Hidden Liguria: Chiavari

Is Chiavari the most underrated city along the Italian Riviera? I'm almost certain of it.

gran caffe defilla chiavari

by James Martin

We recently spent a wonderful day re-discovering Chiavari. Hardly anyone goes to this Italian Riviera gem. Chiavari offers the perfect combination of old-world lux and down-home Ligurian cooking.

You start the day with a stroll, maybe along the waterfront—and then when you’re feeling a little peckish you stop in for a fruit juice or something with a bit more kick at Gran Caffè Defilla – Corso Garibaldi, 4. If you’re not used to it, you can stare in wonderment over the small plates of food they set in front of you. Gratis.

This isn’t just a place for sipping and grazing. Famous jazz musicians like Jimmy Cobb have set up shop at the Gran Caffè Defilla.

vegetables at chiavari market
Vegetables at the market in Chiavari, Liguria

Then it’s off to peruse the daily open air market. Again, it’s not just a market. It’s a place to watch people. It’s a place to get educated, a noisy idea factory.

chiavari market men
Men at the Chiavari market

Old men bask in the spring sunshine from the arcades that allow residents and the occasional lost tourist to see pretty much the whole city center while sheltered from inclement weather—not that there’s much of that.

An Italian evangelist sets up shop in front of the farmacia, waving what is presumably a bible while preaching loudly of murder, mayhem, and salvation. Soon the pharmacist is chasing him around the market. He doesn’t draw much of a crowd, and is soon preaching mostly to spring favas, chicory, slim stalks of asparagus, and artistically displayed of rounds of pecorino.

And by now, of course, you’re famished. If you’ve visited Italy much in the past, you might yearn for the old days, when the food was gutsy and honest, the restaurants buzzing with pensioners and couples and shopkeepers who could expect to pay a reasonable sum for the cooking of their region.

osteria da vittorioYou find it at Osteria da Vittorio. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t start with the farinata, a chickpea pancake for which the region is famous but the best purveyors seem to be found in Chiavari. Then it’s on to the best of old world Italian Riviera cuisine—you choose from an extensive menu with the main courses hovering around an astounding 6 euros, the portions generous.

Check the facebook page for address, map, and opening times: da Vittorio dal 1925 – osteria con cucina

defilla chiavariAnd if you skip coffee at the osteria, you can take a stroll back to the Gran Caffè Defilla for some. You might try the a bit of gelato, too—it’s some of the best in Chiavari (I recommend the Sambuca).

Where to Eat: Reader’s Recommendations

Marilyn Ricci, a travel planner who runs Take me home Italy and who lives in Chiavari, sends along these recommendations via our facebook page.

Luchin is the most traditional restaurant in centro storico. By the sea I enjoy Miramare and also Lord Nelson’s.
Bar Ancora has the best aperitivo on the Lungomare. 4 Archi is also quite good.

Several readers as well as your faithful scribe also recommend Luchin. Go there.

Hidden Liguria: Chiavari originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Mar 25, 2012, updated: Jun 20, 2020 ©

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