We had a morning in Orvieto before leaving for Rome. Not enough time, but at least we got to see it quickly and know it is a place to return to in the future. It is a splendid and enjoyable hill town in Umbria. Built on volcanic base, rising above tufa cliffs visible from the passing valley.
Still you can do a day tour from Rome, so it gets busy by lunch time. The shops here are upmarket and have interesting and beautiful merchandise. The most splendid Duomo, I have seen outside of Rome is here in Orvieto.
But the detail of the edifice is incredible in paints that look made of gold, lapis and emeralds.
The facade of the Cathedral was under scaffolding, so these parts are the best we can manage.
Orvieto was once an Etruscan city and later became a favorite refuge for Popes. I guess even Popes need a holiday. The magnificent vistas and climate would have called to them.
We have to return to Orvieto and stay on the hill. But down in the valleys, even in Lazio we saw more sunflowers.
Wine country, Etruscans, hilltop villages, green Italy and a perfectly transformed Renaissance village are all covered in today’s blog.
As you travel through the vines, sunflower farms and rolling hills lush with vegetation and crops, you see green Italy, not one of stone and concrete but another Italy altogether. Many of the vines are of the Montepulciano Vino Nobile grape and are some of Italy’s best wines. They even had Montepulciano plums at our agriturismo. Montepulciano is a hilltop town and its roots go back to the ancient Etruscans.
On our second day in the area, we drove into the countryside to visit Pienza, a town created by Pope Pius ll. Beginning in 1458, Pius ll worked with the Florentine architect, Bernardo Rossellino to create a city model that was laid out in an orderly, pleasing and rational manner.It was a town where urban décor would benefit the citizens. He included new areas for the needy, so they could share in the bounty. He was a truly humanist Pope, standing up against slavery and the persecution of Jews.
Most of us have passed bakeries, where the aromas are pushed out into the noses of passersby to entice them into the shop. In Pienza, the cheese shop had a fan sending out aromatic scents to pull you into their shop. Pienza is noted for its Pecorino cheese. Also known as cacio, it is made from sheep’s milk. The sheep feed on the verdant hillsides eating aromatic herbs like it thyme, penny royal and absinthe.
There was also large amounts of art, including giant bracelets and rings.
When in Italy, you read about the Etruscans and if you Google them, the story will begin “Their language didn’t survive, so we know nothing about them, but they were an elegant people.” Now with DNA samples, we may see that the Etruscans (Eighth century BC- First century AD) came from the western Anatolia, near Izmir in Turkey. The Etruscans are fascinating because ‘elegant and mysterious’ suggests a people of Bond men. But in the Etruscans’ case, women had a significant role to play in daily life. The Etruscans were also great artists and seem to be the ‘creators’ of the famous hilltop towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Italy’s history goes back beyond the Romans.
The geneticists did not stop with testing ancient Etruscan DNA, but they also tested cow DNA in the region and found a match with Tuscan bovine DNA in the same area of Western Anatolia. Beef is a food of choice in Tuscany and Umbria.
As we left this area, we saw sunflower farms, some almost fully ripe and others that had just been planted. They are joyous to see and enjoy.
Next trip we will stay in some of the hilltop towns, but staying in the country also has it’s benefits.
We had two thoughts after leaving Genoa. Where can we go that won’t find us competing with the bus tour groups that are Italy’s typical summer fare? (Apologies to the Umbrella ladies) Let’s type into Google: “Back roads of Tuscany and Umbria”.
Then we found Bagni di Lucca, small and quiet in a valley close to Lucca. Bound to be quieter and cooler in a mountain valley, right? First, if you type in Back roads into Google, when you go to Google maps, be careful because it has heard you want back roads and it takes you that way. We were on some very obscure roads between Genoa and Poggibonsi, where we first lost phone signal and started using signs, drove for miles on a barely paved road to a wonderful café, but turns out it was only open for dinner. Look at a map for Lucignano d’Asso or Ristorante Casa Bandini, Poggibononsi. In Montereggio, we finally found a place to eat and got back on the auto strada. We knew we were close to Bagni di Lucca, when we passed the bridge Pont de la Madeleine
Bagni di Lucca might be just a little too quiet, perfect for private parties and weddings, but you would want to expect a very quiet time here. What was perfect for us, is that the best local restaurant created dining a la strada otherwise known as “Let’s close the road and put the tables outside, because it is just to damn hot.” They had excellent live music each evening, everyone was was there. There is no air conditioning in this part of Italy and it seemed imminently sensible to just divert the traffic. The weather cools off as soon as the sun goes down, everyone was happy.
Knowing the next day was going to be hotter still, a drive to Garfagnana and the Cave of the winds, where it is 10.7 C all year round. It was a great drive, we felt like we were in Switzerland and a two hour tour of the Caves in cool, ultra-healthy air was sensational.
If you do go to Bagni di Lucca, go in June or September, because there are plenty of walks. We followed the passegiata there, that Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning would stroll. For my return, I will be heading back to Garfagnana.
Genoa is like a old playboy, well dressed,handsome with strong bones yet slightly seedy and ruined. You can see the glorious old buildings built by the Ducal families. This was merchant wealth created in the early 1600’s that let common men act like kings.
In the midst of all of this grandeur, are the stories of Genoa’s inhabitants now, there seem to be many refugees near the port and public spaces. We were reluctant to wander to far from the hotel late at night, but we didn’t need to as wonderful restaurants were located in the caruggi nearby. So what is a caruggi?
Porto Antico would have seen its share of pirates, so buildings were built with small narrow alleys between, so only one or two men could pass. It would be easy to defend and women and children could be upstairs and pour down boiling oil or stones to assist Genoa’s defenders.
Late at night, they seem slightly malevolent, especially if no one else is in the laneway, you feel as if someone could reach out and grab you. This is the problems with overactive imaginations. They are busy and crowded during the day and lead to wonderful shops, cafes and offer plenty of scope to get lost and then found.
On the Strada Nuova, the street is wide and often someone will be busking including the most wonderful opera singer. This street is the epitome of 16th Century urban planning. Stately homes have been turned into museums or banks.
The Piazza Ferrari, with its beautiful fountain, is just outside the Palazzo Ducale. We had a splendid time watching a golden approach anyone to throw her bottle into the fountain. She would retrieve it and bring it to the next unlikely suspect. The scene gets interesting when a big burly beast almost pulls his owner into the fountain, because he wants to play too.
You can see art, artifacts and rooms of the stately old palazzos.
The famous architect, Enzo Piano has added his charm to the old port of Genoa. El Bigo, a ride which replicates the old cranes that dotted the harbour and a terrarium.
So what would we say about Genoa, with its caruggi, splendid stately buildings, its elevators and funiculars and its lovely people, we say visit. Only one day, while a cruise ship was in did we have to contend with the umbrella ladies leading tours. Mainly there were independent travelers, so there is lots of scope to practice your Italian and meet the Genovese. Ciao Bella.
Saturday was a big day, we had to finalise securing, stowing, cleaning and readying Mercier for her departure from the Med and the beginning of her journey to Australia.
There wasn’t much printed material, either online or from the shipping company about how to prepare the ship. Sevenstars Shipping was responsive to our questions, so we hope we have Mercier organised properly.
Turn off or disconnect batteries
Empty water tanks and accumulator of water
Clean with fresh water and bleach both head and holding tanks
Limit diesel to under 200 litres
Secure and stow items left on board
Tape shut all lockers and hatches, wrap any breakables in bubble wrap and secure against movements in the boat
Cleaning was very important as we know Australian Customs officials want things clean, we even lifted the floor boards and cleaned the bilge.
We were due at Pontile Etritrea at 1300 hours to meet the crews of Sevenstars Shipping and the Damgracht, to load Mercier.
As we entered the commercial harbour of Genoa, we had to contact the harbour master, with a prearranged clearance and proceed towards Pontile Eritrea and the ship.
Once the crew was on board, the diver went underneath Mercier to assure the slings were in the correct position. I certainly breathed a sigh of relief to know that others were going up with us and Mercier was secure.
It is easy to see this is how high Mercier was going and we all climbed off at that railing and Mercier was lifted higher to be placed into her cradle.
At this point they place Mercier on the cradle and weld the cradle to the deck. James was off to the side, watching intently.He boarded, locked up, put away fenders and I said a soft farewell.
We are wishing Mercier a safe voyage to Australia, where there will be more Azure seas to greet her. There, with luck, the adventures will resume.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2012, we wanted to visit Capri and made a booking at the local marina, which wasn’t confirmed, more of a ‘call us on the day’. Still an hour before we were due to arrive at Capri, the port emailed us and said ” Sorry, we are full.” We motored round the island and anchored in Marina Piccola. Staring at the island, but not able to land was frustrating. This time we were smarter and left Mercier in her lovely dock in Salerno.
Eleven of us made our way from Minori to Capri via a ferry. Easier, smarter, faster, so consider taking a ferry and not a yacht over to Capri. Ischia, Sorrento or Salerno are all fairly close and have safe marinas in which to leave a yacht.
Once there, we split and half the party sailed off to the Blue Grotto and the rest of us journeyed up to Anacapri. We wandered round tiny steep streets, tried on hats, visited Churches and watched a shoe maker make sandals to order. We met later for a lovely garden lunch.
One of my favorite books about Italy is The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe. Munthe was a Swedish doctor, a crony of Oscar Wilde, Henry James and a self described misanthrope who loved animals more than people. His villa in Capri is secluded and takes you away from the commercial Capri and the spruiking. It deposits you in a exquisite garden with magical views and serenity. It is cool and catches the breezes, very important. Munthe said “My home shall be open the the sun and the wind and the voices of the sea – like a Greek temple and light, light, light everywhere.”
The excitement came with trying to ensure we got the bus back down, by the time three buses got to us they were full. On the fourth pass, finally a bus arrived only half full. Some clever people thought they would push in but we managed to block those who didn’t want to queue. We empathized with the sardines we had for lunch. Capri, we’ll be back and next time, we’ll take a ferry and stay awhile.
Mosquitoes drive us all crazy, waking us in the middle of the night by buzzing and biting us. They were a scourge in antiquity too, closing down Caunus and Roman cities like Ostia Antica and Paestum. The mosquitoes carried the malaria that made living in these ancient cities impossible.
The ancient ruins are Paestum were never covered or collapsed, the area silted up and the malaria kept everyone away for millennium. These ruins from the Magna Graecia were rediscovered in the mid-19th Century and became a destination on the Grand Tour, so popular with the educated young men of that time.
The temples are so beautiful, that it comes as a surprise that they were likely painted in white, red and black. There is a discussion of painting part of the temples to provide an insight as to how Paestum would have actually looked at the time. I think the Sydney Vivid team would do an excellent job.
The Pasteum museum is a small but perfectly formed museum. It is full of artifacts like tombs, including Diving Boy tomb found nearby, amphorae and votive offerings. One of the areas important economic activities are water buffalo dairy farms. There is an old sepia photo of the water buffaloes grazing underneath the temples c 1910. You can smell their presence.