Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3

by Admin 09-Nov 2010

As we approach Monterosso, I’m more than happy or at least my feet are to see the entrance to this village is not up a steep cliff like the last. The town is divided into two sections. The medieval hamlet on one side and what is called New Town on the other. A pedestrian tunnel connects the two as well as Monterosso’s Fegina beach which is the largest stretch of sandy beach in the Cinque Terre and one of the biggest tourist draws in the summer/fall months. Walking along the promenade circling the harbor we head into the older part of town for lunch. Piazza Garibaldi, the main square of the village is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, all jam packed with tourists. An array of festive pastel colored houses with little, rod iron balconies and matching shutter and window boxes seem to tower wistfully above the raucous square. 

Wandering up a narrow lane leading out from the square we find a smaller piazza several blocks away and a restaurant called Il Pozzo. With its charming patio filled with flowers and wooden tables covered with different colored checkered table cloths, Il Pozzo turns out to be an ideal spot to sip a glass of sciachetrà, a sweet white wine this region is known for and to people watch. The food is good, although I notice the specialty is pretty much the same specialty of every Cinque Terre restaurant we pass. I try it anyway and have no complaints. It’s called Spaghetti Al Vulo (Spaghetti with Clams). The wait staff is friendly and of course speaks English.

After lunch we skirt by the crowds wedged into each shop and head for the beach and another gelato. Large and sandy, Fegina beach is dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent by the hour. The water is almost as warm as the sun. A small warning, be careful you don’t doze off and miss the boat, the train station is quite a hike.

Vernazza — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

According to the ferry guide, Vernazza, our last stop, is the most characteristic and charming Cinque Terre village. The lively harbor where we dock is the size of a postage stamp, the piazza is lined with restaurants and shops. The now familiar crayon colored houses rise above the square. Crowds of tourists swarm the streets, ebbing in and out of the same trinket stores as in the earlier towns. The village is very pretty, the explosion of color between the houses and the flowers can’t help but to make you smile and take lots of pictures. But from what I see these villages are fairly interchangeable and at least at this time of year they are overrun with mostly American tourists. After a last sip of sciachetrà we brave the crowds, pick up our share of take home trinkets, board the ferry and head off into a magnificent sunset on the way back to Rapallo.

The Ligurian Sea — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

When I first mentioned my intention to spend a day in the Cinque Terre I was immediately barraged by friends, fellow travelers and well wishers with advice on how one day in the Cinque Terre would never be enough. We should plan at least two full days, three even better. As picturesque as the Cinque Terre villages indeed are, they are far too commercial for my liking. Mobbed with tourists, the largest contingent being from the United States, I can vividly recall hearing far more English than Italian as we shuffled in herds oohing, sometimes in unison, at whatever pretty sight drew the eye of a lucky individual at the outer edges of the throng. 

I’m glad I saw the Cinque Terre and happier that we spent the majority of our time exploring the rest of the Ligurian coast. In retrospect, with so many tourists concentrated in the Cinque Terre, the rest of Liguria seemed far less crowded. Spending just one day in the Cinque Terre turned out to be the right amount of time for me.

Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Le Cinque Terre — The Perfect Approach part 2

by Admin 02-Nov 2010

The double edged jewel of Sestri Levante — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

By Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Twenty minutes later we pull into the picture perfect harbor of Sestri Levante to pick up half a dozen more passengers. Surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of sea and mountains, the original part of this ancient fishing village is actually on a peninsula, with the beautiful Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) favored by Percy Bysshe Shelley on one side and the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales) aptly named by Hans Christian Anderson on the other. We are definitely coming back here.

As we chug along the coast the ferry guide announces our arrival at the first of the three Terre villages approachable by sea in 40 minutes. Riomaggiore, the furthest away being the first stop. My first glimpse of Riomaggiore is of a small horseshoe shaped harbor with a tiny dock. Several other ferries loaded with tourists were lining up ahead of us like airplanes taxiing for take off. Looking up I spot yellow and rust colored houses rising from the black jagged coastline. The buildings sit atop each other with nary a hairs breadth of space between them. At the pinnacle are the ruins of what appears to be an old castle. My first thought is how pretty. As I glimpse the more than 100 steps I need to climb to the village...

...my next thoughts are I’m glad I quit smoking and I should have worked out more before attempting this.

At the top of the winding stone stairway we pass beneath Riomaggiore’s archway into a small half-moon shaped piazza with streets snaking out and upwards into the village. The houses and storefronts are as vivid and colorful as they appeared from below. Adding to the riot of color, window boxes and pots filled with flowers are set on ledges and postage sized patios fill every open space available.  However, wall to wall tourists fill the narrow cobblestone lanes in front of me. The going slows to a crawl. I wonder: “How we will be able to move through this crowd?”

Lined with shops displaying an dizzying array of touristy glitz we thread our way through the maze of streets following a sign nailed to the corner of the nectarine colored house. The arrow points up to the Church of Saint Giovanni Battista. Since it’s too early for lunch and the throng of people and the din thinning the higher up we walk we decide the hike up a connecting labyrinth of alleyways and staircases might be worth it. It is. The old Gothic church is lovely. A short distance away we spy the ruins of the castle. Here we enjoy the heart stopping panorama over the Gulf of Genoa before making our way back down to the gelato shop on our way back to the ferry.

Within moments of re-boarding we are off to the village of Monterosso, 20 minutes away for a three hour stopover. That’s enough time to do some exploring, have some lunch (my stomach’s growling) and maybe get in some sun and beach time. I’ve been told the beach is what this village was known for.

Coming up: Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3 (conclusion)

Restaurant Review — Vegetarian Paradise in Milan

by Mario 15-Jun 2010

One of my favorite restaurants in Milan I discovered thanks to an Alitalia flight crew. Consider this: Italians know how to eat; Alitalia crews travel all over the planet seeking the best for less; befriend these crews on your next outing and one may share a jealously guarded restaurant recommendation for your next destination.

La Vecchia Latteria is a tiny, vegetarian only, lunchtime gem hidden right before your very eyes. It sits on Via dell'Unione, 6 — literally steps from Milan's famous Duomo. Mom cooks, debonair dad serves and entertains and their daughter, a freshly minted psychologist, conducts evening relationship building sessions over mom's scrumptious parmigianas, souffles and croquettes. There are even vegan choices on the menu. What's more, the prices are ridiculously low — especially for being in the heart of Milan.

Tiny means tiny. Not only is the place small, the tables and seats are tinier still and packed together. I guess vegetarians don't take up much room. The portions on the other hand are generous and incredibly delicious. Truly, I had no idea the place was "vegetarian only" until I got into a conversation with Giorgio Notari, the owner, about his volunteering to keep the restaurant open a few nights a month to kick start his daughter's practice. I was finding it hard to marry a dish of linguine with olives and capers to a dose of group therapy. In Italy one can always expect the unexpected.

Everything is fresh, nothing is frozen, dessert is magnificent and the menu changes daily. La Vecchia Latteria is closed on Sundays and only open until 5 pm the rest of the week — unless of course, there happens to be a group session on how to control binge eating. Good luck.

The closest I could come to a Web site was their menu in Italian.

To my Alitalia friends, I apologize for passing on one of your secret haunts. After all, a man has got to eat and Giorgio and his wife Teresa deserve all the praise they can get.

Verona For a Day

by Admin 27-Jan 2010

 

Q. We will be in Verona for only 24 hours. What are your recommendations of things not to miss and good places to eat. 

Thanking you in Advance, 

Dan P.

A. Obviously you must visit the Arena di Verona. Next is the Roman theatre across the river from the downtown area. It also has an archaeological museum inside. Torre dei Lamberti, the former town hall is a 12th century tower that can be climbed for a fantastic view of the city. From a courtyard behind the tower, there is an entrance to a museum with the remains of a Roman era home complete with a rich mosaic floor. This archaeological site was discovered 20 years ago while building a new garage. The garage never happened.

Restaurant — La Taverna di Via Stella, classic osteria – on Via Stella 5/c which is a street connecting the main Piazza Bra with via Cappello — where Giuletta’s (Juliet of Romeo and Juliet) house is located. It’s basically right around the corner from Giulietta's home. Closed Monday afternoon and Wednesdays. Call ahead for a reservation: 045 8008008

 

Padova: The miracle of the Bassett Hounds — Part 2

by Mario 11-Jan 2010

The meal was indescribably delicious, the service was impeccable, the wines were sublimely matched. The soft elegant setting adorned with fresh flowers and classical music was one where we could have stayed forever. Stefania, the attractive and attentive owner of Ristorante Belle Parti was floored when I told her how we found her. “Do you know who the woman with the basset hounds is?” “Not a clue” I replied. Rabarama is Italy’s most famous living artist. Her sculptures and paintings sell for as much as $400,000. It was she who sent you here”. I promised Stefania that I would tell all our friends and readers how I came to experience some of the best Italian food ever in one of my favorite cities to boot. 

Later that evening when we joined the rest of our gang, I shared the day’s events with my friend Stephanie Oswald, CNN Travel reporter and the editor of Travel Girl Magazine. The next day Steph led her own small group to Saint Anthony’s and for lunch at Belle Parti. It turned out to be the highlight of everyone's Italy trip. It would be wonderfully self serving if I could tell you that Parker Villas has villas and apartments in Padova. Not yet. You will have to get there without my direct intercession for now. However, if you stop by Saint Anthony’s, something wonderful may happen to you as well.

Padova: The miracle of the Bassett Hounds — Part 1

by Mario 10-Jan 2010

Every time I set foot in Padova - Padua in English - something truly wonderful happens, and it always begins with a visit to Saint Anthony's Basilica. St. Anthony is a miracle maker and champion of lost causes. I can attest to the former and often think I’m the latter. Throughout the years I've visited the basilica with family, devout Jews, protestants, agnostics and the occasional atheist. The result is always the same. Everyone is somehow transformed. There is a palpable force there that transcends religion and touches everyone.

After guiding my companions through the rite of touching Anthony’s “warm” marble tomb, obtaining a blessing from a friar in a tiny alcove halfway up the right hand side (a friar is always there) and depositing a petitioner’s candle in the altar bin for use during services, we stepped out into the pleasant November sun and strolled a few blocks into the pedestrian heart of this ancient university town. Shops, cafes, artisan studios, lots of Italians and countless students populate narrow lanes that open into gorgeous piazzas. By 1 pm, we were famished and craving a special kind of lunch, one where service, food and ambiance ruled, and then it happened...

The day before, I had spotted two stout basset hounds while sipping thick, creamy delicious hot chocolate at Caffe Pedrocchi and now, they were shuffling by once again. I beckoned my companions to wait and ran after these somewhat obvious denizens of Padova and their master. My question was simple: “Hello. I’m sorry to disturb you. I’m an American here with friends. I noticed your hounds yesterday and figured you might be a local. I was hoping you could suggest a restaurant filled with wonderful food and ambiance?” At the other end of the leash, beneath a wide brimmed hat stood a classic Italian beauty draped in a plaid mantle and partially hidden behind sunglasses larger than espresso saucers. She regarded me for a second and in a soft, velvet tone asked: “Do you really seek excellent food and a perfect atmosphere?” “Yes” I pleaded. She gave me explicit instructions on fulfilling our quest. Her final words were: “You will know you are there by the young blond woman that greets you, I’m sure it will be to your liking.”

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Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....

 

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