time there so I can't say much, but I can honestly say I prefer the foccacia in Recco and Camogli, the pizza at a place above Rapallo to the north east (in the hills), and the snack places in Genova. Camogli provides a good rail link. I think Santa Marg might have slightly more frequent trains. In general, expect the trains to be TERRIBLE.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: JFores

                      I


                      VENTO ARIEL, Calata Porto (facing the fishing harbor):

                      This popular, casual restaurant enjoys a terrific view of the boats in the fishing harbor; there are two inside rooms (one overlooking the harbor) as well as scattering of outdoor tables which afford great people-watching, especially at night. The back room is a bit cozier, and even a touch romantic.

                      While waiting for our meal, we spoke about local seafood with the friendly young owner of the restaurant, Davide Groppi. (We never did get a definitive answer as to whether or not the tiny clams on offer on this coast were pulled from local waters..Davide told us they came from the Adriatic, but other restaurant owners told us that they were local; don’t ask me to explain why these matters of of interest to me!!)

                      Here is what we ate that day:

                      Mixed seafood salad (I wanted to eat lightly): Shrimp, anchovies, squid, mussels—the usual suspects poached (not the anchovies) and served with a touch of oil and lemon. Very good.

                      Pate di seppie: Good, but did not compare to the same dish at Da Paolo. Interestingly, although this was the second time in a few days that we had seen, and tried, this dish, I could not find a recipe for it on the internet.

                      Insalata Caprese: Ordered by my friend against my advice. Mozzarella was good; tomatoes less than prime.

                      Spaghetti with clams and mussels: Lovely.

                      With three lemonades (known as “spremuta di limone,” this is freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar and sparkling water, served here already mixed but, at other places, the ingredients are places before you and you can mix to taste); one bottle of house white wine again, from Imperia; one bottle of water, the bill totaled 25 euro per person. Note that we did not try any of their specialties, which include burrida di seppie, cuttlefish chowder, trenette all Ariel, and a host of other anchovy dishes.

                      Anchovy lovers should take note of the special (30 Euro for 4-courses including dessert!) anchovy dinners (Festival dell’ Acciughe) on offer here; see the website below for details and for photos of the restaurant. Closed Wednesdays.

                      http://www.ventoariel.it/ristoranteca...

                      1. re: erica

                        TRATTORIA CESARINA, VIA MEMELI, 2/C SANTA MARGHERITA LIGURE

                        Closed Tuesdays.

                        This restaurant is located a few blocks inland from the port, on a street running perpendicular to the sea. Undulating fabric panels shroud the ceiling and lend a diffused Ivory glow to the large, handsome dining room. While not “elegant,” this would fall in to the “special occasion” category in my book. And while this was the most expensive meal of our trip, it was also among the best: I m placing it in the “top four,” along with Nonna Nina in Camogli and two places in, surprisingly, the Lake Como area.

                        There is no written menu. The son of the proprietors attended our table and offered his suggestions based on the quality of the offerings at the day’s market. We began with a mixed seafood appetizer that will forever more set the standard in my mind of what this dish can be.

                        Before the appetizer, the kitchen sent out (complimentary) bites of anchovies, fried cauliflower, and the best cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted.

                        A few minutes later: A platter heaped with some of the most exquisite specimens of the sea that I have ever had the pleasure to eat. The season for the tiny moscardini octopus would be ending that week, so this was out last chance to sample those enticing creatures. They shared the platter with slices of the more typical octopus in a light lemon-ey dressing, squid, and gamberoni, and a couple of other things that I forgot to note.

                        After that feast, I decided to pass on a primi and took the recommended ravioli burro e salvia—house-made ravioi with butter and sage—as my main course. A perfect rendition of that classic dish. My friends ordered the orata (sea bream), a whole fish for two which was brought to the table and then filleted.

                        For dessert, the house-made apple cake (apple cake was a ubiquitous house dessert on this trip and I am guessing that this would change depending on the season) and a plate of cantuccini (what we in the US commonly refer to as biscotti).

                        After coffee, we were treated to glasses of the proprietor’s Licore di Mirtille. (a liqueur with the flavor of mirtille, similar to blueberry).

                        With a bottle of white wine from the nearby Cinque Terre, and one beer (not on the menu but the waiter fetched one from a store down the street) the bill for three of us totaled 180 Euro or about $US73 per person based on today’s exchange. Highly recommended. English spoken.

                        1. re: erica

                          ERICA & JFORES: Thank you for sharing such fantastic information on this area. I am so excited about our stay in Camogli this September that it is already affecting my sleep!

                          ERICA: Do you happen to remember if Camogli had a DAILY fish market? Since we are renting an apartment and my group likes to cook, we thought we would take advantage of the fact that Camogli is still very much an active fishing village. Any advice would be appreciated regarding what time to get there, etc.

                          Some other questions I had:

                          1) Has anyone been to TRATTORIA DA PINO in Santa Margherita? Thoughts?

                          2) I am a bit conservative when it comes to BREAKFAST. We will be fending for ourselves for breakfast every morning and were wondering at which bakery we can just get a decent CHOCOLATE or ALMOND CROISSANT and coffee. Our apartment is on via xx settembre. I just can't imagine having foccaccia or farinata for breakfast!!

                          3) If we had one night in September where we wanted to take advantage of NIGHTLIFE... would you recommend Santa Margherita. I always like to have atleast one night of dancing when I'm on vacation in Europe. This would seem to me the most "happening" part of town. I'm guessing if it runs late, we may need to consider driving to SM...

                          4) Which area did you think had the cleanest water that you would recommend for "taking a dip"? A friend suggested juming off the rocks in MANAROLA. Thoughts?

                          Cheers, Everyone!

                          1. re: Liquid Sky

                            There are a number of bakeries in Camogli but I would not plan on finding French croissants. You should find the Italian equivalent, cornetti, but they are not really the same. But Camogli has amazing focaccia and other breads.

                            I do not know about a daily fish market in Camogli but I am almost certain you can buy fish daily around the docks of the harbor in town. There are certainly shops selling fish daily except on Sundays. And maybe including Sunday!

                            I swam in Camogli and found the water very clean.

                            1. re: erica

                              Grazie, Erica! While I do enjoy foccaccia, I was worried that I would be stuck eating it for breakfast... I find it a bit too heavy for breakfast. Good to know there will be many other choices. I don't mind cornetti!

                              1. re: Liquid Sky

                                Any updates or additional thoughts re the Ligurian Coast would be appreciated for my upcoming trip mid-July for a couple weeks.

                    2. My suggestion if you are going to Liguria would be to stay at Moneglia a small town between Sestri Levante and the Cinque Terre. It is an Italian holiday town with not many English accents. Stay at the Abbazio San Giorgio or the Villa Edera (both under same management). Food good at hotel, management friendly and helpful and at a number of restaurants, there is one very good enoteca and one good gelateria.. It is very easy to travel to the Cinque Terre and also to Portfolino, Santa Margherita Liguria, Camogli and Genoa on that train line that crosses the region. Hope this helps last time there was 3 years ago and would definitely go back. It has charm, good food, good hotels and very reasonable and easily accessible.

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: LotsC

                          As it turns out, we never got to Camogli on our trip because it was just too long a drive from where we were staying. Instead, we took a day trip to the Ligurian coast north of Savona; specifically we visited Spotorno and Noli. This area is little know to tourists (at least, American tourists!) but it is beautiful, and with the same great Ligurian foods--we had a lovely casual lunch in Noli at a little place called Malafemmina, amazing pasta with seafood. Every little town sells the great foccacia of the region and is filled with yummy pastry shops as well. In fact we brought back bags of cookies, candies, and pastas (trofie!) from this area. The scenery may not be quite as dramatic as Camogli but, its well worth a visit if you are in Piedmont, because you can get there without crossing through Genoa and with little traffic (at least off-season!) We would have like to explore even further up the coast but the road was closed due to recent landslides.

                          I have photos on my website if anyone is interested.
                          http://www.jczinn.com/Italy/Italy%202...

                          1. re: jinx

                            Jinx those pics are glorious! I love the beach scenes at Spotorno. They are all superb!

                        2. Can anyone recommend an apartment for rent in Camogli? We are looking for something overlooking the water...Thank you in advance for any information you might have!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: kathryn39

                            Let me add to this thread by suggesting the base town of Levanto as a low-key picturesque spot where you can catch the Cinque Terre trains. The hike between Camogli and Portofino going down into Santa Fruttuoso remains one of the most splendid moments of my life. And the fish stew in Camogli still sings as the standard taste setter of all time.

                          2. Look at the thread for the SlowFoods publications, as they have a whole separate book on the Cinque Terre region listed under their "itinerary" link

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: glbtrtr

                              David Downie has recently published a guide to dining and food in Liguria, which is said to be excellent by American expats living there. it's available from amazon.com.