The Castle

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Historical documents date the Castle and its Tower to the 13th Century although it may be even older than that.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 abbandoned 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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The unexplored treasures of Casentino in Tuscany

Porciano CastleThe area of Casentino in Tuscany is rarely explored by tourists, yet it is home to ancient monasteries and parish churches, centuries old forests,  medieval castles and traditional handicrafts. A place where Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language, found refuge after his exile from Florence, and the birthplace of Michelangelo.

The valley was once a prehistoric lake as fossil traces have shown, later home to the Etruscans and if you look into the Arno river as it flows under the Ponte Vecchio you will see a part of Casentino float by as the Arno originates on Mount Falterona.

And its not the only thing in Florence that comes from the Casentino area – as the beams inside Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Cathedral come from the forest cultivated by the monks of Camaldoli, floated down on the Arno River.

Castle at PoppiThe place is full of legends and plots against the Florentines, mostly organized by the Count Guidi family who had castles not only throughout Casentino but all the way to Northern Italy. Legend has it that they could get a message from their Castle in Poppi to the border of France in less than 8 hours using a system of flames and mirrors from tower to tower.Poppi- Castello di Conti Guidi

 

 

 

At their Castle di Romena the Guidi family hired Maestro Adamo to make counterfeit florins with the idea of flooding the market with inferior coins bringing the ruling Florentine families to their knees. But the Florentines found out and Adamo was burnt at the stake while the Guidi’s got off scot free! They were known as a blood thirsty lot, which their nicknames indicated – Guido Guerra ( the war maker), Guido Bevesangue (the blood drinker), and housed Dante at the Castle for a period of 5 years after his exile from Florence.

 

Locals and pilgrims pass through the area stopping at the ancient parish churches like – Pieve di San Pietro a Romena……

continuing on their way to the Monastery of La Verna, that sits on a spectacular rocky outcrop. Count Orlando Cattani captivated by Saint Francis’ oratory on love and forgiveness, donated the mountain to him as a hermitage for those in need. Saint Francis loved the wilderness and spent many years in retreat here. It had a bustling atmosphere when we passed through and the friars were very welcoming.

 

 

Casentino woolCasentino also boasts traditional handicrafts that are sort after to this day. Panno CasentinoCasentino wool has been around since the Etruscans, quite distinctive for its frayed ringlets that make the wool both warmer and more durable. Originally the effect was made by

Casentino jacket

Photo credit: Jane Telford

 

beating the cloth with a stick, a process now which is done by machine. In the Middle ages the monks wore robes of Casentino wool and the House of Savoy ( the royal family of Italy) in the 19th century used the bright orange cloth as a decorative and warming cloth on their horses. The bright orange became the tradition on overcoats and jackets although not always the colour chosen, as seen here on my workshop colleague.

Stia is well know for its wrought iron work, and anyone searching for quality wooden furniture can find it here. The forests produce the most beautiful wood together with chestnuts which have been ground in old flour mills like the one below for centuries.Mulino Grifoni Open to visitors as a tourist attraction, the miller gives a great explanation on the process and the changing nature of grains, working on the reintroduction of old grain types known to be healthier for us.

Mulino Grifoni AD 1696 inscribed over the entrance!

So just when you think you have seen all of Tuscany, make sure you have incuded Casentino on that list.

 

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Still saving Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The Save Vernazza voluntourism project has started again for its 5th year in a row in the Cinque Terre. So far 990 tourists have given a hand in restoring and preserving the fragile territory in 116 excursions since 2013, as “Even Paradise Needs a Gardener”…..as the motto goes!

If you are travelling in the area and would like to be involved, check the work calendar and contact coordinator Irene di Martino: info@savevernazza.com And if your dates don’t coincide, contact Irene anyway and she may be able to set up a special “gardening” day for you.

And for those of you new to this blog and perhaps unfamiliar with the Save Vernazza organisation I have included their latest video here.

Yet while Save Vernazza and its contributors worldwide continue to offer their help and donations, some problems still facing Vernazza and the Cinque Terre in general need urgent attention from the powers that be – namely the Cinque Terre National, Park, The Councils, Trenitalia and the Liguria Regional Office. A game of ping pong regarding responsibility continues between them resulting unfortunately in no major progress on the issues.

Recent articles in the Travel and Leisure magazine and the local Ligurian newspaper Il Secolo XIX highlighted the problems of the Cinque Terre being on “Everyone’s Bucket List”

The Via dell’Amore the path linking the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola is still closed from 2012 after the rock fall knocked 4 Australians off the path seriously injuring two.  And while the Mayor indicates he is currently securing national funds to make the path secure again, locals are dubious and believe it has been closed by the Police Commission until compensation has been resolved and the Council is reluctant to guarantee the security of the path in the future.

Tourist overcrowding has already begun, as I saw over the Easter period, from Cruise ships and bus and train daytrippers and no limits have been imposed, apart from the price increase in train and bus tickets and the Cinque Terre Card.

The high road connecting Vernazza to Monterosso  is still closed after the landslides of 2011 and what remains open between La Spezia and Vernazza has intermittent partial closures as minor landslides continue. The major use by tourists coaches reaching up to 25 coaches per day creates additional difficulties. At Easter only one public toilet was open in Vernazza as the other two are under renovation and will still be inadequate to Vernazza stationcater to the crowds, increasingly eating takeaway. Painted arrows on the station stairs attempt to regulate the traffic flow. The trail between Manarola and Corniglia remains closed after the landslide in 2011 and 2013 and unlikely to ever reopen putting additional strain on the public transport system. As locals exit the villages, preferring to rent out their apartments and live a quieter existence in Levanto or La Spezia, their terraced lands become abandoned and put the entire area at risk.

Gianni Franzi, a long standing restaurant owner in Vernazza says “The problems are many and the situation seems to have got out of hand. There are third-world roads, on which emergency vehicles must pass; the collection of waste creates huge problems and is not practical; there are too many ferries creating even a noise pollution. This massive tourism that crosses the villages without knowing the history, territory and the environment must be regulated. The mayor and the park have to listen to the needs and citizens’ suggestions. If we go on like this we do not build any future for coming generations.”  (il Secolo XIX  14/04/2017)Cinque Terre

I hope I have not put you off, as I believe the Cinque Terre is best seen by individual tourists who prefer to stay for a few days to appreciate the area but who now make up a small percentage of the 2.4million tourists per year.  We can only hope that our suggestions are being heard, as Save Vernazza is also very active in any public meetings.

Cinque Terre, Vernazza


 

 

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Spring fever in beautiful Pienza

View of PienzaAs Pablo Neruda said “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming”. I have just spent a few days at my artist friend in Pienza bathed in glorious Spring weather and fields of wild tulips and cherry blossoms. The gently rolling hills of Tuscany can not get any better than this area of Val D’Orcia and I am always pleased to be back.

The area has UNESCO World Heritage status: as it is an exceptional reflection of the way the landscape was re-written in Renaissance times to reflect the ideals of good Val d'Orciagovernance and to create an aesthetically pleasing pictures. The landscape of the Val d’Orcia was celebrated by painters from the Siennese School, which flourished during the Renaissance. Images of the Val d’Orcia, and particularly depictions of landscapes where people are depicted as living in harmony with nature, have come to be seen as icons of the Renaissance and have profoundly influenced the development of landscape thinking.

PienzaThat sense of harmony prevails and I could spend hours along the walls of Pienza absorbing these views in the changing sunlight. Or, as we did, take a stroll to the ancient Church of Corsignano with its decorative monsters above the doorway from the 12th Century, although parts of the church date back even to the 7th Century!

Complete harmony in nature. Pienza too is an absolute delight with its elegant Renaissance square and harmonious buildings, as Pope Pius Piccolomini had the money and power to transform his birthplace (Corsignano) into a Utopian dream city.

But that’s not all as the strong scent of the local food speciality, namely the pecorino cheese, wafts along the street and the delicatessens display other tempting delicacies like pici pasta, dry porcini mushrooms, salamis, local honey and extra virgin olive oil.

The quaintness of the place continues with unique shops selling exquisite linen ware, and the kitchenware shop is full of copper pots and pans, basket ware, handmade knives and unusual olive oil servers.

My artist friend Enrico Paolucci is hard at work on a special ‘owl’ commissioned for a birthday surprise so I am left to wander the studio taking photos of his new work ( a homage to his father, Aleardo) and make the most of his hospitality.

After work, dinner in a quiet spot in Pienza and a late night stroll to catch the magic of the moment. Pienza never loses its charm nor the Val d’Orcia, Tuscany, its harmony with Nature.

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Prevo – the halfway point, Cinque Terre

Prevo Cinque TerreMy little village of San Bernardino sits directly above Prevo in the Cinque Terre. A sparse group of houses at the halfway point on the coastal trail between Corniglia and Vernazza. I can’t quite see it from my terrace but I am sure the builders can who are currently redoing my roof. I did promise them a job with a sea view and they are indulging in it….perhaps just a little too long for my liking. But then builders are builders the same the world over, nothing ever seems to run to schedule!San Bernardino

 

Prevo is where I sneak into the coastal trail, on my way down to either village and surprise most hikers by looking fresh and energetic still, when they have just panted there way up the hill on countless steps. It is the highest point on the trail (208m above sea level) but most tourists don’t know that and look relieved to hear that it is all downhill thereafter.

Prevo cafeFrom Corniglia the hike up is a little less as Corniglia is already 100m above sea level, nevertheless it is with some relief that tourists find the bar Il Gabbiano at Prevo where they can catch their breath and enjoy a great fresh fruit juice and fantastic view. Tourists from Vernazza appreciate it even more!

All the locals know that it is easier to follow the trails from Corniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso than vice versa, so bear that in mind if you are over here.

For those who choose to stay here in Prevo, as many of the houses rent out on Airbnb, they are in for a quiet retreat, a full immersion in the Mediterranean flora, fabulous sea views…….and a long walk back from dining out! But forewarned they usually love being away from the crowds in the villages.

It’s still pre tourist season, a time to indulge in the late winter and early Spring flowers – like the Mimosa whose yellow blooms make a striking contrast against the turquoise sea. Purple pig face hang along walls which has me thinking what an Aussie mix of flora. Hardy rosemary is in bloom, and the red stalk flowers of the aloe vera are readily seen along the trail tucked in amongst the prickly pear. Officially the coastal trail is Trail closed Vernazza Cornigliaclosed, meaning those who use it hike are at their own risk. When it reopens late March the Cinque Terre Card will be required for entry at a fee of €7.50 or €13 per day including trains. The rest of the hiking trails, known as the high trails are all free…..and I might add just as good if not better!

Trail damage Vernazza

 

I see that another portion of the dry stone wall along the coastal trail has collapsed, a pretty common  occurrence and the National Park will probably try to fix it. Other areas have had major steel nets and cables extending the more volatile slopes and they appear to be holding up well and a great security for hikers and local landowners. It remains a fragile territory and any new landslide or collapsed wall is like a wound in our sides.  The  dry stone walls, that keep this territory together and gained it Unesco Heritage status, if put together are twice the length of The Great Wall of China! It’s a pity we don’t have a Chinese army of people to keep tending them and the terraces!

It is good to see some new trail railing has been put into place by the National park, and very welcomed at the favourite place for the panoramic shot of Corniglia where it was on such a wobble I thought the next tourist that leans was going to do a long gravel rash slide down to the beach below!

Prevo 5 TerreNothing that I ever write about the Cinque Terre is sensational as my aim is for those who visit to understand the complexities of this unique and beautiful area and respect its frailties. While man labours hard to remain in control, it is never enough for the work required and Mother Nature knows who is really ruling the roost!Corniglia to Monterosso

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