Although often in Europe, Robert Louis Stevenson was rarely in Italy – he visited there only twice. On this page you will find information about these visits: the trip in 1863 through Italy and a day trip to Bordighera in 1873.
“So I bid farewell to Italy, a land I shall not likely ever behold again. Every new part of Italy one visits is always the most beautiful. You have hardly done admiring one region before you fall into raptures in sight of another”
(Alison Cunningham, Cummy’s Diary [London: Chatto and Windus, 1926], p. 167)
When RLS was 12, he, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863.
According to Cummy’s diary, on 20 February RLS and his mother and father walked into Italy for a day visit during their stay in Menton (Menton is on the Franco-Italian border). Later, on 23 February, RLS and Cummy walked to Italy.
On 5 March the party drove into Ventimiglia, where Cummy and RLS walked near the beach. On 31 March the Stevenson party left Menton and began to travel through Italy during April and early May 1863. Their route is as follows:
31 March: Oneglia (now a district in Imperia). The party stay at Hotel Victoria, lunching at Sanremo en route.
1 April: Savona. The Stevensons stay at the Hotel Reale, lunching en route at Finale Borgo.
2 – 5 April: Genoa. The Stevensons stay in the Hotel Royal. They visit Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Balbi (4 April) and Church of Sant’Ambrogio (5 April, Easter Sunday). They also attend a Scottish Service at the Waldensian Church (5 April).
6 April: Sestri Levante. The party stays in the Hotel de l’Europe.
7 April: La Spezia.
8 April: Pisa. The Stevensons lunch at Massa and visit the leaning tower of Pisa, the Baptistry of St John, and the cathedral of Pisa – Piazza del Duomo.
9 April: Leghorn. (ie. Livorno)
10-16 April: Naples. On 10 April the Stevensons sail on the Principe Umberto to Naples, passing Elba and Corsica. They stay at Hotel Washington. In Naples they visit the National Archaeological Museum (11 April), Virgil’s Tomb (11 April), Teatro di San Carlo (11 April), the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum (13 and 14 April), and Puzzoli (14 April).
17 – 23 April: Rome. The party stay at the Hotel de l’Europe in the Piazza di Spagna. They visit St Peter’s Basilica (17, 19 and 20 April), the Appian Way (19 April), the Catacombs (19 April), the ruins of Caesar’s Palace (19 April), the Vatican (20 April) and the Basilica of Saint Lawrence – San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (22 April). While in Rome the Stevensons also visit the Temple of Vesta and the Colosseum.
23 April: Viterbo.
24 April: Orvieto. The Stevensons visit the Oriveto Cathedral, Duomo di Oriveto, and the city ramparts.
25 April: Ficulle. They also take a train via Sienna en route to Florence.
26 – 30 April: Florence. The Stevensons stay in the Hotel Arno. They visit the Florence Cathedral, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (28 April), Palazzo Pitti, home of King Emmanuel II (29 April) and Boboli Gardens (30 April).
1 May: Through the Apennines. From Florence the party takes the train and then the diligence (a stagecoach) across the Apennines.
2 May: Bologna.
3 May: Ferrara.
4 May: Padua. The Stevensons visit the Padua Cathedral (Duomo di Padova), and the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua.
4-7 May: Venice. The party take accommodation near to Ponte Rialto. They visit the Bridge of Sighs (5 May), the Palazzo Ducale (5 May), and take gondola trips (6 & 7 May).
8 May: Verona. The party stops here for lunch.
“Bates gave me a swell lunch at Bordighera and we had a very pleasant day; but I am somewhat paying the penalty of two days of gluttony and riotous living; having entirely busted my stomach up”
(Letter from RLS to his mother, 7 December 1873, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 400)
RLS took a day trip to Bordighera on 6 December 1873. Samuel Argyll-Bates (b. 1827) invited him on the drive to Italy and RLS was happy to accept. At the time, RLS was staying in Menton, where he had been “ordered south” for health reasons.