After the week of cycling, I travelled to the town of Santa Margherita, in the smallest provence of Italy, namely Liguria, capital Genova. It’s a crescent shaped ribbon of land that has the Alps of Piedmontese to the north, falling down to the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean. The tourist pamphlet for Santa Margherita claims the area was founded in 262 BC. It further states “It has always been a fisher and sailor village, well known for handicrafts: laces made on lace-pillows and ropery”. I did a quick retake! Yes that’s “ropery”. As to sailors and lace pillows, nothing like a bit of petit-pointe to pass the tedious months sailing across the great oceans. Indeed some of the best cross stitching is attributed to Italian sailors in the 18th century
The most famous destination of this so called Italian Riviera is Portofino. It’s the iconic, picture post card Italian fishing village, now an expensive tourist magnet. The other attraction is the Cinque Terre, again five previous fishing villages that face the sea and now sustained by tourism. I undertook the obligatory day to meander around Portofino, mesmerised by the melanin enhanced middle aged women ( alliteration to simply mean that they were sunburnt unnaturally and uniformly all over). Then it was time to escape and walk over the promontory from Santa Margherita to the medieval monastery of San Fruttuoso. A strenuous climb equal to any of the cycle days. This part of the steep cliffs and hidden alcoves is a national park. The Abbey, almost 1200 years old is fascinating, but does not escape the Italian beach culture. A delightful day.
The Ligurian Coastal beaches are to put it bluntly, un-enticing. There is no sand as we in Australia know, but rather coarse stones and pebbles, that make getting to the surf a form of water torture. The sea is a grey green colour and pleasantly warm. There the attraction ends. There is the feeling that the water, at least in the inlets and alcoves which are inhabited, is not exactly pure or crystal clear. A thin oily film of almost certainly disesoleum, is broken by feathers, plastic and the discarded containers of a disposable society. Once clear of the populated bays and inlets, the sea returns to a more enticing and characteristic clean crystal blue.
There is hardly a part of these stone beaches that are not invaded by sun worshipping Italians. Most of them pay upwards of 12 to 15 euro to sit on row upon row of beach chairs and umbrellas, to hobble to the waters edge once or twice a day, then return and light up a cigarette. Even the scavenging sea gulls exhibit signs of nicotine addiction, from pecking at the butts. Cigarettes I mean.
In general there is much less obesity visible in the general population and the Italians do dress with flair and good taste. This is despite the wine, pasta and bread, my theory is that they do walk around a lot more and of course, smoking is a great way to keep weight down.
After the day walk to San Fruttuoso, the next day I took a ferry trip to the Cinque Terre, a rather choppy swell prevented landing at the smaller towns, so that we were only able to disembark at the largest village of Montarossa. My rather jaundiced and queezy opinion on the region and villages is that they are all becoming like Portofino. One arrives, admires the brightly painted buildings in ochre, yellows and tan brown, then joins a slow moving mass of visitors through narrow streets that were once charming, but now comprise outdoor eating, gelato parlours that all boast “artisan” or “home-made”, expensive clothing outlets and souvenir shops.
Our first night here I dined at one of the most renowned restaurants. This was not intentional, it was just around the corner from the hotel. The next night a great seafood establishment: seafood risotto and then last night a “local” cafe recommended by the girl at the tourist office. A large pork chop and creamy mash potatoes.
Finally as this is the last week, I travel to Milan tomorrow, I am in the process of discarding unwanted clothes and washing a couple of T shirts. I have clean socks and one pair of underpants!