From rags to riches – Matera

Matera cave dwellingWho would have believed that the squalid damp cave dwellings of the past would make Matera a major tourist attraction, a Unesco World Heritage site (1993) and even more than that, the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Major restoration work is underway and as the EU indicates “the experience is an excellent opportunity to regenerate the city and breathe new life into the city’s culture and boost tourism.

Matera is tucked away in the corner of the little known region of Basilicata next to Puglia, so for us it was an easy 2hr drive across from our ‘trullo’ in Puglia. I had heard about these cave dwellings for years and the extraordinary beauty of the place through the Women’s Fiction Festival held for the past 12 years and from my artist friend Enrico Paolucci after his exhibition there in 2006.

Eager to understand more about the history of this amazing place I booked a Matera view of cave dwellingsfantastic local guide, Marta, who lead us through the Baroque Upper town to the panoramic site overlooking ‘i sassi’. The view was spectacular, an expanse of buildings crammed on top of each other in a maze of little alleyways and we were yet to appreciate that they were in fact built into the rocks.

Marta explained the ancient beginnings, from the 6th century BC through the middle ages when each civilisation, and monastic orders from Benedictine to Byzantine built on the past using the natural rock caves as early lodgings, stables, cellars later carving out churches, chapels and convents. By the 1800’s most of the cave areas were only used as stables or deposits and better accommodation was built above ground. In that period Matera held a certain prestige, being the Capital of the Province from the late 1600’s till 1806.

But with the removal of the Capital to Potenza  and recurrent agricultural crisis the city slid into a long period of decay. The degradation was so serious that the poorest of the population were forced to use the caves as dwellings, accommodating both families and their animals until 1952. On our tour with Marta we were taken into one of these dank dark cave houses, hardly able to imagine the sufferance these families had experienced in such cramped unhygienic conditions.

Life was hard and depended on communal living as testify the communal oven that baked the enormous weekly loaf that is still baked to this day.

It was not until the 1950’s that the Government decided to move the 15,000 families to new residential quarters, not an easy task and despite associated criticisms and delays over the new housing the families were relocated. The area of ‘i sassi’ remained abandoned until the 1980’s when new funds were made available for the recuperation of this ancient site. Now the properties can be leased for 99years and the city has seen a boom in tourism ever since. Some of the ancient cave dwellings are even available for rent on Airbnb with a decidedly improved look, although they still retain the physical aspects of the past, with  rarely more than one window and/or entrance so definitely not appropriate for anyone with claustrophobia!

Wandering the alleyways and hearing the history and developments of the place was fascinating, visiting the ancient Rupestrian church had me spellbound. The squalor of the past was now an inviting stone paved road to alleyways lined with creamy architecture cut into and over the rock. The Stone Age’ restaurant tempts us with “panzarotti fritti’ (typical half moon pasta fried and filled with delicious mozzarella) and fresh pomegranate juice but we continue the tour

The upper town is beautifully Baroque in style, reminiscent of our time in Lecce.

Concave churches, and as many cherubs and menacing skeletons decorating the Matera city cisternfacades, together with mega cisterns still visitable below street level. There was hardly time to explore it all, an absolutely fascinating city that will merit its title of European Capital of Culture.

How could we go past lunching in one of the cave dwellings – the ‘Soul Kitchen’,  highly entertained by the waiters, and delicious local dishes. The pistachio semifreddo was out of this world!Pisatchio semifreddo - Soul KitchenMatera cave restaurant

 

 

 

 

With tummies full and the threat of rain we headed back to our trullo, knowing full well that I will be back again, sooner or later, to explore in depth ‘i sassi’ of Matera, as well as the extensive list of places that Marta had suggested to visit next time in the Basilicata region.Matra Rupestrian church


 

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In the heel of Italy – Puglia

Lecce entrance to cathedral squarePuglia -Travelling in the ‘heel’ of Italy, amidst countless olive groves, cruising the coastline through picturesque beach resorts, an explosion of white and blue light ending with a mellow glow of our graceful Baroque base in Lecce.

Polignano a Mare

Quite a Greek feel to so many places which is not unexpected since Greeks settled along the Ionian coast as early as the 8th Century BC.

 

 

Our first step into paradise is at Polignano a Mare, caressed to the sounds of “Volare oh oh, cantare oh oh oh oh” playing from a restaurant as we wandered the shimmering limestone pathways. The village perched precariously on the cliffs protects a beautiful cove with only a handful of swimmers considering the time of year. On Domenico Modugno statuethe opposite side a very appropriate statue to Domenico Modugno, author of “Volare” since it was his hometown.

 

Our first taste of delicious seafood and vegetarian specialities – puree of broad beans with chicory. The beauty of the place enticed us back for a second visit and swim and local buskers entertained us with a different rhythm of drum and violoncello.

Ostuni, known as ‘the white city’, for its whitewashed medieval centre, a practice begunOstuni main square to disinfect the poorer residential area during the period of the plague as well as a means to lightening the labyrinth of alleyways and stepped passages. The only buildings not white are the palatial dwellings now government buildings or churches. Blue skies enhance the contrast.

The view from Ostuni across 19million!! monumental olives to the coast is outstanding and we secular Olives Pugliacannot resist the temptation to see them close-up. Puglia has 60 million olives planted centuries ago and still going strong, 14 times the population of the region. Producing a range of  eating olives and extra virgin oil.

Villanova Puglia

 

Our day ends at the sleepy port and fishing village of Villanova with its XVI century Castle still guarding the entrance.

 

 

Lecce, ‘the Florence of the South’, left us spellbound as we rounded the corner into the Cathedral square after dark and met this splendour.

The city is a riot of cherubs, ornate balconies of strange beasts and decorative facades, a Baroque masterpiece in local stone to rival Noto in Sicily.

A couple of days exploring Lecce‘s parade of ‘putti’ (cherubs) and savouring it’s local delicacies of tarallini, burrata mozzarella and orecchiette pasta with turnip tops finishing with the most fabulous gelati from the famous Gelateria Natale. With over 45 flavours it’s a difficult choice!

We head towards the very tip of the heel at Santa Maria  di Leuca with a stop at Otranto, yet another paradise coastal resort, winding it’s way down from the Aragonese castle, laneways lined with tourist shops, and tempting restaurants and bars.

But we are not to be dissuaded from our project of arriving at the furthest point of Italy, and drive through endless fields of olive groves bordered by miles of dry stone walls, to the picturesque coastal road. On arrival hardly a tourist in sight and for the few that are about the owner of the ‘Sea Wolf’ restaurant commandeers us all with the promise of “if you are unhappy with what you eat, you don’t have to pay!” This would seem unlikely as he proudly boasts he has been in the business for 50 years! And we are not disappointed as we feed on the local fish of the day with a chilled glass of wine.

The day ends with a quick swim near Gallipoli in crystal clear water with a view of the city from the bay. The old town centre sits on a tiny island connected to the mainland by a 17th century bridge that ends at the fish market.

A robust fortress dominates, confirming the city’s strategic importance from the past Gallipoli seafronthaving been sacked by just about everyone – Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans to Bourbons! A pleasant stroll around its walls and a wander in the main street again past Baroque churches and aristocratic palaces.

It’s time to head home and while there are still so many places to discover in Puglia, this first trip has certainly been a delight and I will definitely be back….sooner or later!Martina Franca

Puglia map

 

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Trulli amazing Puglia!

Trulli PugliaNothing like the excuse of having my Aussie family over on a visit to explore a new region of Italy – Puglia….and it was ‘trulli’ amazing! The grey tiled cones dot the landscape, in the Itria valley, amidst fields of monumental olive groves and farm plantations just like the gilded Buddhist temples dot the countryside in Myanmar.

Our trullo in PugliaI had been dreaming for years of staying in one of these quaint conical roofed houses, and my choice of trullo turned out to be ideal!

Our 2 domed trullo sat in a cluster of trulli, under renovation and still to be renovated, next to historic olive trees, vegetable gardens, and a pig family of three.Our neighbours

 

 

 

 

The owner Gianvito, a super hospitable local with an enormous smile and a twinkle in his eye, proudly introduced us to his family’s trullo where his grandfather used to keep farming equipment and which he had renovated into a charming 2 bedroom residence. Every detail reflected his passion for his local culture – old stable doors as bedroom doors, together with a unique architectural panache – old pieces of ceramics decorated the shower recess like ancient mosaics and a pasta colander as a light shade!

 

He told us the original conical rooms were from the 1500’s and the square addition, that now housed the second bedroom and kitchen, was built a century later. With the continuing Indian Summer weather we could not have chosen a better time to savour our trullo experience. The thick stone walls act as a natural insulation against the cold or heat outside and strengthen the structure to hold the domes.

View of AlberobelloTo get an overdose of trulli we drove to the nearby town of Alberobello where thousands of trulli make up almost the entire town. The history of the town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is as curious as its picturesque trulli since they were originally built as a tax dodge!

The land had been given to Count Conversano for his services in the crusades so he moved his entire settlement, cultivating the land and clearing the woodlands. However the King of Naples had imposed taxes on new settlements so simple dwellings of dry stone walls with conical roofs were constructed, as they could be dismantled in a hurry! It was not until 1797 that Alberobello was given a permanent town status.

Considering the thousands of trulli present in Alberobello, I hate to think of the enormous mountain of rubble it would have created if dismantled, let alone the chore of reconstruction! For us it was a magic exploration of a village, hobbit like in size and nature, attractive and proud with its whitewashed houses and glistening limestone pathways that wind and bend around souvenir shops, enticing local food delicatessens and buzzing restaurants.

Each spire on the dome a status symbol, demonstrating the builder’s skill and the spending power of the owner. Many of the roofs have painted symbols which may have linked to superstitions of the past, although the whitewashed heart featured in many postcards suggests a more touristy symbol.Alberobello Cathedral, Puglia

The major attraction is obviously the trulli although Alberobello‘s baroque Cathedral also warrants consideration.

And if you can’t stay in a trullo you can always buy one to take home!Puglia trulli souvenirs

 

 

 

 

But Puglia is not just about trulli and as we toured from Bari to the tip of the heel and back we discovered more splendours….to appear in another post


 

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An unbelievable gem -Civita di Bagnoregio

On the walkway to Civita di BagnoregioJust over the border of Tuscany and close to Orvieto in the region of Lazio is the delightful gem of Civita di Bagnoregio. Sitting on a peak in the midst of a vast canyon connected  to the town of Bagnoregio by an alluring footbridge on concrete pylons. The old donkey path leading up to the village has eroded away and the ticket office entry already signifies an access into a timeless world.

Even though busloads of tourists have discovered this gem, there is a quiet awe as we make our way closer to the ancient arch entrance where millions have passed through over the centuriesEntrance to Civita di Bagnoregio.

Only 6 permanent residents enjoy their isolation all year long, keeping company with the tourists who come to stay over. Every corner, laneway, and footpath is a picture postcard. Capers ooze from the medieval walls, basking in the sun together with potted geraniums and creeping ivy that cover many abandoned buildings. Restaurants, deli’s and souvenir shops hide discreetly in every nook and cranny to not disturb the charm, and the locals are proud to talk about the heritage.

Inhabited since Etruscan times the porous rock on which it stands is home to ancient cellars, one now turned into a Museum and used as a bomb shelter during WW11. The main square boasts a lovely church with a simple façade and bell tower now strapped up after the earthquake of October 2016,  a place to sit and watch the flow of people traffic. A local confides that the pillars in front are from the ancient Roman temple and that I should come back for the  ‘wild donkey race’ which is a great laugh as the stubborn animals often baulk and resist and take their time to complete the piazza circuit.

Civita di BagnoregioA Renaissance palace at the entrance is deceiving and needs a second look,  as two thirds of the building remain intact while the rest has crumbled away leaving a window and door entrance into nowhere. Landslides remain a constant threat. Some ‘For Sale’ signs are visible while abandoned ruins have been tidied up and enclosed to not diminish the attractiveness of this quaint place. The yellowish brown tufo blocks of the buildings remind me of Pienza since it is made from the same material although it would be half the size of Pienza.  A cheeky play on words advertises a local B&B – ‘Libera Mente’ meaning Free your mind or at your own discretion,  and with rooms facing the valley that will be assured.

valley viewThe views of the surrounding clay filled gully seen are breathtaking, with olives, vineyards and Mediterranean bushland clinging to the dramatic slopes. Every corner a photographers dream, when able to ‘photoshop‘ the tourists out!

 

Still Civita di Bagnoregio feels well-fortified against change, described by a local poet as ‘an island bravely poised in the middle of the air, on the top of a truncated cone above the immense abyss”.    How true!View of Civita di Bagnoregio

 

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The Castle- Vernazza

Vernazza Cinque TerreThe Castle….no not the famous one in Tullamarine, for those who may remember the movie but the landmark of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. This ancient Doria Castle has featured in millions of tourist photos as an icon of Vernazza, although not everyone takes the steep steps up to explore it fully. Vernazza Castle

 

Making the most out of a cloudy morning I climbed the narrow alleyways or ‘caruggi’ as they are known in dialect, to enjoy the breathtaking view from the Castle.

Tucked in a corner on the way was Susie Barrow’s Art gallery, an English artist who has been living in the area for the past 9 years, doing jewellery and ‘splashnflow’ watercolours.

Pirate of the pastI had visions of swashbuckling pirates plundering their way through the labyrinth of alleyways in search of treasures, or more likely, seizing men and women to use as enforced labour or to sell off as slaves. In fact they say the ‘caruggi’ were specifically built so narrow so no one could be surrounded by a group of sword thrusting bandits!

Historical documents date the Castle and its Tower to the 13th Century although it may be even older than that. Little remains of the Castle apart from the Tower, and during the Summer there is often an Art exhibition in one of the rooms below.

It is highly likely the castle, with its imposing tower, was built as part of the Vernazza system of fortifications commissioned by the Genovese during the early Middle Ages to defend itself against the raids of Muslim pirates from Andalusia or the Basque bandits from Southern France.

 

On climbing the narrow spiral stairs it’s easy to appreciate its defence quality for the commanding view of the coastline and  complete coverage of the village below.

Even during the Second World War, it was used as a defence base against Nazi attacks.

Today it is a peaceful spot to admire the stunning view and inhale the beauty of the surroundings of Vernazza and the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza wine poemAt the exit there is a sweet poem:

You don’t leave the Castle       without drinking our wine,          that’s called ‘Schiacchetra’           and which brings happiness

 

 

 


 

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Poetry, exotic wine and Bolgheri castle

Continuing our wine research takes us to the area of Bolgheri, sometimes described as the  ‘snobby area’ of Tuscan wine production since it has imported grape varieties from Bordeaux, France – cabernet sauvignon, merlot. Quite a change from the other famous Tuscan wines produced from San Giovese grapes – Brunello, Chianti, Vino Nobile.Bolgheri avenue of cypress

 

 

 

It’s a great day as we drive along the Tuscan coastline and surprisingly through ‘La California’ , not quite the California I was expecting, but an indicator that the turn off for Bolgheri is close by. It cannot be missed as it is flanked by over 2500 cypress trees for the entire 5km that lead to the enchanting hamlet of the Castle of Bolgheri. Rendered famous in the poem of Giosuè Carducci.

Bolgheri castleThe origins of Bolgheri Castle date back to 1500. Since then, it has been the property of the Counts of Gherardesca family. In the second half of the 1700s, restoration work and improvements were made to the building, and the cellars were built. In 1895, the castle’s façade was modified, with the construction of the tower and merlons as we still see them today. Bolgheri Castle and its surrounding lands were transferred by hereditary succession to the current family of the Counts Zileri Dal Verme.”

The grounds of the Castle boast wine and handcraft shops and cute Enoteca’s for a light snack or restaurants tucked inside the cool ancient walls offering welcome relief from the heat of the day.

Every nook and cranny has been tastefully refurbished to accommodate the flow of tourists, yet retain the contours of the Castle buildings and cellars.

Wine is everywhere and we head off to explore some of the local wineries and learn about the local production. Our first two attempts to visit were greeted with a rather cool reception and polite refusal at the gate intercom, either because they no longer open for public visits or only by prior appointment. We persist and fortunately find some very welcoming family run wineries keen to explain the development of Bolgheri wines.

Sassicaia winesIn the 1920s the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamt of creating a ‘thoroughbred’ wine and for him, as for all the aristocracy of the time, the ideal was Bordeaux. His great grandfather had experimented with these grape varieties in the Piedmont area and seeing the similarity of terrain in the area of Bolgheri Mario planted cabernet sauvignon and merlot on his property –Tenuto di San Guido. In 1930 he married Clarice della Gherardesca consolidating his wealth and interest in top quality horse breeding. Initially critics were not enthusiastic about the wine, being more accustomed to the lighter local wines, and  the vineyard did not release any wine commercially until 1968 – Bolgheri Sassicaia. Now the Sassicaia is ‘The’ wine of Bolgheri together with Bolgheri DOC where the grape varieties are not mentioned on the labels as the Terroir: the grape-growing conditions of the area, are considered more important.

As described by local experts : ‘The wines from this area are incredibly compact, dark and ruby red in color, which suggests great ageing potential. The heady bouquets are reminiscent of ripe berries, with hints of Mediterranean maquis (the main vegetation along the Mediterranean coastline) and spicy oak. They are characterized by their powerful structure, elegant poise and smooth, rounded natures. A sweetness of fruit on the palate is backed by layers of velvety tannins, a lively, fresh acidity and a long, lingering finish.’Bogheri winery

The area has other villages of interest like Castagneto Carducci, as well as a great stretch of sandy beaches, so something for everyone.Bolgheri souvenir

 

We finished the day with a glass of wine back in the square at Bolgheri noting some  words of wisdom on a shopping bag:

” We are all mortal until our first kiss and second glass of wine”


 

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Shooting the rapids on the Arno – Florence

Rafting on the Arno riverA couple of hours late afternoon ‘soft’ Rafting the Arno River in Florence sounded super inviting with the heatwave we have been experiencing. Combined with the fact that it would be an historical tour of the old Mills and Wool factories that had thrived for centuries on its shores, made it even more enticing. The organisers were keen to reassure clients that it would be ‘soft’, nothing strenuous and little chance we would finish in the River, although a second pair of shoes could be handy! I had visions of shooting the rapids over the weir breaks and quite hoping for an adrenaline rush of ‘hard rafting’ and ready for the big splash.

T-Rafting organized the event and we were lucky to have both guides , Enrico and Sebastian – expert rafters, kayakers, and lifeguards with an impressive list of skills from rescue technicians to teachers of freshwater ecology and river restoration. So we were in for a real treat.

A brief explanation of what was in store and life jackets for us all as well as the waterproof bin for all our personal things so nothing could get wet. I was already getting excited….Down to the riverside and into the rubber dingy, paddles for everyone and we were ready. “Let’s try to synchronise paddles….go…go…go” was the instruction and while there were only 6 of us I could see we would not be winning any medals for our coordination. Fortunately Sebastian steered our way out of trouble as we may have gone round in circles and never left home base!?!

Rafting on footAs we drew closer to our first ‘rapid’  and old Mill I began to understand the meaning of  ‘soft‘, as in the current heatwave and drought, the level of the River is far too low to cruise across the weir breaks. “Everybody out!” My dream was crushed and my feet wet!

Still we could at least climb the steps up to the Old converted Mill, now a sweet Bed & Breakfast, and realise the importance of the Mills and later the Medieval Wool factories – Le Gualchiere, strategically placed along the Arno’s banks.

The Arno had been essential for transporting goods, like wood from Casentino to build the Cathedral and Palaces, with navigation possible, at least in the winter months, all the way to Pisa and Livorno. Enrico delighted in relating the old latin expression still used in Florence ‘a ufo’ meaning free/gratis as A.U.F.O ( ad usum Florentinae  Operae) was stamped onto the beams to be used in the Church as they were allowed through ‘duty free’!

I love these quaint tales and connections to historic details which over time get lost and no one really remembers the origins.

Trusty Guides working hard

Our trusty guides worked hard hauling the dinghy across the various weirs and then it was back to rowing, one.. two…three…. each to our own beat but at least we went forward! We passed more mills and wool factories now converted to hotels or divided into apartments or more unfortunately abandoned.

 

Wool was traded from all over Europe to be ‘worked‘ in Florence in the medieval factories harnessing the hydraulic energy of the river. The most prized being English wool for its long fibres that were cleaned and combed, entwined and then pressed with the enormous wooden hammers powered by the river, belting this woollen fabric to make it tough, waterproof  and sought after by the wealthy far and wide. A tough smelly job, the continual noisy banging, and damp and dirty amid lime and urine used for cleaning and vegetal products for colouring.

I was so fascinated by the Wool fabrication that on hearing there was to be a theatrical performance at one of the largest Wool factories, ‘Le Gualchiere di Remole’ my name was first on the list for a ticket. A video in Italian here gives an idea of the process.

Medieval Wool factoryBuilt in the 14th century, now unfortunately abandoned and in ruins after centuries of production of these fabulous ‘blanket-style’ mantels. The ghosts of the Gualchiere recounted their lives, their loves, their hopes and dreams, and their sufferings as  workers in the factory. The terrible floods – 1333, 1547, 1740…..Ghost of the wool factory

My vision of the Arno River and Rafting in Florence had certainly changed after these experiences, while my appetite for ‘real rapids’ remain and Enrico and Sebastian have left me with an open invite for one of their many rafting experiences on www.t-rafting.com. 

Check them out: White water Red wine rafting, Sieve Bridges and Tortelli Rafting, Florence Ponte Vecchio Rafting with an aperitif at sunset,….. to name just a few!

 

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A knight’s legend – San Galgano

Vineyards and Olive Groves in MaremmaOn a return trip from the wineries in the Southern area of Tuscany realized we would be passing by a place of legends – San Galgano. It has been years since I had been here and it conjured up images of the Kingdom of Camelot: King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Why?

…..Because San Galgano houses the sword in the rock!

Reaching the Abbey at sundown only to see the heavy wooden doors close on a private wedding party inside, and no positive response to our pleas of “We came all the way from Australia to see this! was disappointing. Although the custodian did suggest we hurry as we would still be in time to see the sword in the stone at the hermitage above.

Still the Abbey, built between 1218 and 1288 by Cistercian monks, is impressive from the outside, sitting proudly in the middle of nowhere. And a sneak peek through the side bars gave just a glimpse of its ancient grandeur. Cypress trees line the entrance and despite it being without a roof, it looks in great condition and not surprising a bride would like to celebrate in its evocative ambience.San Galgano Abbey

The Monks abandoned the Abbey in the 15th century, retiring to Siena after years of famine and plague and it has since been deconsecrated.

 

Hermiatge of Montesiepi

On the hill nearby is the Hermitage of Montesiepi, with a small circular chapel which houses the sword in the stone of San Galgano. As the legend goes he was a young knight from Siena born in 1147 who had a vision whereby the Archangel Michael convinced him to give up his life of war and violence and pursue the divine wish of God. Sometime after the vision riding through the woods his horse stopped and refused to proceed and Galgano recognized the hill of Montesiepi to be that of his vision. At that point he drove his sword deeply into the stone, gave up all his earthly possessions and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit at Montesiepi. He died a year later at the age of 33 and was made a Saint 4 years later in 1185.

Carbon-dating by the University of Padua in 2001, has revealed the sword to be from that period and confirmed that the two mummified hands in the same chapel were also from the 12th century. Legend has it that anyone who tried to remove the sword had their arms ripped out!

Perhaps Italy is still waiting for a wise ruler, like King Arthur, to pull the sword from the rock at San Galgano …or our current unwise rulers to try anyway and get their just dessert?!Map of San Galgano


 

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Cruising in Corniglia – Cinque Terre

Crusie ship La SpeziaAs I drove through La Spezia, the city on route to the Cinque Terre, I caught sight of the cruise shop docked and my heart sank. Worse still when I heard there were 2 cruise ships in the following day!

This is now a regular pattern but I am slowly developing a rejection of the crowds, the invasion into my space and the deterioration of the villages as they become submersed by the masses. The season is in full swing.View of Corniglia and Manarola

Looking down on it all from my hideaway haunt, does not make it any easier as my village is so quiet and peaceful that I could spend all day just savouring the breathtaking view.

But the warm weather and the idea of a first swim enticed me out of my laziness to walk the trail down to Corniglia in the hope the masses had not yet discovered the quiet Marina of Corniglia. Or at least if they had, most would be put off by the 380 steps down to it, so it should be a safe bet. In fact I was not disappointed.

On the way down my favourite Enoteca was waking up tourists with a coffee reminding them to log out of Wifi and tune into Nature.

Others were having breakfast in the shade in the Main piazza while some were already into their first gelati for the day. The local gelataria boasts a new flavour of basil and lemon which is very refreshing.

Morning at Corniglia MarinaBut I was on a mission down to the Marina, to find a space and indulge for the day. The place was a hive of activity as locals were returning from early morning fishing trips, one man empty handed and grumbling when he saw the first teenager pull out 4 tuna fish and a satisfied grin. Quickly followed up by 3 youngsters throwing their catch of 15 tuna onto the quay with even more satisfied grins and chests puffed out, ready to brag about their morning catch. Posing for photos was obligatory as they boasted how they couldn’t get the rod back in fast enough….an impressive loot!

Fun for us all to hear the details of the catch and watch as the boys diligently gutted Tuna catch of the dayand cleaned their fish, boat and gear and took their haul up to the village to be shared amongst family and friends. I could not have wished for a more local atmosphere.

Some tourists joined us later in the day but their was space for all and  as the sun warmed our bodies the tempting water lured us in. The boys returned to climb the rock face leaping recklessly into the deep Tarzan style, while the rest of us bobbed about in crystal clear water, lulled occasionally by waves from the passing ferries.

After a satisfying first, second and third swim between tanning on the quay, I packed Corniglia Main streetup my gear and hiked up the 380 steps ( ufff ), dreaming of a basil and lemon gelati to keep me going on the trail home. On passing through the village I thought this is definitely going to be my prime spot this Summer. It still has a local feel, is not as overrun by the masses and has some creative handcraft souvenir shops if ever in need of a little gift. Corniglia souvenir shop

 

 

 

The most is made out of every spare inch of space, and the apparent shambolic décor of even the new cafes has its own attractiveness.

I will be back and besides there’s no bunnies in Corniglia!

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De-Tours in Tuscany and Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, MonterossoAs the Garden tour in Southern Italy never ran this Spring, I was rather disappointed and thought there is nothing for it but to go out and find additional work to my day tours in the Cinque Terre. So after my wonderful trip in Cuba I revamped my CV, scouted the list of jobs and sent off various applications.

A whole new world opened up again: new trends, novel ideas, and varied responses, from “awesome….but over experienced, …. consider your application and contact you,” together with no reply and two interviews! Which in the end I thought was pretty good going, in a climate of heavy competition and economic pressures.

The new trends seem to be “Food guides” or anything to do with food. Day tours, in Florence, taking tourists for tastings at the market and local delicatessens, providing them with a real Tuscan insight on the local specialities. Maybe they found out I am vegetarian… as I didn’t get an interview even though I was sure I could win hands down talking about Tuscan food despite not eating all of it!

No interview either for the day tours in the fabulous 500 Fiat ‘bambino’ as the tour guide was required to have mechanical experience and to know how to double clutch. Double clutching I was sure I could manage but had to admit I wasn’t sure if the engine was in the back or the front, let alone fix it if we broke down on a country road!

A friend and long standing lover of Florence, Penny Howard, has been doing special tours/workshops and kindly offered to promote my day tours in the Cinque Terre so I now feature on her website: Beyond the Yalla dog. She does some very interesting workshops with local experts – on fresco painting, mask making as well as beautiful day trips to gardens and villas like La Foce. So check out her website and get in touch if you are interested in any of her activities. Thanks again Penny!

Tourist Eco cartI did get an interview for driving tourists around the centre of Florence in an electric golf buggy, but fortunately declined as the pay was a pittance and with the crowds in the city these days I thought I could be ‘dangerous’! Worse still they were keen to Florence rickshawsencourage the 6 of us to drive their newly acquired rickshaws – power assisted bicycles – where I thought I would be even ‘more dangerous’ and potential tourists would take one look at me and think ‘she won’t get us very far!” So no go.

Finally I fell across a new Aussie/Italian tour agency called Tuscany Untouched who are offering day tours, weekly tours and customized tours with the slogan “Live like a local, with a local” So here I am, their new ‘local’, taking day tours and potentially weekly tours when Matteo is not available. So spread the word as we are both looking forward to a busy season ahead and you know how much I like working with tourists.

My first tour was to the Natural hot Springs at Bagni San Filippo in the gorgeous area of Val d’Orcia, near Pienza. A truly relaxing day for all of us.

Contact me directly especially if you or friends are interested in a tour in the Cinque   Terre or fill out Tuscany Untouched booking form for anything that takes your fancy or you would like us to develop for you.


 

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