Rapallo: A Giant Outdoor Chessboard

rapallo, chess game, italian riviera, liguria

by David Downie

Rapallo’s Giant Chessboard and a few of Liguria’s best hotels, best ice cream and best specialty food shops

Rapallo is a handsome seaside town set in a series of curving bays. It’s backed by the 1,900-foot-tall Montallegro, a mountain refuge with a historically important and also stunningly beautiful Baroque sanctuary.

Rapallo was among the Italian Riviera’s first tourist resorts. Early on it drew European and Russian aristocrats and American nouveaux riches. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote the bulk of his masterpiece Thus Spake Zarathustra while staying in Rapallo and visiting Montallegro, among other nearby sites.

Outstanding villas are scattered around the olive groves that surround Rapallo. Tiered terraces rise on all sides around town. Impressive turn-of-the-century palazzi line Rapallo’s compact but attractive historic center. Medieval house-towers in this part of Rapallo stipple the atmospheric alleyways that once were rough but are now thoroughly restored and gentrified.

In the 1960s and ‘70s Rapallo experienced an economic boom. That is why parts of town sport some remarkably unattractive apartment complexes. The outskirts of Rapallo are not handsome: the ugliness gave to the Italian language a new verb: rapallizzazione. Coined in the 1970s it means “to build without planning.”

Happily you won’t even see the unappealing parts of Rapallo unless you seek them out. Rapallo’s palm-lined seaside promenade and its medieval section are authentically charming.

Nowadays Rapallo is many things to many people. For some visitors it’s a luxury seaside resort with several of Italy’s top hotels. For information and bookings click here

For others, Rapallo is conveniently located near Portofino, is easier to reach than Portofino, and has more restaurant, hotel, and shopping choices than the stunning but small, isolated and expensive Portofino.

Food lovers take note: Rapallo has some of the Italian Riviera’s best food shops, selling specialty food products and wines from local producers (and the best products from all over Italy). It also abounds in jewelry and fashion clothes shops, boutiques of all kinds, one of the region’s best artisan coffee roasters, and my favorite ice cream shop in the Portofino peninsula area.

It’s located on the seaside promenade and is called Frigidarium. Read more about Frigidarium in my book, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa.”

Step out the back door of Frigidarium and you’ll find yourself on Rapallo’s main shopping street and piazza. This is where locals meet and, among many other things, play scacchi. What’s scacchi? It’s Italian for chess.

Exhibitionists who like playing chess in public, watched by locals and passersby, will love Rapallo’s giant outdoor chessboard. There’s no need to reserve ahead. The chess board is built into the main pedestrian-only shopping street and square (one street in from the seaside drive). The chess pieces are kept in a storage container nearby.

Anyone can use them and it’s free.

Watch a video showing a snippet of a chess match: two young chess players square off on a warm summer day.

In the video, many spectators seem more interested in the beauty of the chess players than in the game they’re playing. Is this a new spin on the term checkmate, as in, hey players, check your mate?

Book a hotel in Rapallo

(Also see: Getting High Above Rapallo)


Rapallo: A Giant Outdoor Chessboard originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Sep 18, 2011, © David Downie

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