Lake Iseo and Val Camonica

Our next journey was to Lake Iseo. Of the Italian lakes, Lago Iseo is the fourth largest; it is the lake that charms Italians. Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the small island of San Paolo and you could literally walk over the lake between Sulzano and Monte Isola. Look online for the photos, I am so sad I missed it.

It is quieter with no tourist buses, yet with some wonderful guest houses and restaurants in the midst of the central Alps. Our real reason is because it is a great stop off point to Val Camonica to see prehistoric petroglyphs.

A horse or a dog?

Since I can’t pretend to be a scholar, I will just advise you to google Val Camonica and rock drawings to find information on this prehistoric site on Wikipedia and Briefly to give you the Cliff’s Notes on the drawings from UNESCO: Val Camonica
“has more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years and depicting themes connected with agriculture, war, navigation and magic.”

Italian Alps

We left Lake Iseo very early to take the train up to Capo di Ponte and on arrival, had to find the way to get on the other side of the train line. Just then someone popped up from underground and we were able to see her subterranean passage.


Running Man

Running Man looks a bit like Kokopelli, a petroglyph from the American Southwest. Running Man may have been a priest or a man with feathers in his hair or a man blessed by the sun. Kokopelli is always portrayed playing a flute but the resemblance is striking. Perhaps Running Man is a younger Kokopelli, before his back hunched.


Procession of praying figures

This took us right off the beaten track but the journey was fascinating. We took the train to the northernmost point of Lake Iseo and caught the ferry back to Sulzano by way of Monte Isola.

While it is fascinating to view the hundreds of rock drawings easily found walking around the National Park, the countryside is beautiful. Chestnuts, birch, pines and beautiful alpine flowers and mosses. It is a truly beautiful area.

I don’t think these are Portobellos but they were beautiful.


Sirmione, Lake Garda

Lake Garda is so large and so Mediterranean in climate, we feel there might be a boat waiting for us. Yet while there were only ferries, we were still happy on the water. We only travelled to the lower lake because there aren’t ferries going everywhere and returning on the same day.

Lake Garda, Italy

When you are deciding where to stay, if you are getting about without a car, then our suggestion would be in the Centro Storico or Old Town. Sirmione’s Centro  has Roman ruins, museums and castles. The castle even has a drawbridge, which incites a romantic notion of knights and jousts. The swans gliding through the moat was quite picturesque.


Probably the best way to arrive at Sirmione is to take the train to Desenzano del garde, the bus down the hill and jump on the ferry to Sirmione. Unless you come by ferry from another town, this would seem the best option. Once you know when your ferry departs, if you have time, you can have a coffee or some wonderful gelato in the piazza.

There is a spa that you can visit and also you can walk or take the Nonno’s train to the Roman ruins. Catullus is said to have had a villa here. He certainly seems to write a poem about coming back to the peninsula of Sirmioni.


Every night there seemed to be a free concert both of a more classical style and also jazz on the beach full of drums and even a didgeridoo.  In the evening a lot of the crowds would leave and it was wonderful to wait and stroll around town from cafe to music. Like Catullus, we might try to write a poem about returning to Sirmioni.

Feeling happy escaping the crowds, we would walk and wander waiting for the twilight. More on the Roman Villa tomorrow.



Boat Spam in Genoa

This one is for the sailors, who read this blog.  I wanted to call it boat p orn but James said that might be unwise.  We have been in two ports Viareggio,Tuscany and Genoa. This is boat building territory, La Spezia is in between these two ports and another boat builder’s paradise.

While we were there we saw this boat. We thought Frosty loves sailing in this part of the world. He can work two jobs and buy this boat, then we will visit him. I am not sure even a big lottery win would help.

Just the boat for Frosty and his friends.
Just the boat for Frosty and his friends: Rosehearty 56 metres

Viareggio looks like a carnival town, lots of fun fair rides for the children and a beach covered with umbrella and deck chairs for the family. Italian is spoken here and sometimes a bit of German. There was a Bubble man, whose photo I can’t show you because he was surrounded by children. But here is one of his bubbles in the sunset sky of Viareggio.

Gigantic Bubbles
Gigantic Bubbles – Viareggio, port of Lucca

We left early the next morning and there were dozens of fisherman on every surface of the three moles that make this a protected harbour.

More eye-candy on the way to Genoa.

Rosehearty, 56 metres long
Another 56 metre leisure craft

Finally, we reached Genoa and sailed into a huge bay, past the Costa Concordia being dismantled, warehouses in various states of ruin but handsome nonetheless.

View of the Duomo from the port
View of old and new Genoa from the boat


But have I finished with my boat spam yet? Decidedly not, here is the beauty just moored across the channel from Mercier at the Marina Mole Vecchio. The staff here are great, especially considering Mercier is the same size as this yacht’s bow.

Marina Mole Vecchio
Marina Mole Vecchio

More on Genoa the town later, but I had to thank my sailing friends for following Sailing Azure Seas and boat spam seemed the best way to do it.

Favourite Sons – Portoferraio, Elba

There are some remarkable places in Italy, the island of Elba is quite interesting, historic and gorgeous.

First of all, this island is so full of iron that one can not rely on a compass for a true reading. Climbing up to Fort Falcone, one of three fortresses protecting this city, you can see the earth is rusty with iron. The Etruscans mined here, the Romans vacationed here and Cosimo built forts hereto protect his iron mines.

Iron in Fort Falcone
Iron in Fort Falcone

The two favourite sons of Portoferraio are Cosimo l de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, founder of Portoferraio and Napoleon who was a prisoner here and spent every moment on Elba trying to escape.

Napoleon's Villa dei Mulini
Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini

I am not sure I would spend my time trying to escape from this paradise, but Napoleon certainly did. He is said to have written on one wall: “Napoleon can be happy anywhere.” Seriously?  Most of us would be very happy to spend a few years here.

Watch Tower from Cosimo's fort
Watch Tower from Cosimo’s fort

Like Sydney, Portoferraio has a Martello tower, built by Cosimo, to protect the entrance to the small harbour.  A fleet of pirates came and terrorised the populace and may have been the impetus behind all of these forts being built. Heikell said it was a fleet of 42 sail. This is more than my mind’s eye conjures up when talking about a pirate raid of about three ships.

Bay of Portoferraio with Martello tower, Tower della Linguella at the entrance
Bay of Portoferraio with Tower della Linguella at the entrance

Most visitors come for the beautiful beaches in and around Portferraio, others go fishing. We walked up to the Tower Falcone and the museum, watched the very fast three man soccer set up in nets, in the piazza, while we ate our gelato. We would be happy to come and visit again in a few years.

Beauty Spots, Italy

Let’s face it, as countries go, Italy is bella; beautiful and glorious.  Here were are racing by its magnificent coast to meet a ship in Genoa that will bring Mercier to Oz. We had a wonderful day in Ischia after saying goodbye to gorgeous cousins in Minori and Sorrento. Ischia is one of our favourite islands because people are just as likely to break into song as to say ciao.

Waterfall & mosaic of King Neptune at Poseidon Thermal Spa, Ischia
Waterfall & mosaic of King Neptune at Poseidon Thermal Spa, Ischia

The Thermal Spa is wonderful, with mineral springs running hot and cold. The waterfalls act as massage therapists.

The next morning we sailed past another favourite, Procida, because we just didn’t have enough time to stop. We are already planning another Italian sojourn, using ferries and pensiones. Procida, Ponza and Ventotene are three of the Pontine Islands, south of Rome.  We anchored in nearby Ponza and had a wonderful swim.


From Ponza, it was a nine hour day sail to make it to Porto Turistico, because we had a lovely south westerly breeze to help us on our way. You know there has to be a reward for that much sailing. A day in Rome, with shopping at Castrioni, scrumptious lunch at Romeo, a stroll down the Pont S’Angelo and a gelato fix.

Gelateria del Teatro, watching them ready the fruit for the ices.
Gelateria del Teatro, watching them ready the fruit for the ices.

Two days ago, we were stopped by the Guarda Finanza or border patrol of Italy. We were just motoring past Cittavecchia, we were asked quite a few questions. “Where are you going?” “Ercole”, we answered, he looked confused. More questions about our intended trip, while the other officer was checking us through their computer. He asked again,”Where are you going?” “Ercole” we said smiling.  A few more questions, then he says “erCOle”. Si, mystery solved.

Fortress in medival Ercole, Tuscany
Fortress in medival Ercole, Tuscany

There are not a lot of ports or anchorages north of Porto Ercole on the mainland coast, so we sailed out to Elba, This is a wonderful Tuscan island and we have been here three times.

Porto Azzuro, Elba
Porto Azzuro, Elba

Yesterday, we arrived to about 8 yachts at about 3PM. By the time we went to bed, there were literally 100 yachts in the anchorage. not counting the boats in the marina. It was like the Sydney Harbour Bridge at 8:00am, just about bumper to bumper. Many yachts had their fenders out at anchor, just in case.

Off to Portoferraio!.

Maratea, Basilicata

We sailed into small harbours along the Calabrian Coast, finally arriving at the captivating and picturesque town of Maratea, Basilicata.  It is two towns in one, Maratea marina, which is the area near the sea and about three kilometers straight up finds the hilltop village of Maratea.

Beautiful wooden boats at Maratea Marina
Beautiful wooden boats at Maratea Marina

We arrived in time for a wonderful lunch at Clubbino, best panini in Italy so far with a very friendly proprietor and staff. Then we walked around the area and found a spring of beautiful water which supplies the town, gargantuan caper plants cascading down stone walls and several restaurants. I led the charge on a path to the north of town, passing small mansions along the coast, but Frosty said let’s go down this little lane and it took us to a paved path along the sea.

Paved path down to the beach Maratea
Paved path down to the beach Maratea


We followed it back towards the Marina and it ended in a rock pool, which looked very old and very weather-beaten, but surrounded by ladies lying on the flat rock platforms or boulders along the path.

Old rock pool
Old rock pool end of the paved path


After siesta, we decided to wait for the bus to go up to the hilltop village. The bus never came and the friendly proprietor of Clubbino found a ride for us, as there were no taxis around either.

Maratea, Basilicata
View from Maratea, Basilicata

The old town was beautiful and still at siesta, but we wandered around and took copious photos and called a taxi to go back down.

Church, Matarea
Church, Matarea


No one answered the taxi phone number and so we walked at least about four kilometres, although we tried to get Eagle Man to give us a lift. (He was making eagle sounds as he soared along the valley.)

Eagle Man
Eagle Man



Messina Straits to Tropea

Two years ago, we sailed from the Aeolian Islands through the Messina Straits going south.  This morning at 6:30am we sailed the straits going north, sailing from Reggio to Tropea. The Strait is 20 miles long and from 2 to 10 miles wide, funneling the Ionian Sea into the Tyrrhenian Sea and vice versa.  You are able to see the energy in the water. look long enough and you are bound to see a whirlpool forming. We began so early because we knew the current would be flowing south by 7:30am, 4.5 hours after high tide in Gibraltar.

Frosty was a bit skeptical at being underway by 6:30 am, even with a Nespresso in his hand but soon we were surrounded by the ‘passarelles’ or felucas, for the swordfish fisherman. Watching them move towards a sword fish at a rate of knots is quite startling.

Felluca or passarelle, a swordfishing boat
Felluca or passarelle, a swordfishing boat

The boats are about 40 feet long and the mast is about 50 feet high and the skipper steers from that lofty position.

Captain and first mate up 50 feet into the air, Messina Straits
Captain and first mate up 50 feet into the air, Messina Straits
The harpooner walking out on the passerelle
The harpooner walking out on the passarelle. Look at the rooster tail.

After getting through the Messina Straits with a sighting of one swordfish( or was it a tuna?), a slight whirlpool trying to form and quite a bit of current. We sailed up the coast to Porto di Tropea.  Only 30 miles from the Aeolian Islands and a charming, neo-classical town, in a slight state of ruin, there is a lot to like.  The outstanding feature has to be the beaches. Surrounded by tufa, the beaches are superb. Odysseus never talks about beaches, does he? The beaches here are sensational. There were incredible beaches up the coast from Reggio di Calabria.

Tropea Beach, Calabria
a Tropea Beach,  Calabria

I tried to get James and Frosty smiling while in the Messina Straits, but in that photo they looked liked they had seen Charybdis. They liked the beach though.

Beautiful beaches
Beautiful beaches

Our journey so far (sorry, you have to copy & paste the link)

Taormina, a jewel of Sicily

On occasion, James and I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice?” and the next thing you know instead of sticking with our plan, we abandon it.  In this case, we turned left 90 degrees south and headed for Taormina.  There are moorings run by George Risso ‘en vicino’ to the Taormina railway stop. This meant we could leave Mercier on a mooring and be ferried to land by the very friendly Branko and take a bus up the hill to Taormina. Perfetto!

Mount Etna is our backdrop. Today she was shrouded in mist and clouds.
Mount Etna is our backdrop. Today she was shrouded in mist and clouds.

As we are on a mooring, there is no electricity, hence no coffee.  As soon as we walk through the Porto Messina arch, we head for the sumptuous Hotel Timeo and their perfect coffee. We gaze over the Botanical gardens of Taormina with the stunning Mount Etna as the back drop.

View from the Hotel Timeo
View from the Hotel Timeo

We walk through Taormina after the coffee and call into churches and shops. Then we jump in a cab and ride up the tortuous road to Castelmola for a visit to the castle village and lunch. Etna was completely ensconced by cloud and wispy clouds seem to be floating up to us too.

View from Castelmola
View from Castelmola

The bus down the hill deposits us at the Arch again and we wait for Frosty to arrive.  After Frosty arrives we arrange a quick tour of Taormina, which includes a short visit to the Greek Theatre, which is hosting a film festival but not tonight.

Then we head down to Mercier, move to a quiet anchorage and row ashore for dinner.  Frosty’s celebratory birthday dinner was the main event. Today we have motored over to Reggio di Calabria and we found a berth in the Legale Navale.

Bronzes of Riace, circa 450 BC
Bronzes of Riace, circa 450 BC

This meant we were able to visit the Riace bronzes (circa 450 BC) at the Reggio Calabria National  Museum. The Riace Bronzes were found by a scuba diver, vacationing in Riace, lying on the seabed and they had been there for thousands of years. There was no evidence of a ship wreck, although they may have been thrown overboard in a stormy sea. Their restoration is wonderful. It is close to miraculous.

Bronze of Riace

In this part of Italy, you can not be non-plussed by the beauty, the grittiness or the surprising. You can only enjoy it.

Note the skull and cross bones over the church door.
Church in Taormina, Note the skull and cross bones over the church door.

The heel of Italy and the soul

Once we had landed in the marina at Santa Maria di Leuca, the village on the very heel of Italy, we wandered around the town we had visited two years ago. By chance, as the tourist season doesn’t seem to have started, only Gelaterias were open. We have a gelato test – if the gelato is piled high out of the container, we walk by. If it is level or just slightly higher than its container, we order. The second test is pistachio ice cream must be a dusty olive green and not bright or flouro green. These two tests are fairly fool proof.

Needless to say, the gelato was wonderful at Crema and Cioccolatta Gelateria and afterwards we walked down the street and noticed a medieval fort built to protect against the Saracens.  The fortress is covered in beautiful caper plants, which must self seed into crevices of the hot, dry stone walls.

Fortress - Santa Marina di Leuca
Fortress – Santa Marina di Leuca

This part of the journey finds anchorages and marinas few and far between, we are sailing or motor sailing for 60 miles a day, leaving at day break and getting in late afternoon or early evenings.

Two years ago, we went into the Porto Vecchio at Crotone on a Sunday.  There wasn’t much open and we only saw the very gritty area near the fish markets.

Crotone Streets
Crotone Streets

Yesterday, we walked up to the beautiful castle built by Carlos V and the old town, then down to the beach with beautiful sands.  We commented that it didn’t look affected by tourism at all, except perhaps Italian tourism.  As we were departing this morning, we saw a cruise ship come into Crotone. We realized we were doubly lucky: we weren’t there on Sunday and the Cruise ship was not in town.

On our Western track, we passed the Promontorio di Capocolonna.  In a very small area, we see the ruins of the Temple of Hera Lacina, the Tower of Nao, a XVl century fortress, a church sanctuary and a light house.

Temple of Hera Lacina
Temple of Hera Lacina, in what was once a forest


Efcharisto (Thank You) Greece! Buongiorno, Italia!

We had our last night in Greece in the small harbour Ormous Ammou on the Nisos Othoni.  There on this small outer island, north of Corfu, one would have found a Venetian lighthouse and medieval fortress, with views over to Albania. We had two days on Corfu with Ric and Sandy, what was one highlight you ask? The boys might say it was watching Lateen rigged boats sail on Corfu harbour. Once the sail was in they rowed. How would Davo go with all that weight?

Lateen Rigged Boat - Corfu Harbour
Lateen Rigged Boats – Corfu Harbour

We had time to sit on board and think about how much we enjoyed Greece, how hospitable the people were, how beautiful the harbors and bays are.   Its history is the history of Western democracies. I feel the connection all the way back to Athena and Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary. The food is superb and fresh fruits and veggies are so ripe and wonderful.

North Corfu beaches
North Corfu beaches

All through this trip, we have wondered if there would be trouble travelling in Greece, with the IMF and Angela breathing down Greek’s neck. We haven’t had one difficulty, not with diesel or ATM’s or any of the myriad problems that travel agents in Europe had been forecasting like ancient Jocastas.

Sail past Albania
Sail past Albania


So my take is: visit Greece, it is inexpensive compared to the rest of Europe, it has something for everyone and it is beautiful.  The food is wonderful and so are the people.

leaving Greece at daybreak
leaving Greece at daybreak


Today we have sailed across to Santa Maria di Leuca, Italia. Usually we are on the lookout for ships, lobster pots and dolphins, but today we narrowly missed hitting a tree.  Ok, afterwards we reassessed “tree” and think maybe it was a big shrub, but it seemed to pop up as we glided right by it. It was quite strange but we think a storm might have taken it off a cliff and it was floating just below the surface until we went by.  Soon after, beautiful dolphins did come and play with us jumping up two by two for several minutes.  We think they were saying “Buongiorno”.