Vernazza

The village of Vernazza was our first onshore experience of the Cinque Terre, arriving late morning with a plan for coffee and pastries.

1.Vernazza

Dating back to the early 11th century, the fortified military base defended the coast from Saracen pirates. In the middle ages, the water went right up to the buildings and the boats would tie up there, as they do in Venice.

2.Vernazza

These days, they remain on buoys in the harbour unless rough weather is forecast, then they can be found in the main piazza.

3.Piazza Guglielmo Marconi4.boats outside Albergo Barbara

Seated on a base of rocks at the entrance to the inlet, the parish church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia was built in 1318.

5.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

The views would be spectacular from the tower, almost as rewarding as those from the cemetery on top of the hill where, rather than being buried in the ground, the coffin is slid into something like a drawer in a wall, known as a loculo.

6.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

In October 2011, Vernazza was devastated when torrential rains, resulting in flooding and mudslides, buried her under four metres of mud and debris. For months the village was uninhabitable and years later, restoration work still continues. It is hard to imagine the peaceful harbour

7.harbour8.harbour

and beautiful pastel shades of Liguria under siege from nature.

9.Vernazza

We wandered up the main thoroughfare, Via Roma, my aversion to crowds and having people in my photographs meant my eye was drawn to the upper level of the streetscape.

10.Via Roma

Returning to the harbour, houses seemed to be suspended above a cave entrance

11.cliff houses

which, it turned out, led to another beach.

12.beach beyond

From this side of the harbour we could see the next town, Monterosso, in the distance.

13.view to Monterosso

The remains of Doria Castle and its lookout tower stand proudly on the rocky promontory

14.Doria Castle

while below, on the terraces of the medieval watchtower, Ristorante Belforte has been serving quintessential Ligurian cuisine for the past fifty years.

15.Doria Castle & restaurant16.Ristorante Belforte

We had time to admire the stunning rock formations

while waiting for the boat to take us to our next destination, Monterosso.

21.Monterosso

The Great Divide

The Lyell Highway traverses Tasmania from Strahan on the west coast to the capital city, Hobart, in the south. Driving the 300km through the West Coast Range and Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park along the tortuous route is both tiring and exhilarating. On an unusually straight stretch of road, about 75km past Queenstown, we noticed a couple of cyclists taking a break at a small roadside rest area and stopped to investigate. We learned from the information board that this was the point of The Great Divide. Tasmania is divided into two distinct regions when it comes to climate, geology and vegetation and this divide is known as Tyler’s Line (named after Peter Tyler, a Tasmanian limnologist). The west has higher rainfall, poor acidic soil and the strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties. The vegetation comprises rainforest, moorland and wet sclerophyll along with rugged mountain ranges.

1.westward2.westward

Frenchmans Cap is the highest peak in the West Coast Range, named because of the similarity to the shape of the Liberty Cap worn during the French Revolution.

3.Frenchmans Cap

To the east of the divide, conditions are much drier and warmer with lower rainfall and more fertile soil. From our vantage point, the King William Range rose majestically on the horizon, similar in shape and geology to the more famous Cradle Mountain.

4.King William Range

Made up of three separate peaks, named Mount King William I, II and III,

5.Mt King William I6.Mount King William II7.Mount King William III

the King William Saddle is equidistant from Tasmania’s three major cities – Hobart (190km), Launceston (186km) and Devonport (193km), each one a three hour drive. Fortunately, we were only 10km from our destination of Pumphouse Point.

Four Pillars

There was no better way to cap off our rainy day out than a visit to Four Pillars Distillery, just a kilometre up the road from our accommodation.

1.Four Pillars Distillery

The gin distillery started in late 2013 when three farsighted Aussie blokes, Cameron, Matt and Stuart, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, offering their first batch of Rare Dry Gin as incentive. Two years later, they completed a purpose built distillery in a former timber yard in the heart of Healesville. We couldn’t wait to get inside.

2.Four Pillars distillery door

The first thing we noticed was the enticing tasting table, all set up and ready to go.

3.tasting table

The light, airy space was warm and welcoming

4.distillery door5.retail

with plenty on offer for something to take home.

6.retail

The name Four Pillars relates to the four building blocks that are the foundation of successful distilling; the magnificent copper stills, pure triple filtered Yarra Valley water, a mixture of ten local and exotic botanicals and finally, a hearty helping of love.

7.spices

We didn’t have long to wait to join in a tasting, opting to share the samples between the two of us when we discovered we would otherwise be consuming 2.5 standard drinks during the 45 minute session.

8.tasting table

We learned the history of the distillery, including the purchase of the custom built stills from CARL, the oldest distillery fabricator in Germany, producing only twenty five stills a year. They really are a work of art. The first still was named Wilma after Cameron’s late mother who, apparently, enjoyed her gin. She was joined by Jude (Stuart’s mum) and Eileen (Matt’s mum) and finally, Beth (first full time employee Scott’s mum). Our vision of the distilling room was limited but I’m sure any mother would be proud to have such beauty stand in her name.

11.distillery

The five gins we tasted each had their own unique characteristics and in the past two years, they have all won multiple gold medals at international competitions. In 2015, Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes were added to the tanks of Rare Dry Gin, stirred daily for eight weeks, then pressed before blending with more Rare Dry Gin. A brilliant concept and very drinkable drop, three bottles of 2019 Bloody Shiraz Gin came home with us.

12.Bloody Shiraz Gin

Cinque Terre

An overcast sky accompanied us on the morning of our Cinque Terre boat trip, with storms predicted for late afternoon. We passed Scoglio Ferale, the white cross on top is in memory of Luigi Garavaglio, a navy topographer who died when he fell from the rock while working in 1911.

1.Scoglio Ferale

The cliffs of Porto Venere and Palmaria Island faded in the sea mist as we moved further along the coast.

2.Scoglio Ferale

Farmhouses clung impossibly to cliffs

3.cliffside homes

threatening to crumble with the next deluge.

4.landslides

The first port of call was the village of Riomaggiore, we would come back here for aperitivo on the return journey (that’s another post).

5.Riomaggiore6.Riomaggiore

The five villages of the Cinque Terre are connected by a hiking trail, the 1km stretch between Riomaggiore and Manarola is known as Via dell’Amore or Lovers’ Lane. It dates back to the early 20th century when the railway was under construction and apparently was a place for lovers from the two villages to meet for romantic trysts. Unfortunately, this section has been closed since September 2012 when four women were injured in a rockslide and isn’t set to reopen until 2023.

7.Via dell'Amore

The stone walls and buildings of Manarola are fortress like, designed to deter pirates in ancient times.

8.Manarola

We had decided not to visit Manarola as time is limited on a one day cruise. Instead, we admired the village from the boat along with the stunning ‘zebra’ rocks as we left the harbour.

9.Manarola10.zebra rocks

It wasn’t long before another group of houses appeared in the distance.

11.Corniglia

Corniglia, the middle village of the Cinque Terre, is the only one without a port. Reliant on farming rather than fishing, the terraced hillsides certainly look challenging. Not to mention the 370 steps to the sea.

12.Corniglia13.Corniglia14.Corniglia

The residents of the next village, Vernazza, are no strangers to farming on the steep slopes, either.

15.Vernazza

It was time to replenish with coffee and cake, a perfect reason to explore this village….

Mount Gnomon Farm

We had been wanting to visit Mount Gnomon Farm for years but the timing was always wrong. Finally, last Sunday we drove the short ten minutes from Penguin along winding roads, through beautiful countryside, to experience the recently re-opened restaurant. The rustic simplicity of the exterior

1.restaurant

continues once inside.

2.interior

From quirky door handles and unique light fittings

to walls adorned with animal hides and ‘family’ photos, the ambience is warm and inviting.

A colourful palette of wildflowers is framed by the dining room window.

8.view from dining room

The front verandah overlooks fields of grazing sheep,

9.view from front door

a charcoal spit and bespoke fire pits await the next big event.

10.spit

Resident pooches Cyril and Winston eagerly welcomed us, happy to accept attention without demanding it.

Agricultural scientist, Guy Robertson purchased this magnificent parcel of land ten years ago, principally to raise free range pigs and promote the end product of premium free range pork. Nestled against the forest reserve of the Dial Range, they certainly have no problem with neighbours.

19.Dial Range20.Wild garden & Dial Range

The estate has become much more than a pig farm but I’ll get to that after lunch. Unfortunately for Guy, but fortuitously for us, last minute cancellations meant the three of us were the only guests. Perusing the menu, it was difficult to make a choice, we wanted to try everything. With a little encouragement from Guy and his team, that’s exactly what we did. French chef, Madjid, specialises in charcuterie and so, at the top of the menu, we started with the impressive French Charcuterie shared plate. Ham hock terrine, wallaby terrine, pepperberry cured pork fillet, saucisson sec, saucisson a l’ail, smoked ham, apple puree, garden pickles and sourdough bread.

21.French Charcuterie shared plate

Mount Gnomon smoked chorizo with pumpkin puree & sage, Mount Gnomon smoked bratwurst with house sauerkraut & German mustard and a salad of borlotti beans, celery, fennel & orange followed.

24.salad

The roasted suckling pig leg with sausage stuffing, carrots, garlic crumb & jus convinced us of the superior quality and flavour of Mount Gnomon free range pork.

25.suckling pig

Next came free range chicken served with spinach, roasted pumpkin, burnt butter, lemon & toasted pine nuts.

26.free range chicken

Crispy Kennebec potato with smoked paprika mayo and local green vegetables with a herb dressing, Coal River Farm fetta, preserved lemon & mint completed the feast. (I missed a photo of the greens, trust me, they were incredible).

27.potatoes

I should point out, these dishes were shared between us, we hadn’t really succumbed to an attack of gluttony. The menu changes every week depending on the fresh farm produce available, what a great excuse to return and sample more. Local beers and ciders are also on offer, along with superb Ghost Rock wines. We were confident we could manage the one dessert on the menu with a pause for digestion and so, embarked on a Guy guided tour of the farm. A new lamb had joined the flock of Shropshire sheep that morning, I’m sure he grew more cute each time I looked at him (actually, not sure if he is a he).

The other lambs had a head start and for some, the grass was definitely greener the other side of the fence.

Across the paddock to the west, the traditional Dairy Shorthorn cattle enjoy far reaching views as well as luscious green pasture.

34.views to the west

To the north, the young apple trees of the cider orchard align with the pristine waters of Bass Strait.

37.view to the north

A wild edible garden

38.wild garden

occupies the space between the restaurant kitchen and the most spectacular raised vegetable garden I have ever seen.

39.vegetable patch

My hopes of cuddling a piglet were dashed when we learned the hundreds of Wessex Saddleback pigs that usually reside here had been relocated to enable regeneration of the pastures.

40.pig pastures

I’m sure they will be eager to return to their home beneath Mount Gnomon.

41.pig pastures

For the few that remain, the rich, red soil was irresistible for a spot of wallowing.

I imagine this would be a soothing respite

47.pig in mud48.pig in mud

from suckling twelve large offspring.

49.piggies

Back at the restaurant, I entered the inner sanctum to witness the cured meats awaiting their turn on the charcuterie board.

50.charcuterie

The exercise and fresh air had primed us for the delicious peanut butter chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis & crunchy topping.

51.mousse

If you can’t make it to Mount Gnomon Farm, you can find their products on menus around Australia as well as at farmers markets and festivals across Tasmania. If you can make it to the farm, next Sunday would be the perfect opportunity with a big day planned for the launch of Mount Gnomon Farms very own cider.

52.event