A day out with VIPs- Portofino

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

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

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

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

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


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

Typical Ligurian stone mosaic


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



Master Gardeners, Italian style

Vegetable garden next doorIf you have ever lived next door to an Italian you will know how prolific they are in producing vegetables – front garden or back, it makes no difference.

My next door neighbour is constantly passing me generous bags of veggies, so despite my lack of a veggie garden, am munching my way through oodles of zucchini recipes as they sprout overnight and never cease! Or he leaves me home grown peaches and apples on my terrace at dawn, not to wake me up. Being a vegetarian makes him even more keen to be sure I have plenty…..meaning enough to feed an army of friends!

Nowadays all the talk is about, 0 kilometre produce, eco sustainability, the sharing economy, recycling, seasonal choices of vegetables when Italians have been well ahead of the times with this approach to life….if they have any square inch to cultivate.

The farmers have come a long way from the dangerous pesticides of the past and spraying sulphur till they came home looking like a green Martian! Now enclosed tractors and masks are the norm and many of the dangerous pesticides are no longer available in Italy or in Europe.Cinque terre vegetable garden

When hydroponics seemed fashionable for producing a lot in a small space without soil, Italians have been true Masters in producing quality and quantity in confined spaces for centuries and continue to do so.

The terraces at the Cinque Terre boast many a good veggie patch in the most confined spaces.

From master gardeners to farmers, this Italian Summer has been a real struggle with drought conditions and consistent heatwave temperatures of more than not 40+C  since the beginning of June.

Olive trees have lost their fruit and their leaves point skyward to lessen their heat exposure in an effort to stay alive, and while they are very resistant trees it is an extreme test for them. Grapevines also look haggard although for some it may be a top quality year, low on production but high on quality. Grape picking started early and up North in the Pinot Grigio area it has already finished. Bees are producing less honey, fig trees are losing their leaves and their fruit remains undeveloped and as the drought continues many crops are ruined.

Fires have broken out throughout Italy, creating enormous damage to farmers with loss of livestock and crops. National Parks have come under threat both from natural fires and dreadful pyromaniacs, with close to 89,000 hectares ( 220,000acres) of land burnt, an equivalent of ‘124,000 football stadiums’ as they said on the TV News!

City folk look at the news as they turn up their air conditioning or fan themselves under the shade, incredulous that the heat does not wane and sceptical of the possibility of water rationing, more expensive fruit and vegetables and no new Extra Virgin Olive Oil in November!

So it’s a tough old time this Italian Summer, one that is not unfamiliar to other countries as climatic change persists and we fail to find solutions.

Basil in a barrow


Still if you are coming over and would like to be an Italian gardener, do join us in the Cinque Terre on the Tourist in the Wild project – Save Vernazza as “Even paradise needs a Gardener”


Sun, surf and sunflowers

SunflowersSummertime, and the livin’ is easy….and the Italian Summer is finally here. It’s been a slow to start this year, spoiled by unexpected rainy days that had us pulling out jackets and raincoats. And the forecasts predicts more to come so we are soaking up the sun when we can and outdoor concerts and festivals continue with fingers crossed.Tuscan vineyards

Fields of sunflowers begin to droop their heads, giving way to lush green vineyards dripping with grapes. The colour contrast is striking.

Even politicians still seem to be working, unlike other years when at this time paparazzi splashed them across the newspapers  with overweight bellies bursting out of Hawaiian style shirts, holidaying on fancy yachts in exotic places…probably at tax payers expense! Not a pretty sight and so far not to be seen this year, thank goodness. Our PM had warned that holidays should be brief , as there was lots of work to be done, and advised them to keep a low profile.Rough seas

At the beach, waves crash over the rocks to the delight of kids playing ‘catch me if you can’. Other babes stretch out on the pebbles letting the waves lap over their squealing bodies tugging at their bathers as the tide pulls back. Vernazza beachManarola leap








At Manarola Tarzan hollers  mean another kid has leapt from the rocks heedless of the warnings. And why not, in front of such a crowd of skimpy clad femme fatales, it will be his hero moment!

Manarola marina


The sound of a band wafts up in the still air from Corniglia so I can be lazy enough and enjoy it sitting on my terrace without going down.Pizza al pesto


The minute bar near the waterfront in Vernazza overflows at happy hour time as locals get together, sitting on the steps amidst  the tourist crowds. To eat in peace means waiting for the second sitting when the tourists have left the restaurants and ‘us locals’ move in for a more leisurely meal and natter and the waiters begin to relax and even smile knowing the rush hour has past.Beach relax

In Florence the outdoor program is bouncing with all sorts of events for young and old. Of course my favourite is dancing salsa under the stars near Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the city lights – such a romantic setting. I may risk a few squashed toes from some of the high flyers, but it’s worth it.Ponte Vecchio

We have even been blessed with free Musem entrance once a month , an offer which some courageous tourists have taken up only to find themselves waiting in a queue for more than 2 hours. The news reporter did comment that the queue was mostly Italians, which is a sign of the crisis.

In typical Italian fashion, people just hang out in the piazza, group up near the clubs or best gelati shops and wander the historical centre till the air has cooled a little and it’s time to go home.

Vernazza eveningIt’s my favourite time of year.