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

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….

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