Le Grazie

When we first travelled to Italy, we didn’t get the chance to see Cinque Terre so this time we were determined not to miss out. When I started planning, I soon realised that staying in the coastal villages was nigh on impossible with a car to park. Instead, I found a B&B in Le Grazie that suited our needs, or so I thought. After driving around for an hour trying to find the place, it turned out to be virtually inaccessible to anyone with more than hand luggage, down fifty or so very steep stone steps. With no Plan B, we were very lucky to find Hotel Le Grazie had a room available for two nights, a very nice room at that.

1.Hotel Le Grazie

In need of solace after our ordeal, a short stroll around the corner rewarded us with the tranquil vista of Le Grazie harbour.

2.Le Grazie harbour3.Le Grazie harbour

Nestled in a sheltered inlet between La Spezia and Porto Venere, this gorgeous village seems to have escaped the teeming tourist numbers of the neighbouring towns. The inhabitants have a reputation for being proficient divers and have thrived for centuries on boat building and fishing. Adjacent to the boat construction yard, the pine wood offers a shady meeting place for locals. A war memorial honouring  partisans, civilians and military personnel and an old cannon remind us of a less peaceful time.

4.pine wood

The roundabout, marked by a solitary cycad, seemed somewhat superfluous on a straight road.

6a.roundabout Le Grazie

After a restorative Prosecco we wandered further, past colourful buildings

7.Le Grazie8.Le Grazie

and beautiful boats moored in the marina.

9.yachts, Le Grazie harbour10.yachts, Le Grazie harbour

The village takes its name from the Santuario Nostra Signora delle Grazie (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace). The church dates back to the 11th century when a group of Benedictine monks came from the island of Tino. The present church and monastery were built in the 15th century, though the monks were driven out in 1798 and the church became a parish church. The ancient convent is now a private residence and I am lost for words.

11.Santuario Nostra Signora delle Grazie

It seemed a good time to rest for aperitivo

15.aperitivo, Le Grazie

while soaking up the atmosphere and sunshine.

20.Le Grazie harbour

We continued along the promenade until we could go no further.

21.walkway

The Varignano Fortress, built in 1724, dominates the headland. Originally used as a storage facility and quarantine station, it then became a hospital before being taken over by the defence forces. Since World War II, it has been the headquarters of the Navy Divers and Raiders Group, named after Major Teseo Tesei who invented the human torpedo. No prizes for guessing how he died.

22.Varignano Fortress

With the descending sun glistening on the water, we ambled back to seek sustenance.

23.Le Grazie harbour

Ristorante Il Gambero was the perfect setting

to observe life in the village and harbour

27.Le Grazie30.Le Grazie harbour

31.Le Grazie harbour

while enjoying delicious fresh seafood.

There is only one way to end a perfect day.

35.crème brûlée

Palazzo Davanzati

While staying at Villa Boccella our lovely friend, Deb (not the same lovely Deb that lives in Launceston), escorted us on a day trip to Florence to share the wonders of a city she knows well. Without her, we never would have discovered Palazzo Davanzati. Built by the wealthy merchant Davizzi family in the 14th century, the palace was purchased by the Davanzati family in 1578, their coat of arms is proudly displayed on the façade.

1.Palazzo Davanzati

They retained possession until 1838 after which the residence was divided into flats. In 1904, antique dealer Elia Volpi rescued, restored and furnished the property before opening it to the public as a museum in 1910. Ownership changed hands again in the 1920s and eventually the Italian state took over in 1951. The museum has undergone major restoration in recent years, the result is nothing short of spectacular. We entered into an internal courtyard, instantly boggled by the grandeur.

2.looking up from courtyard

The rooms on the upper floors are arranged around the central courtyard, gazing upward the architecture resembles a labyrinthine puzzle.

6.looking up from courtyard

We climbed the worn stone steps to the first floor

7.steps

and entered the Great Hall, a room that would have been used for conducting business. The trapdoors in the floor in front of the windows open up to the loggia below so visitors can be identified before granting entry.

8.Great Hall9.Great Hall

The intricate ceiling detail is stunning, though I wondered about the comfort of the furniture.

Water can be hauled to all floors from the private well in the courtyard via pitchers on a pulley system.

On the same floor, the walls of the Parrot Room are decorated with a geometric patchwork design, motifs of the birds are painted in the lattice separating the blocks.

14.Parrot Room

The huge fireplace is adorned with the red and white Davizzi coat of arms with emblems on either side representing the Ridolfo and Alberti families who married into the Davizzi family.

15.Parrot Room fireplace

The frescoed wall of the adjacent bedroom incorporates coats of arms of families allied with the Davizzi. The beautiful bed cover is a copy of the Guicciardini Quilt, the only known surviving example of medieval quilts. The original, made in Sicily in the second half of the 14th century, resides in The Bargello less than a kilometre down the road.

16.Peacock Room

Even though it would have been a luxury at the time, the ensuite bathroom is small and not conducive to a good long soak.

19.ensuite

There is a room displaying sewing and spinning implements as well as exquisite examples of lacework.

Another room exhibits furniture from the 14th to 19th century: delicate porcelain, timber cabinets, chairs and storage boxes fill the space.

24.cassone

30.chest

26.armour cabinet, Audience Room

A small water closet hides behind a very substantial timber door.

31.water closet

Obviously, there is indoor plumbing, these appear to be breather vents

32.breather pipes

and the drainage pipe snakes its way down the internal courtyard wall.

On the second floor, the frescoes in the most sumptuous bedroom are inspired by the tale of the Chatelaine de Vergi (I love this version, I was enthralled), a tragic medieval story of friendship, love, loyalty, betrayal and the consequences of all the aforementioned. An unusual choice for a marital bedchamber or perhaps a constant reminder of the benefits of fidelity?

35.bedroom of the landlady

38.bedroom of the landlady

The addition of the ensuite bathroom was again unexpected.

39.bathroom

There is another bedroom on the third floor, as well as the kitchen, I don’t know why I haven’t got any photos of them. Interestingly, the kitchen is on the top floor to avoid cooking smells in the lower living areas and contain damage in case of a fire. Just when I thought we’d seen everything, a circular painting caught my eye. The timber platter is a birthing salver, circa 1450, originally used in Florence to bring food to pregnant women and then became symbolic gifts for a successful birth. The cherubs are engaging in a game of civettino where the players have to maintain a certain distance, the right foot of one touching the left of the other. The aim is to avoid being slapped by your opponent, although ‘slapping’ is probably not the most appropriate term to explain this depiction.

40.birth salver

parcheggio Italiano

It’s no secret that driving in Italy is not for the faint-hearted. It is fast, crazy and a lot of fun. Parking in Italy is something else, an art form that takes years to perfect. The rules are quite simple and the zones are colour coded to assist the unwitting tourist. Blue zones are for paid parking, you can buy your ticket from the machine, display it on your dashboard and be sure to return to your vehicle in the allotted time frame. Alternatively, you can purchase a disco orario, a blue disc that represents a clock, from a bank, tourist office, post office or tobacconist (except for the bank we went into, although the lovely ladies wrote a note in Italian for us to use in place of a disc). You set the hands to show the time you arrived and you can park for free, usually for 2 hours. Parking is free in blue zones during lunch time and on Sundays. Having said all that, it seems parking within the lines is optional.

1.Le Grazie2.Pienza

7.Grotte di Castro

White lines mean parking is free but there may be time limits. If this is the case, it is a good idea to display the time you arrived on your blue disc. Travel advice warns that it is essential to park within the lines to avoid a fine, however, free spaces are often limited and so, creativity prevails.

8.Seggiano9.Orvieto10.Orvieto

It seems to be universal that parking areas marked with a yellow line are reserved for handicapped drivers and delivery zones.

11.Acquapendente

Some towns have pink spaces especially for expectant mothers and those with infants. Parking is not permitted in green zones on working days between 8 – 9.30am and 2.30 – 4pm. Often, there are no parking squares marked and it seems to be a free-for-all.

12.Grotte di Castro

It only takes one to start a trend. Don’t let a roundabout on the main thoroughfare deter you, just follow where others have led.

13.Le Grazie14.Le Grazie15.Le Grazie

If there is no parking spot available, just leave the car in close proximity to your destination in the knowledge that passing motorists will avoid your vehicle.

16.Acquapendente

17.Pitigliano

If all else fails, don’t even pretend to look for a parking spot, just leave the Mercedes in the middle of the road while you go about your business.

22.Pitigliano

If your neighbour encroaches on your space, you are entitled to squeeze him out.

23.Orvieto

Sometimes there are zones that are just too confusing, the colours are random and there is no indication of time limits. This is what you do.

24.Acquapendente

Vergemoli

When we first visited Italy in 2014, we were invited to lunch at the home of friends, Deb and Jim, in the mountains of the Garfagnana. We recalled the drive as being somewhat hair-raising but, when invited again this time, we couldn’t resist. With much trepidation, we ventured forth, stopping in Gallicano for a heart starter coffee and pastry.

The road out of the village certainly fits the description of ‘narrow’,

6.Gallicano

as we passed beneath the ancient aqueduct.

7.aqueduct, Gallicano

It almost made the road to Vergemoli look like a highway,

8.road to Vergemoli

excepting when there is more rock than road.

9.road to Vergemoli

Clouds gathered as we climbed into the mountains,

10.road to Vergemoli

looking back the way we had come, the view was spectacular.

11.road to Vergemoli

The mountains loomed closer and before long we had reached Vergemoli.

12.road to Vergemoli

Turning left at the small piazza, we parked at the top end of the village by the 17th century church of Sant’Antonio.

13.Vergemoli14.Vergemoli15.Chiesa Sant'Antonio

We had allowed time for a stroll through the village before lunch, our first discovery was an outdoor theatre, a lovely spot to watch a play in the summer months.

16.outdoor theatre

We could see for miles across the valley,

17.Vergemoli view

a stone bench perfectly placed to catch your breath after walking up the hill.

18.Vergemoli

The houses were neat and colourful,

some seemed to end suddenly at the edge of the cliff.

23.Vergemoli

There was no shortage of intriguing doorways.

The parish church of San Quirico and Santa Giulitta, in the middle of town, dates back to the 10th century.

27.Chiesa dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta

I’m not sure what this stone monument represents but it is dated 1637AD

28.Vergemoli

and another close by is unidentified.

29.Vergemoli

Alleyways veered in all directions filled with dwellings built at impossible angles.

Some had room for a garden shed

37.garden shed

or a beautifully maintained shrine.

38.Vergemoli

We didn’t see many locals but the four-legged inhabitants were very friendly.

We could see our destination, Casa Debbio, waiting comfortably on the hillside as we returned to the car and drove the track to the house.

44.Casa Debbio45.Casa Debbio

Although the weather was too inclement to dine on the terrace,

46.terrace, Casa Debbio

the vista across to Vergemoli was stunning.

47.Vergemoli

The drizzle didn’t deter us from exploring the garden with its quirky residents

and some of the most fabulous flowers I have ever seen.

From the terrace at the back of the house, there is a lovely view of the wisteria on the pergola

57.pergola

and of new plantings as the garden blends with the wilderness.

58.garden

A few more flowers and treasures

59.garden

and we returned to the house

66.Casa Debbio

with that amazing view

67.Vergemoli

to enjoy a slice of Angela’s hat.

68.Angela

We farewelled Deb and Jim and made our way back down the mountain. If only Australia wasn’t so far away.

69.geraniums

Casa Debbio is the perfect place to escape and unwind for a few days or weeks and is available for holiday rental, take a look.

cani di Lucca

The Lucchese love their dogs. It’s not unusual to see them joining their humans for a meal,

1.breakfast in lucca

though they don’t often have a seat at the table.

1a.lunch

Caffetteria Turandot, in Piazza San Michele, is the perfect location to enjoy a beverage and watch the parade of four-legged lovelies.

2.cane in Lucca

Some are content to wait patiently until their bipedal companions are ready to move on.

4.Golden Retriever3.Piazza San Michele

Others are somewhat reluctant and need a bit of coaxing

5.Italian greyhound

but most are happy to just go where life leads them.

9.Piazza San Michele

12.Piazza San Michele

Being on a leash doesn’t mean you can’t have fun when you meet a friend.

13.boxer & friend

This gentleman was unaware of my subject matter and stopped to pose for the camera, he certainly made me smile.

20.friendly local