The Botany of Leonardo da Vinci

Santa Maria Novella church, Florence

It seems appropriate to finish the year with a post on Leonardo Da Vinci since we have been commemorating 500th anniversary of his death with all sorts of events. Besides it’s fascinating to learn more about his genius as a Scientist, Botanist, Biologist and more; his holistic approach and prolific notes and designs crammed onto every page of the Codes.

This time the exhibition – The Botany of Leonardo  focused on ‘the philosophical and technical content of the time in which Leonardo Da Vinci lived in order to explore his study of the forms and Leonardo Atlanticus codeprocesses of the plant world in greater depth, through his outlook as a “systemic” thinker, highlighting the connections between art, science and nature’ ( Exhibition Notes). 

I was fortunate to be taken through the exhibition with a guide who added a little more spice in the introduction to Leonardo sharing details essential to understanding his scribblings since he was left handed and wrote from right to left. At that time left Leonardo's left handed scripthandedness was considered the devil’s hand and children were punished severely. Leonardo instead had been rather pampered by his paternal grandfather who indulges his left handedness and encourages his studies with a private teacher so he never comes under the stricter teachings of the classics and humanities. As a child born out of wedlock, the freedom allowed in his grandfather’s care means he is spared from the dogmas of the time developing a ‘freethinking attitude full of experience and experiment that foreshadows the scientific methods developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo.’  (Walter Isaacson “Leonardo da Vinci”). Examples of Leonardo’s writing are only easily read in a mirror reflection.

Model of furnaces used for chemical and pharmaceutical productionThe guide continued to emphasize Leonardo‘s respect of Nature as he experimented with alchemical processes, studying the cause and effect, and despising anyone who tried to replace Nature and break its laws, manipulating it for their own end. Two model furnaces were on display from St Mark’s Foundry similar to what Leonardo designed having recognized the power of fire in transforming materials, in particular metals.

The Refactory housed the main exhibits and we are welcomed immediately by a live plant wall with a projected ceiling decoration of Leonardo‘s from the Sforza

Castle in Milan where he had spent many years in the service of Ludovico il Moro. His codes cover extensive scientific studies on light, perspective, urban planning and architecture, engineering, mechanics, human and animal anatomy, an endless search to understand the complexities of his surroundings with an interdisciplinary perspective.

He sees similarities between processes, structures and patterns e.g. his study of the human body and blood circulation is compared to the vital sap that nourishes trees, or tributary branches of a river.

Building on ancient Roman theories Leonardo discovered the principles of what we nowPhyllotactic tower call phyllotaxis – the set of rules governing the arrangement of leaves along a branch, explaining how this arrangement helps the plant to receive air, light and water. Used in green architecture today.

He understands that plants respond to environmental stimuli, growing towards the light and the extent to which they are effected by gravity. Plants on a slowly turning wheel had been planted at various angles and only those upright were doing well, and those upside down were in a very sorry state.

And of course Leonardo, the artist, wrote endless recipes on preparing pigments, dyes and oils from the plant world for paintings and drawings.Leonardo's plants in The Annunciation

His meticulous studies being reproduced in his paintings and drawings of plants.

 

 

 

da Vinci's vitruvian treeThe exhibition was truly fascinating with so much more than can be described here. And catering to today’s world, ended with an invite to do a ‘Selfie‘ inside the ‘Vitruvian Tree’  one of Leonardo da Vinci‘s most famous drawings – ‘focusing on the measured relationships of the natural world, in search of the divine proportion between man and the living system’ ( exhibition notes). An invite to place ourselves within the regular forms of geometry and the equally perfect forms of Nature.Leonardo's vitruvian man

 

 

 

The man was a genius. His attention to detail is incredible, with such an advanced scientific approach that makes me think we are moving backwards while he was way ahead of us!


 

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Machiavelli – the Prince’s exile

Hiking around San CascianoOn a rare day without rain and in solidarity for the humanitarian Onlus Emergency my hike group explored the hills, vineyards and villas once belonging to ‘The Prince – Machiavelli’. It was by no means a tough hike, not our usual style, but for a worthy cause, and we were in for some real treats!

Starting from San Casciano Val di Pesa, which is only a hop skip and jump from Florence (18kms) towards Siena, in the Chianti Classico wine area we were headed for Sant’ Andrea in Percussina, home to Machiavelli’s villas. A carpet of cloud covered the valley between the towns and the rolling hills blessed with vines now looking rather straggly as there autumn colours slowly fade. Still it was a relief to be out under sunshine and in good company.

A guided tour of Machiavelli’s villa was promised, and we were to delve into his tormented story. He had been considered the rising star of the new Florentine Republic, a brilliant civil servant and head of the Second Chancery, a post that placed him in charge of the Republic’s foreign affairs after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. But when the Republic fell and the Medici returned to power he was arrested, tortured and expelled from the city. He retreated to his farmhouse ‘Albergaccio‘ ( meaning bad hotel) as it linked to the tavern across the road often filled with dubious characters.

The Albergaccio restaurant today and tour of the farmhouse:

 

Machiavelli wrote “Here, in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, where I tend to my vines and family matters, I, Niccolo’ Machiavelli, have found refuge from events in Florence, fatal for me. Hikers breakNext door there’s the Hosteria, a continual source of refreshment for me, for the labours borne in my long office, tasting that which the land has made into marvellous fruit.”

And we enjoyed tasting a refreshing prosecco from his land before the tour!

Inside we passed through the rather simple rooms of the farmhouse including his study where he wrote his famous book ‘The Prince’ , his notorious political tract advising dynasties, like the Medici, how Machiavelli's studyto combat the vicissitudes of fortune and stay in power. Considered a key intellectual figure of the Florentine Renaissance his isolation from Florence was under sufferance, especially since he had a clear view of Brunelleschi’s Dome from his garden daily. Most historians now emphasise the much greater importance of his later writings in Discourses on Livy and the History of Florence, where it becomes clear that his preferred political model was one based on freedom and democracy, a world without tyrannical kings and princes.

From the cellar we could see yet another of his villas – Villa Mangiacane thought to be designed by Michelangelo and where we had been promised our lunch break.

A brief stop at the Machiavelli store to peruse the gadgets and gift ideas and then back to hiking before we got too distracted by the alluring aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen, or tempted by another prosecco!

Down the valley, through the vineyards and with stomachs rumbling we trooped past the Villa Mangiacanefile of Tuscan cypress to the entrance of Villa Mangiacane to enjoy lunch on the garden steps. Fortunately for us the luxury resort was closed so no one to object. The villas remained in the Machiavelli family for centuries and only recently have been sold to an Italian Wine Cooperative.Machiavelli family tree

For us it had been a fun day out, a good fundraising day for Emergency and a very easy hike in the lovely area of Chianti Classico.Hikers trail home

 

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Cycling Lake Garda

Entrance to Lake GardaDefying bleak weather forecasts on the long weekend of November I headed up North to test the new bike path overhanging Lake Garda. The lake is stunning in its ruggedness, steep rocky mountains that slide into the lakeside and with the misty clouds around it had almost a sinister air. In contrast to Lake Como and Lake Maggiore it’s beguiling in a dramatic way, with enticing villages to explore along the shoreline. The largest of the Italian lakes with a long list of interesting Museums and Villas to visit and hot Springs to relax in.

But cycling Lake Garda was our objective even if only for a short distance, and we Limone sul Garda beachwere headed for Limone sul Garda to find the new bike/footpath that clings to the steep rock face. Having taken our time to get there we were disappointed as there were no bikes left! But we were not to be beat and searching high and low discovered another rental place back on the top road. High in spirits and energy we swooped back down to the shoreline at a reckless pace to begin the tour through the village and onto the new trail.

Limone sul Garda

Cycling through the tourists wandering the sidewalk, in and out of shops and restaurants not an easy feat as the main street turned into a pretty alleyway adorned with bougainvillea and tiny piazzas filled with fishing boats.

 

The surprise to come were the steep ascents through the outskirts of the village, the wobbly stone pavement on the descents, and the surprising quantity of pedestrians on the same route making manoeuvring difficult. Now we understood the offer of an e-bike at the rentals! But we were not to be dissuaded from our target and finally we were there!New bike path

It’s a short, (2km) flat, magnificent experience, opened only last year with the hope that other Councils will take up the initiative and continue the trail further along the  lake. Lake Garda bike - footpath

 

Bike - Footpath

 

 

 

 

Views of the lake even more spectacular and a sense of satisfaction and relief that the rain held off and the ride certainly kept us warm.

Besides it’s so much safer than riding along the rather narrow road that hugs the Cycling Lake Gardacoastline amongst the professional cyclists. Accessible to everyone, even wheelchairs and prams and a definitely well worth the ride. If you want to do more serious biking check out these suggestions. And this is only a small part of what Lake Garda has to offer.Lake Garda view


 

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Florence’s renewed Flea Market

Florence Flea MarketFinally the Florence Flea Market has opened in its new permanent structure, after years of indecision and protests. Not everyone will be happy about the changed appearance but from an insiders point of view I can guarantee the traders are happier. They have a bigger and warmer covered space that will protect them, their clients and their merchandise against variable weather conditions.New Flea Market Florence

 

In fact the Council of Florence is doing quite a lot about cleaning up areas and making them more people friendly, even greener when the opportunity arises, as well as restoring monuments and fountains as funds become available.

Loggia dei pesci in front of original Flea market

Old Flea market and Loggia dei Pesci

For those unfamiliar with the Florence Flea market, it has lived most of its life in front of the beautiful late Renaissance loggia designed by Vasari for the fish mongers, in Piazza dei Ciompi. The stands were rather fragile with plastic ripple coverings plyboard thin walls and possibly some asbestos thrown in as well. Years of weathering brought them to a sad and sorry state and the Council decided to move the market out and restore the famous ‘Loggia dei Pesci‘ to its former glory, green up the piazza and make it into a relaxing place for locals and tourists and the occasional flower market.

The Loggia itself has a rather interesting history, designed by Vasari in 1568/9 at the request of Cosimo I who had decided to move the Fish market located near the Ponte Vecchio because of its bad odour and dirtiness. The market was moved to the Old market area in Piazza della Repubblica leaving ample space now for Vasari’s famous corridor to be built linking the Town Hall to the Medici’s residence at Palazzo Pitti. The compensation to the fish mongers was a beautiful loggia under which they could sell their wares.  But when Florence became the Capital of Italy 1865-1871 a clean up campaign moved the old Market out of the piazza and the Loggia dei Pesci was dismantled and stored in the San Marco museum until 1955. Local citizens protested and persisted until a local bank donated funds and the Loggia was reassembled and placed in piazza dei Ciompi and the Florence Flea market grew up under its watchful gaze for over 50years.

But plans to restore the Loggia to its former splendour and revamp the Piazza saw the removal of the Flea market to an alternative abode, temporary tent accommodation in a nearby Piazza – Largo Pietro Annigoni next door to the Saint Ambrogio food market. Not a very pleasant experience for traders nor customers.

Then finally the new Flea market in a permanent building, larger stands, a covered walkway and two weeks for stand owners to create their own exhibit space with individual furnishings and lighting. So it was all hands on deck and I helped my friend with her stand specializing in Sheffield and silver from the U.K.

Playing cards Flea MarketAnd while we, and others, were busy painting, putting up curtains, moving stock, stumbling over boxes and working around electricians and carpenters, the usual group of Flea marketeers were already happily playing cards as they have always done!

The inauguration on 26 October came with all the pomp and ceremony that only Florence can provide with the Mayor puffing out his chest in Mayoral garb.

Opening day was a great success and Catherine Glasser’s stand the best of them…..but then maybe I am biased!? If you are in the area do drop by to see them all and see what you think of the new market structure.

ps  I hate to say that the new Florence Flea Market complex has a definite Parisienne air but c’est la vie!

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Our Italian Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty, New Yorik

Photo credit: Museo Opera del Duomo

The Statue of Liberty is such an icon, the symbol of America, which has welcomed millions of migrants and visitors to the New York harbour. Yet the statue perhaps is not so unique and to prove the point the current ‘Sisters of Liberty’ exhibition in New York will surprise many American visitors. Our Liberty of Poetry statue by Pio Fedi, placed in the Santa Croce church in 1883, is considered to have inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty inaugurated in 1886. In fact Bartholdi was in Italy at the time fighting alongside Garibaldi in the ranks of the Frankish soldiers during the Franco Prussian war. And its thought very likely that he saw the draft design if not the completed statue.

The Liberty of Poetry statue was placed over the tomb of Giovanni Battista Santa Croce churchNiccolini, in the Santa Croce church in Florence. He was a playwriter of dramas related to national redemption and the freedom of the people, and an avid supporter of the Unification of Italy. The statue is enormous, even bigger than Michelangelo’s David and for this reason in fact cannot be moved. But a replica has been made and sent to New York where “visitors will discover and interact with the symbols, voices, and heroes that have defined our modern concept of liberty” (excerpt from brochure)

So compare for yourselves here:

Italian and American Sisters of Liberty

photo credit: Museo del Opera del Duomo, Firenze

Staue of Poetry

The idea for the project came from the U.S. Consulate General of Florence which celebrates 200 years of diplomatic relations and wanted to demonstrate the long standing cultural ties between Italy and the United States. Generous contributions for the exhibition came from American Express and our luxury Four Seasons Hotel Florence

When the exhibition was confirmed it caused a flurry of activity amongst the Friends of Florence  organisation who paid for the restoration of the Liberty of Poetry.  So newcomers to the Santa Croce church can now see it in its original splendour alongside the other famous tombs of Tuscan greats – Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Ghiberti and the tribute to Dante Alighieri.

In fact the Santa Croce church is one of the oldest and largest Franciscan basilicas in the world and considered by far the most magnificent, for its architecture by Brunelleschi and Donatelli, frescoes by Giotto and Agnolo Gaddi and it houses more skeletons of Renaissance masters than any other church in Italy! Definitely worth a visit. The piazza is also a favourite one for Florentines and hosts the historic football match ‘calcio storico’.

Another statue by Pio Fedi is on display in the Loggio dei Lanzi in front of the Palazzo Vecchio the Town Hall of Florence – The Rape of Polyxena of 1865. Although largely ignored as it sits behind the famous bronze statue by CelliniPerseus with the Head of Medusa.

But our Italian Statue of Liberty….of Poetry I think takes the cake!Liberty of Poetry


 

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Wine is sunlight and water, grape harvest 5 Terre

Cinque Terre Vermentino grapesGalileo Galilei said “wine is sunlight held together with water” and certainly the vineyards of the Cinque Terre have had an ample dose of sunlight this season. The grape harvest is well and truly over and they say it will be a good year, perhaps not for quantity but at least quality of the grapes harvested. Endless hot weather and sunshine blessed us all after the rather cold bleak month of May.Grape harvesting Vernazza

 

 

Harvesting is a still a back breaking process, particularly if the vines are draped over a pergola. Often the case on terraces more exposed to high winds. Just getting to the terraced vineyards is a hike itself! Many tourists have wandered the gorgeous high trail from Corniglia to Manarola passing through the vineyards ‘a pergola’ probably unaware as to why and how the grapes will be harvested.

And then the crates overflowing with grapes need to be loaded and unloaded and if you are lucky enough you will have the Farmer’s Cooperative mono rail running nearby. Cheo vineyard owner , BartoloMost locals sell all or at least a major part of their harvest to the Cantine Sociale – the Farmer’s Cooperative. The wine produced is a crisp dry white from a mix of vermentino, bosco and albarolo grapes.

In Vernazza the only commercial wine producer is Bartalo of Cheo vineyards. A retired University Professor with vision, a mission and a lot of hard work to reach his goal. Bartalo and his wife Lise have been very active in the community promoting involvement of students and assisting in the development of the Save Vernazza voluntourism project. He is now President of the Consortium Cinque Terre Sciacchetra’ the delicious liquid gold sweet wine of the area.

The tourist crowds are slowly beginning to wane, although there is still time to souvenir shop and enjoy a last gelati.

 

Mono rail Cinque TerreThe mono rail trains lie idle and its time for the last swim for the season as the Sun settles early and no longer has the hot sting of July. Autumn is moving in and soon to envelope us in its golden glow.

Cinque Terre Corniglia Marina


 

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A Handmaidens Tale at Mantua


Mantua, Piazza Erbe
How could I go past seeing Margaret Atwood at the Mantua Literary Festival? She was such a drawcard that I booked her event early and lucky I did as on the day there were no extra tickets available. It had been a few years since I had been back to the Festival although each year I was tempted as the list of writers from all over the world is exciting and Mantua is a such a picturesque Renaissance city, with fluted merlins on many of its historic Palaces. Besides it’s so lovely just to wander or bike as the locals do under the warm sunshine as Summer comes to an end.

As the Organisation  says: “The Festival plays host to world-famous writers and poets, some of the most interesting voices from emerging literatures, essayists, musicians, artists and scientists who foster a more complex and unusual notion of literature that includes unconventional literary domains and languages.” The choice of events was awesome – Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Joshua Cohen, Nadeem Aslam, Ali Smith, Valeria Luiselli  together with economists and political writers like – Domenico Quirico,  Felwine Starr from Senegal, Gilles Kepel,  Mariana Mazzucato, Amin Maalouf and Donald Sassoon. Only some of whom I managed to see.

I bounced between meetings on the European Union  Crisis,  Civil wars and Immigration, Economic Alternatives to the current Inequality and how to put value before profit, Words we use and abuse, Post Colonialism and the new developments in Africa, Antidotes to our current Dilemmas and more. It was easy to become totally engrossed in arguments, enlightened by some positive prospects, challenged by the global issues knowing we are all in the same boat….if only we all paddled in the same direction.

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood rather than discuss her new book talked mostly of how relevant ‘The Handmaidens’ Tale’ relates to today, the regression we have seen in women’s rights, the challenge we face to restore what we have lost and move forward. To her delight the audience greeted her wearing handmaiden’s caps which the organisation had supplied and which we clumsily put together and clung on to on her entrance. Margaret Atwood haindmaiden audienceAnd at the end of the event a flash mob of ‘handmaidens’ appeared with placards regarding female homicides and women’s rights as ‘Everything is political when you’re a woman‘ and the queue for signing her book wound right around the courtyard.

In between events the piazzas overflowed with book stands, poetry readings, quiet courtyards to relax in and shady parks for time out. An open air ‘free’ event caught my attention as the audience was spellbound, like babes listening to a fairytale, as Antonello Vanoli recounted a sentimental voyage on the roads that made our history – the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Silk Road, the Orient Express to Route 66. An hour’s journey through the centuries with this fascinating storyteller. We were all on board and loving it!

This year I had a bike on loan which was especially handy since I stayed across the causeway and discovered the most beautiful bike path that cruised alongside the lake.

A delightful start to every day

The Historic centre is charming with its majestic buildings, beautiful parks and courtyards and an impressive Cathedral and of an evening the place glowed and flowed with wine and aperitif spritzs!

Mantua Liteary Festival

 

The Mantua Literary festival is truly a magic experience. The only drawback maybe – How do the locals manage to walk on the pavement stones every day…..even in heels??Mantua Pavement

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Villa Medici, Poggio a Caiano Tuscany

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoLiving in Florence it’s easy to become blasé to the wealth of galleries, museums, palaces and villas that we are surrounded by. So much so that it took a visitor to inspire me to finally visit Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano on the outskirts of Florence in the province of Prato.  Surprisingly it was free admission, with hardly any other visitors, so we could pick the brains of the local attendants about the Villa’s history despite detailed information on display in each room.

The Villa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 along with the 11 other Medici villas and 2 gardens as “The Medici villas form the first example of the connection between architecture, gardens, and the environment and became an enduring reference for princely residences throughout Italy and Europe. Their gardens and integration into the natural environment helped develop the appreciation of landscape characteristic Humanism and the Renaissance.”

Villa Medici Poggio a CaianoBegun by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1445, completed by his son in 1520, and designed by architect Giuliano da Sangallo, the eldest in a large and distinguished family of Florentine architects. Typical of Renaissance architecture it contains Classical elements with its Ionic temple façade, a definite ‘Wow‘ factor on entering the gardens, and barrel vaulted ceilings in the interior. It’s simple elegance and curved staircase is very appealing and we are drawn inside.

Lorenzo the Magnificent loved the Villa, using it as his Summer residence, entertaining numerous guests and fondly rearing pheasants for the hunting season. Glorious weddings and important events were held alongside mysterious tragic events like the death of Francesco I ( son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany) and his second wife Bianca Cappello. They both died of acute arsenic poisoning only hours apart, suspected to be at the hands of his brother fearing exclusion from his inheritance! Another being the sad marriage between Cosimo III and the young cousin of the king of France, Margaret Louise d’Orleans. ‘At only 15 she dreaded the thought of marrying a fat, mournful Italian heir to a now impoverished Duchy and made him suffer for it, spending huge amounts of his money on clothes and entertaining and when he finally let her return to France  she took with her an immense sum as well as wall hangings, beds and valuable articles.’ (Christoper Hibbert – Florence, the Biography of a City) 

And the Villa remains rather sparsely furnished today. After the Medici dynasty the Villa Roman Sarcophagocontinued to be home to royalty and nobles – Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and important people like Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister and  King Vittorio Emanuele II when Florence was the Capital of Italy between 1865-1870.

The loggia covers the Roman sarcophagi and we head past into the Court theatre room and then through to the Billiard room  with its beautiful decorated ceiling.

The impressive Grand Hall of Leo X heavily adorned with frescoes whose ‘primary purpose is to celebrate the Medici dynasty through comparison to important ancient historical events.’

The delicately furnished bedroom and marble bathroom were lived in by two important women, Elisa Baciocchi and later the Countess of Mirafiori known as the ‘Bella Rosina‘ mistress and later wife of King Vittorio Emanuele II.

While the study and bedroom of the King seem hardly lavish!

Fortunately Margaret Louise d’Orleans left at least one large tapestry for us to admire, a fabulous hunting scene so intricate it seems more like a painting.

Terracotta Frieze from facadeAnd the original terracotta Frieze from the façade is protected inside, allowing a close Portion of Friezeup view of its 14m long scenes about Mother Earth and the Birth of the Sun and Planets.

Now I only have another 9 Villa Medici’s to visit having seen Villa La Pietra and the gardens of the Villa Medici in Fiesole and today’s most famous Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano!

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A day out with VIPs- Portofino

Santa Margherita churchOnly an hour away by train and we are in the pretty seaside town of Santa Margherita Ligure, abuzz with tourists as the cruise ship is in and busy with locals and holiday makers as there is a 4 day special market on ‘Sbarazza Tutti‘ – Get rid of everything sale! The blaze of colourful Summer attire makes the decorated buildings of the town glow under a perfect blue sky. I am mistakenly tempted by some Winter coats in the window and drop in to check the price…..€2,600!!! But after all it was a Moschino and the store definitely not part of the ‘Sbarazza Tutti‘!

A quick glimpse inside the church, although I am more attracted to the black Santa Margherita facadeand white stone mosaic outside so typical of Liguria together with the decorated facades. Santa Margherita Ligure boasts some of the prettiest, a tradition begun in the second half of the XV century, when the rich mercantile aristocracy started to transform the historical medieval centre.

PortofinoBut we are here to explore Portofino, just a short bus or ferry ride away, the picturesque fishing village is considered one of the most chic destinations in Italy, frequented by entrepreneurs, royal families and celebrities and us!. It is peak season and even here, a cruise ship is anchored close by shunting passengers back and forth making the place unpleasantly crowded. Still the crystalline water of the small port packed with boats of all shapes and sizes in front of the colourful facades is definitely picture postcard material. The shop awnings offer welcome shade over the designer shops – Pucci, Rolex, Missoni, Dior and more, and lunchtime diners.

St George church, PortofinoWe head up to get the best view from the little St George church. The rocky  cliff on the opposite side reminds me of the Countess who tragically died in 2001 falling to the sea from her Villa – murder or suicide? The intriguing story continues to fill the gossip pages.Portofino Liguria

On a more worthy note it was Jeannie, the English wife of Baron von Mumm, a German diplomat and photography enthusiast,  who succeeded in convincing the commander of the German detachment of Portofino during the Second World War, to abandon the intentions of destruction of the city. Otherwise we would be unable to enjoy this beautiful place. War bunkers dot the promontory and Castle Brown continued to defend the town as it had done since the XV century. The Castle now belongs to the the town but retains its name from the English consul in Genoa, Montague Yeats-Brown who purchased it for 7,000 lire in 1867 and transformed it into a comfortable villa. The surrounding gardens of the Castle and the neighbouring holiday homes are gorgeous.

 

Portofino + Cannon BayWe explore further, along pretty side streets, mosaic church pavements, more decorated facades and splendid villas that cling to the coastline.

Typical Ligurian stone mosaic

 

The tiny Bay of Cannons is inviting but standing room only so we head for the closest beach area known as Paraggi. Paraggi Beach, PortofinoHowever the crowds deter us and we continue our stroll above the waters edge, enjoying the views back to  Santa Margherita Ligure.Cannot Bay, Portofino


 

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It’s not lousy in Bonassola

View towards LevantoFor those struggling through the Winter in need of a little sunshine, idyllic beaches and crystal blue water, this post is for you. For those dreaming of cycling in the Cinque Terre but overwhelmed by the thought of the steep never ending hills then this alternative could be a better way to start the holiday, cycling Ligurian coast.

For me it was a good day to get away from the crowds in the Cinque Terre and try something different, although I had cycled a small part of the path some years before. The area that I had missed turned out to be the best and is on my list to do again when I have visitors.Google map 5 Terre - Framura

The villages we were to explore are sometimes referred to as the ‘Tre Terre‘ – Levanto, Bonassola, Framura, and there has always been a certain jealous rivalry between them and the Cinque Terre. It’s only a short train ride away to Levanto, our starting point. Hiring bikes was easy, the first rental place we came across being run by a layback American surfer now permanently settled in the area. Two mins ride towards the beach of Levanto and we were already on the Maremonti cycle path inaugurated in 2011, considered one of the most beautiful routes in the whole of Liguria. About 6km of flat bike path with deliciously cool illuminated tunnels with breaks along the way and breathtaking views and idyllic beaches.Cycle path Bonassola-Framura

The track reuses the old railway line, a masterpiece of 1874, electrified in 1926, between Genoa and Pisa. In the 1970s with the duplication of the La Spezia line to Sestri Levante, some sections were abandoned and today they have become the pedestrian cycle path.

Our first stop, after 3kms, is Bonassola, a sweet village with buildings decorated in the typical Ligurian style and a long stretch of pebble beach submersed in umbrellas.

Bonassola

Bonassola and cycle pa

 

 

Crystal clear water entice us but there is barely standing room and we have hardly exercised our biking stamina.

Jack from Surflevanto had fortunately advised us to stop at Porto del Pidocchio ( Louse Port!?) between Bonassola and Framura so we moved on. A break in the tunnel and seeing a line of bikes parked we knew we must be there. Well hidden from view is a narrow inlet surrounded by high black rocks, and alluring blue water that reaches over your head after the first step. A modest crowd dot the beach leaving space for everyone and dwindled over lunchtime. Not a peep of urban noise spoils the tranquility of the place….and no lice in sight!

 

Still we know there is more to come and after a couple of hours in this idyllic spot we need to finish the ride to the third village of Framura 

Immediately out of the tunnel is the tiny port of Framura, brightly coloured fishing boats, canoes and tiny yachts tied up and locals stretched out amidst mermaids and anchors under the watchful eye of the Madonna standing on the rocky outcrop.

The bike path ends here, and a rather convoluted pedestrian walk under, over, and around the railway station leads us to Torsei beach complete with bar doing a roaring trade. Yet there is still ample room to stretch out and sunbake and cool down in crystal clear waterSummertime Liguria


 

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