No doubt we all have romantic dreams of walking hand in hand with that perfect special someone in the sunset. Of having an amazing dinner together. Spending a day on the beach in each other’s arms. Of finding that deep connection with another person. I certainly have these dreams too. But the way I think about all of this has completely changed.
First, let’s back up a bit and let me tell you about this place. The most romantic place on earth. No, it’s not Paris. It’s not a tropical island in the South Pacific or the Caribbean. I have been to those places too and yes, they can be romantic, but this place is something else. And I got to enjoy it with myself. Just me, myself and I.
And it was amazing.
There is a special atmosphere to this cute little coastal Italian town. Firstly, it has that magic that only Italy has. That in itself probably accounts for half of the romance already. I mean, the language, the amazing food, the wine and the ancient buildings. The passion.
Then there is the sea. The warm and deep blue water with the sun dancing on the surface. The strong July sun keeping us warm during the day and giving us a deep soft glow at night that slowly settles behind the many hills behind the town and serving up one amazing sunset after another.
The town is situated on three shelfs along a cliff, with the bottom one being the beach. The winding pedestrian street lined with bars, shops and restaurants is just above that, still overlooking the beach below. And then a more residential street in the third layer. Other houses are scattered along the cliff above that too, but it’s fair to say that the town itself is focused along these three shelves of the cliff, created by nature and hard labor. The houses are narrow and tightly fitted together, but very tall and painted in bold colors with the typical Ligurian ‘trompe-l’œil’ façade decor. The buildings proudly show off their age with the not-quite straight walls, the slightly peeled paint worn over the years by water, salt and wind. The streets the buildings stand on are equally ancient and uneven. The old large cobble stones give me a vision of Roman troops marching in back in the day. The harbor below is filled with small wooden fishing boats and is generally sleepy, but comes to life when the fishermen come back with their catch in the late mornings.
Along the main pedestrian street, each bar and boutique has its own charm. There are typical souvenir shops of course, but not so much that it takes away any of the unique features of the town. Chairs and tables are casually placed along the walkway to create outdoor serving areas for the bars and restaurants. Some of the restaurants have made great efforts to create a romantic setting with fine table cloths, large wine glasses, soft lighting and the perfect music playing in the background during the sunset and dark hours of the night. Dinner is definitely best here, with the sound of the waves crashing up against the beach below, the warm breeze in your hair and the cold wine cooling you down after a hot summer day.
People here live their lives out on the streets. Nobody hides inside. The home is just for sleeping. During the evenings, the children are playing on the deck areas overlooking the beach, the adults are strolling along the ‘lungomare’ (walkway along the water), dressed up for the night out, holding hands with their partner and eating an ice cream with the other hand. Music is everywhere, whether it’s from a solo performer playing his guitar for the dinner guests to make some extra money or it’s coming from a restaurant speaker. And when the music dies down, there is always the sound of the waves and the laughter from the children. People of all ages mix freely, everyone stopping to chat with their neighbor, uncle or the shopkeeper. It’s not just like one big happy family, it probably is one big happy family, given the size of the town. And the rest are tourists, who are relaxed and happy after their day on the beach or after exploring the nearby Cinque Terre and Portofino.
I feel in love with Camogli the first time I walked around the small town and my feelings are still as strong as then.
Normally, when I travel and find a place I really like, I tend to almost immediately start panicking, knowing that I will soon have to leave again. That it is only a brief encounter. I feel a stress to maximize my days, to get it all at once. If I had felt that here, I would have been angry that I was in the most romantic place on earth all by myself. I would have felt that it was a waste. But this time, I didn’t feel that at all.
Instead, I felt blessed that I had found my place. A place to love, a place to return to, to grow into. I felt confident in my own ability to get here again, to spend more time here in the future. I could see myself strolling along the cobble-stoned street, dangling the keys to my very own Italian apartment in my hand while whistling and smiling at my fortune. I could see how this would become my summer hideaway, my home away from home, or even my new home. I could see how I will be a part of this kind of life. The Italian life. I could see myself retiring here. A very early retirement, obviously.
It was as if I just wanted to soak up as much romance and bliss as possible from this town for myself. Another person would just feel like an add-on. Something that could be included in the package later on. Once I was complete. Once I had gotten closer to my own plans and dreams. I felt no stress at all to have a partner to introduce to all of this. For now, it was all mine.
Yes, I was here as a tourist, but I was also just enjoying a preview of my own future life. And I was here long enough to become something more than a restaurant guest and someone who takes up the already scarce sunbeds on the beach. In fact, at this point, I almost feel like an honorary inhabitant. Although I know absolutely no one in town, I feel that the town has somehow accepted me. While other tourists came and went, I was still here. I was still eating the pasta, drinking the prosecco and reading my book in every bar in town. I was a familiar sight after five weeks straight in this tiny town.
That was all last year. This year, I am back in Camogli again. I have rented the same apartment and I am once again strolling through town every day and every night. I don’t know if anyone recognizes me, but sometimes I get an extra glance from a waiter or a shop keeper and I like to imagine that they are wondering if they haven’t seen me before.
And as for the romance, I am once again here on my own. But being in my element, being completely relaxed and being as blissful as I feel now, it does spark some magic too. Not only did I use to be stressed when travelling. I used to be looking for someone when I was single. I was hoping, keeping my eyes open. I was trying to be seen. But now, I am just me. I am in the moment. I am loving. I am happy and at peace.
Because of that, it took exactly two minutes from when I arrived in town this year and sat down in a bar to order my late lunch, until a group of young (very young!) Italian guys started talking about me. They were guessing where I was from. After a while, one of them confessed that they were talking about me and instead started talking to me. They invited me to a party that night, but I respectfully declined to join them. If no other reason, than for the fact that I am practically their mothers’ age! Once they left, I had a smile on my face. Sure, it was so cliché for Italy of course, but I also knew that something had changed within me and with the signals I send out that made these guys even notice me in the first place.
Two days later, I was strolling along the quiet street up on the third shelf of town. I was heading to the train station and was not paying attention to the people around me. Out of nowhere, a group of three Italian hikers walked toward me and the one man in the group approached me. At first, I imagined he would ask for directions or tips on something in town, but after a few seconds of conversation, I realized that he was trying to ask me out! And this was still just day three out of thirty.
I guess it’s fair to say that there may be hope for some romance after all….
But if it doesn’t happen, that’s totally fine too.
Because I am in the most romantic town in the world.
And I love it.