Rapallo was a traditional harbour town on the Gulf of Tigullio to the north-east of the Portofino peninsula in the Liguria region, that is now the largest and most important seaside resort on the Mediterranean coast in north-west Italy.
The town as a resort has a fame dating back to the 1920s when Rapallo became an important centre for writers, including Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence among others.
Start your visit with a stroll around the bay along the seafront, lined with a pleasant palm-tree-lined promenade, to reach the marina. Along the seafront there is a bewildering selection of upmarket restaurants, many offering quality seafood, and hotels taking advantage of the views south across the sea.
Also on the seafront on a small headland you will see the small but imposing 16th century castle, originally built to defend Rapallo against pirates and now used as an exhibition center.
Behind the bustling seafront Rapallo has a small historical center which is a pleasant place to visit with a web of narrow pedestrianised cobbled streets and lots of shops to explore.
Although Rapallo doesn't have a 'real' beach there are several lidos where you can access the sea.
There are several other monuments of interest to discover, including the Porta delle Saline, the only remaining gateway of the five that originally protected the town and now divides the sea front promenade from the historic centre, and a tall 15th century watchtower that became the belltower for the Church of Santo Stefano.
The town music kiosk (early 20th century) is itself unimposing but take a moment to enter and look at the highly decorated dome, painted by artists of the time.
You will also see a stone bridge dating from medieval times and called 'Hannibals Bridge'. There is almost certainly no connection with Hannibal, and the river that once flowed here has now been diverted and replaced by a road, but it is still an interesting artefact from the past of Rapallo.
Religious buildings in Rapallo include numerous churches, most important of them being the 17th century Basilica dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio, notable for its dome and belltower; the Church of Santo Stefano (although the current 17th century facade has replaced the original); and the 16th century Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, in the piazza of the same name and featuring a decorative altar and paintings on the ceiling.
Thursday is market day in Piazza Cile in Rapallo and is the most interesting day to visit the town.
Among the museums in Rapallo, the most interesting are those dedicated to lace (containing more than 1000 lace items from the last 500 years, in Villa Tigullio); the mixed collection of art objects in the Museum of Attilio and Cleofe Gaffoglio; and the museum dedicated to rural life in the region (near the village of San Maurizio Monti).
In Rapallo (from Via Castegneto) you can take a very impressive ride in a cable car that climbs two and a half kilometres up the mountain behind the town to reach the 16th century Montallegro Sanctuary, 600 metres above sea level and best known for its icon that is claimed to have the power to carry out miracles. Note that the white marble facade is a 19th century addition.
Recommended for the views across Rapallo and the sea from the sanctuary. (If you want to avoid the cost of the cable car, about 10 euros, there is also a footpath that leads to the sanctuary.)
A little further along the coast to the south-east of Rapallo a tour of the villages of the cinque terre is highly recommended. In the summer it is possible to reach these villages by boat from Rapallo.
Selected places to visit near Rapallo, Italy
Santa Margherita Ligure (at 2 kilometres)
The charming resort of Santa Margherita Ligure is one of the most attractive along the Liguria coast.
Portofino (at 6 kilometres)
Portofino is one of the exceptionally beautiful villages on the eastern Ligurian coast.
See Portofino guide.
Camogli (at 7 kilometres)
Camogli is a very pretty fishing village in Liguria on the edge of the Portofino Regional Natural Park.
See Camogli guide.
Chiavari (at 9 kilometres)
Chiavari is a well known beach resort that also has an interesting old town of narrow medieval lanes called carrugi.
See Chiavari guide.
See the Liguria guide for more travel ideas...