Searching for Venus, Portovenere

Portovenere, St Peter's ChurchPortovenere is yet another beautiful town on the Ligurian coastline, close enough to the Cinque Terre to almost feel a part of it, yet secluded enough to avoid the tourist crowds. On a good day it is only a 35mins ferry ride away from the first village of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore otherwise a bus ride from the centre of La Spezia.

Portovenere

Photo Shutterstock – Mare

It is a romantic, picturesque fishing village, lined with tall colourful buildings and quaint alleyways that wind and climb up to the Dorian Castle giving a spectacular view.

It was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 for its outstanding architecture, and landscape and its exceptional example of human interaction with the environment. This includes the nearby Islands of Palmaria, popular for its beach and two tiny islands with the lighthouse Tino and Tinetto

We were here to find Venus, after all it is the Port of Venus  named as such from the middle of the 1st century BC as supposedly there was a Temple dedicated to the goddess Venus at the tip of the promontory on the site where the Church of St Peter now stands. According to tradition Venus was born from the foam of the surf below!    So far historical diggings have only shown a pre existing 5th century Church under the Church seen today which was consecrated in 1198. Cleverly the later addition of the 13th century is identified by the black and white stripes creating a complex mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles and an incredible landmark for the town.

From every angle the views are amazing – back towards the Cinque Terre, across the bay to the Dorian Castle or over towards Lerici on the mainland or to the Island of Palmaria. Craggy rock formations, hidden caves, and a wild impervious terrain abound, although not sufficiently dangerous to put off raids by the Normans and later Saracen pirates.

The name may be instead from St Venerius – a hermit monk who lived between 550-630 on a monastery built on the Island of Tino. Each year in September the town celebrates the Saint, taking his statue across to the Island to be blessed.

Portovenere view to LericiLord Byron was inspired by the beauty of the place and a frequent visitor, so much so that they named the bay after him. He was known to have swum across the gulf of La Spezia, around 7kms, to Lerici to visit Shelley in 1822, not a mean feat!

Entrance door Potovenere

We explore the main street being tempted by local specialities, like pesto which is out of this world as I have bought it before, and peer through the pasta curtain into the local bakery! Quaint doorways, cute shops, and narrow stairways are tucked in  between multi coloured tower houses.

Slowly we climb the winding steps that lead past the Sanctuary of the White Madonna  with the San Lorenzo church up to the austere Dorian Castle.

The Castle and its walls that surround the historic centre were built by Genoa in the 12th century to protect the town against invasions as it was an important outpost for the Republic of Genoa and the white flag with the red cross of the Republica are still flying throughout the place.

But we were still in search of our Venus and make our way back down to the Church of Mother NatureSt Peter, only to find instead ‘Mother Nature’ a rather plump bronze statue of a woman in a petticoat staring out to sea. A rather melancholy gaze across Byron’s bay. Locals believe she depicts, not Mother Nature, but a woman who lost her husband, a fisherman at sea, and waits undeterred for his return.

Dorian castle overlooking Byroin bay                                                        We may not have found Venus but we have explored another magical place in Liguria and only a few hours hike away from the Cinque Terre, or ferry or train and bus ride. Whichever way Portovenere is definitely worth a visit.Map PortovenereView of St Peter's Church form Dorian Castle

 

 

 

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Hiking San Bernardino to Manarola

Spring flowers on the trailThe Cinque Terre trails are forever enticing whether they be across the valleys, over the mountain or down to an alluring blue sea.  I have my favourite trails and now is a good time to really enjoy the Spring flowers and the new vine shoots and take a hike along the high trail from San Bernardino to Manarola, via Fornacchi and La Cigoletta.

Fornacchi is the tiniest of villages, only 5 houses but with an important laundry service that provides bed linens to the numerousMadonna of Fornacchi apartments and bed and breakfast places in the area. The view is stunning of San Bernardino below and the coastline to Monterosso as a sweet little Madonna indicates the path through to the woods.View from Fornacchi There are no other hikers just the sounds of Nature; rustling leaves from the light breeze and as tiny lizards run out of sight.

Crossroads indicate the trail across the mountain ridge round to Drignano or down towards Corniglia across to Manarola which I prefer as am more fond of coastal views. On the high trail between Corniglia and Manarola I meet lots of hikers since the coastal trail between Corniglia and Manarola is closed now more tourists are obliged to try the high trail.

It’s a great time of year as the vines have sprouted and the views over the famous terraced landscape are compelling. Besides a large part of the trail walks through the vineyards. A total immersion in an ancient farming method where vines are trellised over wire frames to protect them from the strong winds and allow more air circulation underneath to avoid mould from the humidity later in the season.

And of course the thousands of kilometers of drystone walls that make this area a Unesco World Heritage site and a twin site with the Great Wall of China! They say if you put all the drystone walls together they would be twice as long as the Great Wall…..but it’s a saying and I cannot guarantee that as fact.Vines on trellis

Little would most tourists realize how hard it is to maintain these terraces, cultivate these vineyards or even grape pick…..as our volunteers experienced at harvest time.Grape picking Cinque Terre

 

 

The trail leaves the vineyards in time for a coffee stop in the village of Volastra, perched high above the sea. This sweet semi circular village, immersed in olive groves features a lovely Romanesque church sitting on a shaded piazza with plenty of seats for hikers to have a break.Volastra church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vinew back to San Bernardino

From there it’s downhill all the way with breathtaking views along the coast till Manarola appears in view.

Blessed with sunshine on the descent  enhances the beauty of Manarola as I meander through gorgeous irises and wildflowers and am beckoned on by the aquamarine sea.

Manarola main streetAnd Manarola never disappoints, today the rough seas play on the rocks in the cove, the fishing boats are hauled up and tourists and locals enjoy the fabulous scenery. Manarola bay

Manarola, Cinque Terr


 

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Leonardo Da Vinci and the Battle of Anghiari

Since it is 500 years after the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, Italy is celebrating the anniversary with exhibitions, pageants, and local theatrical performances. The country is floooded with events and is encouraging all of us to explore new places and lesser known facts about Leonardo.Anghiari

Photo credit- Museo della Battaglia e di Anghiari.

 

I had taken up the opportunity to combine my love of hiking on an easy trail between Anghiari and Sansepolcro to follow the itinerary of the Florentine soldiers in the crucial Battle of Anghiari of 29 June, 1440. The Battle, played out on the plain between the two towns, was to be colorfully recounted by various local actors along the trail. Unfortunately the performance was cancelled due to stormy weather predictions.

However curiosity had got the better of me and I drove to Anghiari early morning well before the storm and spent a very pleasant few hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this beautiful medieval village. Along the way to set the mood I stopped at Ponte Buriano bridge to contemplate the scene with Da Vinci, since it is this bridge which features in the background of the Mona Lisa.

Garibaldi at AnghiariGaribaldi welcomed me into the historical centre of Anghiari, a popular statue in towns all over Italy. Shortly after I was to cross the moat, or where it was once, through the drawbridge gateway that protected it from foreign invaders.Anghiari Moat Gate

 

 

 

 

I had stepped back in time; winding alleyways, opened onto intimate piazzas, overlooked by medieval buildings now incorporated into Renaissance palaces. It was beautiful!

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Basta Pasta for a quick meal


Fresh pastaItalian pasta – thinking of what to cook for dinner, I had a craving for spaghetti! It crossed my mind how Italian I have become, as being an avid pasta eater my stomach was being selective about which pasta it was to be tonight.

Amazing how much there is to learn about such a simple fast food product, and I am certainly not an expert…..but love the stuff! I have my favorites and my special combo’s, trying to be faithful to the subtle rules about which pasta goes best with which sauce.  ie. short pasta with ridges holds the sauce better, smooth pasta is ideal for seafood sauces as the sauce wraps around it and concave, shell types hold nice chunkier sauces be it vegetable, meat or seafood.

Fresh, dry or filled pasta are a mainstay of an Italian diet, and please don’t blame the pasta if you are putting on weight, it’s more likely to be the sauce, if the volume of pasta is not overabundant. (The general principle suggests 80-100gm per person)

It was already in existence in Ancient Greek and Etruscan civilizations and first historical references to it are made by an Arab geographer in 1154 writing about “food of flour in the form of threads” he found in Sicily, well before Marco Polo returned from China (1294) with the Chinese version!

The Arabs initiated the treatment of drying the pasta, since their Nomad style of life did not allow for constant water supplies so they pierced the small dough cylinders in the middle to allow for rapid drying.

Later in Italy, the dry and windy climate of Liguria, Sicily and Campania favored the production of pasta, which for centuries was left to dry by simple exposure to air. And each region developed it’s own special pasta shapes best suited to the region’s food specialities, culture and traditions.Typical Tuscan pasta - Pici

Pici – large hand rolled spaghetti typical in Siena and Southern Tuscany. Commonly served ‘cacio e pepe’ – pecorino cheese and pepper  or ‘all’aglione’ – garlic tomato sauce.

Casarecce – short twisted rolls from Sicily that go well with Sicilian pesto, meat sauces or ‘alla Norma’ with eggplant, tomato and ricotta

Orecchiette PuglieseOrecchiette – concave little ears from Puglia and the Basilicata. Typically served with turnip tops ‘cime di rape’

Bucatini – big thick hollow spaghetti typical in the  Central regions of  Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche. ‘All’ Amatriciana’ is tomato sauce with a touch of hot pepper, and made in abundance as the fund raising dish for the earthquake victims of 2016  in Amatrice, Norcia, Cascia and surrounding areas.

Strozzapreti  typical in Emilia Romagna or known as Strangozzi in Umbria translates as ‘choke or strangle priests’!? As legends go ‘strozzapreti’ were prepared by housewives mainly as a gift for the village priest. They did it for their husbands of anti-clerical beliefs, who hoped the priest would choke themselves! A sweeter legend  says the pasta owes its name to its form, so particular, that it could strangle even the clergy, notorious for their over indulgences at the table!

Artisan dry pastaThese are only some of the lesser known shapes as most of the pasta sold is either, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or rigatoni. Whatever the shape, (I hear they are customizing and producing designer shape pasta with 3D printers now!) it is the major product associated with Italy, together with pizza.

More than half of the production is exported and has grown significantly – 1914 70,000 tons were exported mostly to USA, and figures in 2018 show export reaching 1.9m tons. Bear in mind that not all of that pasta is produced with Italian flour and if you check the label you will find a mix of Australian, Canadian, USA and some EU wheat in most pastas. They say the quality of imported wheat is higher than the Italian one and for this reason costs more. But if you want to support the Italian economy you can choose labels like Agnese or Voiello as they are using 100% Italian flour.

For what I had intended as a light blog on pasta has highlighted more information than I can account for here as I haven’t even touched on the fresh pastas, and the regional differences of the filled pastas. Next time….

Just remember to boil the water well, before you drop in the pasta and cook it till it is ‘al dente’ as that makes it easier to digest, apart from tasting better! And please no spoon and fork to eat those spaghetti strands, cover yourself well with a napkin and eat it with a fork only. It takes practice and be reassured that even the best of us spaghetti eaters rarely gets away without a flick or two on that special tie or dress!Tourist pasta

And please try to avoid buying the multi colored tourist pastas!

Buon appetito!

 

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Tuscan Spring(s)

It’s that gorgeous time of year when Nature bursts back to life and everything begins to sprout, infinite green on greens as if every plant wants to show off its uniqueness. There is no chance of ever getting tired of the Tuscan landscape and traveling around in the past weeks has been a delight.Tuscany in Spring

Even on just a short walk from home the surroundings are enticing as the vines begin a new season and the iris, the symbol of Florence since 1252, start popping up all over the place.
At San Polo in Chianti there is the Associazione Toscana Gaggiolo of over 200 farmers who continue the tradition of cultivation of the iris as its delicate essence, derived from the root, is used in the production of perfumes, creams and herbal medicines. In fact it was of great economic importance in Tuscany between the 1800’s and the last century, exporting the major part of the production to France.

Iris Garden Florence

photo credit Iris Garden association, Florence

While in Florence publicity is already up, reminding people to visit the Iris garden just below Piazzale Michelangelo “where you can admire over 1,500 varieties of iris from all over the world in full bloom.” Free entrance and opening for only a month from 25th April – 20th May.

Hot Springs San Giovanni TermeSpringtime is also another favorite time for me to visit the Hot Springs, for a relaxing day of total indulgence for body, mind and soul. Just driving through the rolling velvet hills of Southern Tuscany intermittently broken by the grey of ‘Le Crete’ clay pits is so pleasing to the eye. I must have seen it a thousand times, but every year it has the same uplifting effect. We are on our way to the San Giovanni Hot Springs in Rapolano Terme. It’s a glorious day of sunshine and going to be a pleasant 19 degrees and by the time we get there I am thinking I should have packed the sun cream!
Bathing in any of these Hot Spring establishments feels like living in the lap of luxury.

The Romans knew how to spoil themselves bathing in natural hot springs or their sophisticated bath houses progressing from the warm to hot, steamy room and cleansing off with a massage in the cool room. We like to keep that tradition going!

We pass through the relaxation area, specially signposted with no mobile phones allowed, thank goodness, and slip into the coolest pool. While being invitingly quiet we are View of Internal Hot poolsoon dripping our way up the stairs to soak in the warm pool. Delicious squelchy white mud coats the bottom of the pool, the sulfurous sediments from the Natural Spring. As the blurb goes we are sitting in water “rich in sulphur and calcium bicarbonate…to combat ailments relating to muscular and skeletal system and respiratory disorders…in up to 39 degree water”. So you can see why we are here to soothe our muscles, wash away our aches and pains and simply relax. As the day is so warm the indoor ‘hot pool’ is less inviting and besides the surrounding landscape too good to miss!

San Giovanni Terme Some time out on the lounge chairs and then as the sun starts to set we need to make a move for home. Reluctantly we drag ourselves out of the pool, comforted by the knowledge that we will be back again….and again!

So whatever you may be doing over Easter, I hope you all have fun and a relaxing time somewhere special. Buona Pasqua!Easter


 

 

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Cinque Terre is open for business

A combination of great Spring weather, putting the clocks back to Summertime and being the last weekend  in March could only mean one thing….the tourist season at Cinque Terre is open for business!

First ferry of the seasonI spotted the first ferry for the season somewhat sleepily slipping across a millpond sea from Riomaggiore on its way to Manarola. There was hardly a wisp of breeze and the warmth of the sun was just coming through. I could see it was already going to be a T-shirt day.

Work is still progressing on the coastal trail Corniglia-Vernazza with a new bridge built Cinque Terre trail Corniglia Vernazza in one of the worst landslide prone spots. It will allow space for slides to flow below it to the sea putting less stress on the steel barriers and the drystone walls either side. It’s a constant battle to find solutions so we hope this will be a successful one and completed quickly as the trail is still officially closed.

Bar Il Gabbiano coastal trail PrevoNot such a good sign for the Il Gabbiano bar already open at the halfway mark at Prevo and waiting on the stream of hikers that will eventually return when the maintenance work is done. An ideal spot to savour their fabulous refreshing juice of sweet lemon and orange, and enjoy a moment of relax in front of an awesome view.

Wildflowers peek from every nook and cranny, and wild garlic flowers create a lush carpet under the olives. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Vernazza, Cinque TerreBy the time I reach Vernazza it is basking in the sun and beckoning seductively. I can already anticipate the piazza covered in its fabulous multi-coloured umbrellas on tables, so typical of the village, welcoming tourists and locals alike to taste the specialities on offer. I am not disappointed and together with the fishing boats still parked in the main square the scene is very cheerful.Vernazza, Gianni Franzi restaurantCorniglia main square

The same is also the case at Corniglia as cafes and restaurants set up their outdoor areas in the main square, although daily tourists here are also less and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet. The view from behind the church to Manarola is captivating and often missed by tourists. St Peter’s cross made of local sandstone is dedicated to “all the men and women who, digging with their hands, reshaped a harsh, arduous territory, making it fertile and habitable.” 

As tourists begin to arrive for lunch I hike back up to my little retreat at San Bernardino. For the Cinque Terre another season has begun.View to San Bernardino


 

 

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Banksy in Florence

 

Banksy Love is in the air

Painted on the wall built to separate Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank

Banksy artworks exploded with abrasive truths in Florence’s elegant Medici Riccardi Palace, an early residence of the Medici family. Such a contrast to Banksy’s urban walls of London or crumbling war torn walls of Palestine and, as far as I know, we have no Banksy street art anywhere round town.  The exhibition has been a great success and in fact extended its closure by a month so we were fortunately still in time to see it.

The story of this artist is unique, his identity still unknown, at best thought to be English, Tiger Barcodeborn around 1973 and still continuing to surprise, shock and delight audiences with his predominantly stencil style artwork.

I read of his early installations, that brought Banksy to world attention -like ‘Turf War’ 2003 which included pigs painted in police colours, sheep painted in concentration camp stripes and a cow covered in images of Andy Warhol’s face. It created something of a furore as ‘animal activists chained themselves to the entrance and just prior to the opening Banksy had left a message to say there were 40 lousy bottles of red wine available but it was best if spectators brought their own’!

At ‘Barely Legal’ in 2006 he stunned audiences with his live painted elephant blending into the décor. A statement on world poverty….although “the meaning of the stunt appeared to be lost on some observers.” (BBC news comment)

We bounced from slogan to slogan:

amidst  satirical and brazen statements against authority :

Banksy’s monkey produced in 2002  ‘attests to the arrogance of humanity towards other Laugh Nowspecies’ and dare I twist that to be a relevant statement on our world of today! Grannies

 

 

 

 

And take a closer look at what his ‘Grannies’ are knitting!

There were also some of his more dramatic pieces as potent in their message today as when they were originally painted.Can't beat that feeling

Inspired by a famous photograph  during the Vietnam war of the 9yr old girl burnt by American napalm bombs running from her village. Banksy is showing ‘the contrast between reality and perception, how the US perceives itself and how it is perceived by others.’Banksy weston super mare

 

The elderly person unaware that death is so close in the form of a gigantic circular saw, is interpreted as Banksy’s unhappy childhood memories by the seaside or an invitation to make the most of every moment?

Other images less dramatic yet as powerful in their message and gathering some embarrassed laughs from the present audience. We were loving it and we had not come to the final shock…….

Girl with BalloonBanksy’s most popular work  ‘Girl with Balloon’  took pride of place, an image known to us all. Even recently it was used on a poster for Climate Change at last Fridays for Future march, the balloon substituted with mother earth. And I am sure Banksy would be supportive of the change.

But the final shock was still to come. We watched the video of ‘Girl with Balloon’ being auctioned at Sotheby’s for the grand price of £860,000 and were as staggered as those present to see it slowly shredded as soon as the Auctioneers hammer came down!

Banksy’s final word on capitalism? He is certainly determined to get his message across but the stunt seemingly backfired. The shredder got stuck and only half of the work was shredded and the Art world is now saying it is probably worth twice as much!?

His works are endless, stimulating, sensational and forever thought provoking, so if you would like to see more, check this video.

Banksy sloganBanksy

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Winter peace, Spring weather at Cinque Terre

View of Vernazza, Cinque Terre How I love this time of year at the Cinque Terre. The peace and quiet of the Winter, the striking colours of the villages against the clearest of skies and the bluest of seas. It does not get any better and a real enticement to be out there hiking around on old familiar trails.

And encouraged even more so by the unseasonal warm temperatures indicating an early Spring. The fruit trees are already in blossom as is the Mimosa wattle so sought after for International Women’s Day.View to Monterosso from San Bernardino

My hike began from San Bernardino with a view towards Monterosso in the distance  Defibrillator along the trailacross terraced vineyards. Who could get ever get tired of this view, Nature at its best, coming out of hibernation.

This year, thanks to the National Park, Vernazza Council and two local non profit organisations, we have defibrillators in various strategic points in the villages and even along the coastal trail at the halfway point of Prevo. A great idea since many tourists start the trail, often not realising that it can be quite strenuous, especially in the Summer heat. The National Park has also just introduced a fine on anyone wearing thongs/flip flops on the trails as it is an expensive and time consuming business to rescue injured people from the trail, often requiring a helicopter.

Trail landslideBut today the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia was quiet as it is still under maintenance as more dry stone walls have crumbled during the Winter. It is a never ending battle in this fragile territory and hurts just to see the devastation, be it small or large. Memories of the 2011 landslides during the flood never go away.

Olive nets glistened between the trees stretched out until next Winter, lemon trees were heavily laden with fruit and wildflowers were squeezing out of every nook and cranny under a splendid sun.

The fishing boats are still parked in the main square of Vernazza, safe from any stormy seas, creating a postcard image across to the Church, and a few locals are sitting chatting in the sunshine.

Corniglia is even quieter, and without tourists the souvenir shops are closed and only Corniglia main squarethe local café and delicatessen are open for essential local needs. But it still has a good feel about, very homey, as if everyone is resting before the tourist crowds swarm in at Easter. And not everyone is resting, as it’s time to prune the vines, repaint the facades, and clean out the cellars, in preparation for the new season. Everything has a quiet order to it, and a comforting security of belonging to a culture where some things just never change!

And this year I have decided to rent out ‘A little piece of paradise” at San Bernardino so I can welcome tourists to my little village away from the crowds. So keep that in mind if you are coming over to the Cinque Terre and take a look at the link here.


 

 

 

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Wine tourism in Victoria

Baileys wineryIt’s always such a delight for me to visit the various wineries on my travels around Victoria, from those along the Mornington peninsula like Red Hill Estate, Wolseley winery near Torquay, Gapsted wines on our way home from Falls Creek and Seppelt at the end of our Silo tour. I admit I am not a great wine connoisseur, as I only drink bubbles or white wine yet adore the lay back atmosphere over a light food platter or even get my dancing shoes when there’s music. Wine tourism is the norm at most Australian wineries, offering tastings, cellar tours, delicious lunches and special cultural events. In Italy unfortunately this is not the case, and only the big,important wineries offer such attractions and others by appointment only. So I was ready to take up every opportunity on my travels around. These are just a few examples.

On the way to Falls Creek we ventured into Ned Kelly territory at Glenrowan to stop for lunch at a little family run winery known as Baileys. While specialising in fortified wines, they still had a great selection of light refreshing white and red wines to compliment great dips, cheeses and pizza, in a pretty courtyard garden  setting with a view across the vineyards.

On the way back from Falls Creek we travelled through the old Tobacco growing area with the curing kilns still dotting the countryside, but in disuse as wine production has now taken over. Since I live not from a tobacco growing area on the Tuscan/Umbrian border I was interested in learning of its historical development here in the Wangaratta King Valley area.tobacco kilns

Production began in the 1850’s by Chinese, Americans and Europeans lured to the area by the Gold Rush. In 1917 the introduction of the ‘modern’ kiln for curing the tobacco leaf in an enclosed structure contributed significantly to the boom of tobacco production. Soon after the Italians arrived in the area and by the 1960’s were the major growers – 793 of 1025 growers. Various dramatic climatic conditions – heavy frosts and floods seriously decreased production over the years and it eventually it became too expensive in comparison to other producers like Brazil, China, India and East Africa.
Wineries began to take shape in the area in the 1980’s and ‘90’s as the area was recognized for its ideal cool climate, high rainfall, abundant fresh clean water and ‘buffalo breeze’ that provides natures air conditioning in the hot Summer months.

Gapsted winery entrance1996 Gapsted winery was founded by 7 families, two of whom are Italian, producing aromatic white wines, elegant, complex reds and lovely sparkling wines….how could I go past their Tobacco Road prosecco!? Gapste Tobacco Road prosecco

The winery is very enticing both inside and out, offering special events with live music, theatre and even guest chef appearance of Italian Stefano Manfredi. You just can’t get away from Italians!
We were there at the Big Shed sale and I can only say I have never seen a Shed so HUGE and bulging at the seams with wine bargains. The parking area expects sophisticated clients as they have two Tesla charging connectors!?Gapsted winery

Instead on our return from the silo visit we explored the historic winery of Seppelt. We have all grown up with, and am sure celebrated special occasions with many a bottle of Seppelt Great Western. On our tour of this historic winery we were almost shocked to discover it is no longer producing, having changed management and mergers, although our guide was hopeful about its return to production on site in the near future.

The Great Western winery was founded by Joseph Best in 1865. He commissioned local gold miners to tunnel the underground cellars that became known as ‘The Drives’ (over 3 kms, making them the longest in the Southern hemisphere). The winery was later purchased by Ballarat businessman Hans Irvine, who began the tradition of Seppelt Sparkling wines in 1890 when he employed Frenchman Charles Pierlot from Champagne to commence Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in Australia, that became legendary.”

Above ground boasts manicured gardens and historic Cottages, including the original cottage of founder John Best, all currently available to rent. Our guide was passionate about the winery, having worked there for over 40 years, and the tour full of fascinating information as well as many anecdotal stories.

Back closer to Melbourne, Wolseley winery near Torquay is always a favourite for me, as Will, the owner, organises live music on Sunday afternoons through the Spring/Summer months. A mix of rockabilly, jazz, blues and foot tapping stuff. Very lay back and no sophistication in front of the tin shed housing the band, yet good pizza and wine flows all afternoon. Check the website to get a feel of the ambience.

And while visiting friends on the Mornington peninsula, there is an embarrassing number of wineries in the Red Hill area that need little presentation. We were driving on one of those scorching hot days where even I dreamed of air conditioning in a beautiful setting. How could we go past the view of the bay at the Red Hill Estate winery, exquisite food and delicious wines.Red Hill Estate

Wine tourism is a great way to see the Australian countryside as well as pass some very relaxing hours over a glass or two. I miss the good life that Australia has to offer but know I will be back to explore new Decor Red Hillwineries and new places next time.                    In the meantime I will drown my sorrows with a lustrous spritz and/or bubbly prosecco as I pour over my thousand photos!

 

 

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The Silent tales on silos

Silos in VicWhile I am back to the cold Winter of Italy now, and welcomed back with a dose of flu, my memories of a superb Aussie trip remain vivid. I have been submersed in the endless Australian outback for most of January; experiencing its wildness, drooping under its heat, forever stimulated by its quirky elements, blown away by its beauty and entranced by the monotonous countryside that make it so typically “Aussie”.

Having read about the relatively new development of painted silos we were on a mission to explore these unique artistic sites along the Art Silo trail. We drove more than four hours from Melbourne through miles and miles of dry wheat lands, dotted sparsely with gum trees that offered little shade to the occasional herds of sheep seeking shelter from the harsh sun. We had come all this way, lured by the tales of the  wheat silos now boasting magnificent murales spread over 200 kms in 6 locations by 6 different artists. We were on the lookout for silos looming 30m tall mostly built around the 1930’s and now no longer used for storage for transport by rail. Lured also by such fanciful Aussie place names with Aboriginal heritage like Patchewollock,  – ‘putje’ meaning plenty and ‘wallah‘ meaning porcupine grass, Rupanyup meaning ‘branch hanging over water’, Brim signifying ‘spring of water’Patchewollock General Store

Patchewollock was to be the start of our Silo trail and having seen the relative remoteness of the town and its limited services we opted for the charm of an old weatherboard church converted into a B&B at the nearby town of Sea Lake – probably taking its name from the salty Lake Tyrrell, a desolate mirage of a Lake!

Patchewollock Art SiloOur first silo was painted by a Brisbane artist Fintan Magee in Oct 2016 and depicted a local farmer ‘Noodle Hulland‘ seemingly chosen for his slim build appropriate to the narrow silo and with such a classic farmer look. The striking blue of his shirt and jeans sitting so comfortably against the crystal blue sky.Preparation Patchewollock

 

 

 

 

Our next meeting with local characters – Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, was at Lascelles silo. The faces of the couple appear like enormous photographs, homage to a proud couple whose families have farmed the area for four generations. Painted by Melbourne artist Rone.

While these grain silos are now closed, in the past they were a place for the farming communities to come together during harvest, exchange news and stories and re-connect with old friends while the grain was loaded. Strengthening community ties just like Italians do at grape or olive harvests. To now see these people captured for real for all the world to see, must be a point of enormous pride, a great tribute to the farming community.

Rosebery SiloAnd we were still only at the beginning, our next Silo was at Rosebery by artist Kaff-eine. Highlighting the young female sheep farmers now so much a part of the local farming scene alongside the more traditional stockman image. Look closely and you will see me  propped between the silos to give an idea of the scale of these monsters. The video clip below shows the small community of Rosebery and what this Wimmera Mallee region is all about.

 

 

Moving on to Brim where the whole movement began in 2016 with the first mural by Guido Van Helten. A quartet of multi generational male and female farmers.Brim Silo

As the blazing sunshine  and cloudless sky continued we ventured on to the Sheep Hills silo depicting Aboriginals from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, painted by local Mebourne artist Adnate.

And finally our last Silo at Rupanyup painted by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This time featuring two local teenagers dressed in their sports gear – Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidmann. They will certainly have something to show their children when they grow up!

In between these Silos we found many still waiting on their murals, so there are sure to be more in the future as well as across the other States which have already taken on Mallee Fowl sculpturesboard the same idea. The experience for us has been  awesome and a real eye opener on life in this wheat farming area, where hearts and souls are as big and hard working as the Silos themselves. And it’s not only the Silos that are enormous, even the Mallee fowl get pretty huge!

It’s time for us to drive into our evening stay at the Horsham caravan park to relax after the gruelling heat of the day.The sunset over the river a perfect end to a superb day on the Art Silo Trail.


Silo map with Sea Lake


 

 

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