06 November 2014

The Perfect Italian Saturday - A Castle and Lunch

Visiting the Parma Countryside in Fall 

You’ve been traveling all week admiring the spectacular attractions of Northern Italy. Visiting Verona, Ferrara, Bologna and Parma was fabulous - but wouldn't it be nice to take a break from the cities? Yet it would be a shame to loaf around when there are so many treasures to discover. Here’s a way to enhance your Italy itinerary and see some of Italy's charming small towns and landscapes: castle hopping.

Torrechiara Castle near Parma
Torrechiara Castle and grape vnes near Parma on a sunny day in November.
The provinces of Parma and Piacenza have many castles, and they are well presented at this link: Castles of the Duchy of Parma & Piacenza.  We chose the castle of Torrechiara in Langhirano, about 10 miles south of Parma, as an interesting Saturday junket. Parma is on the plain of the Po bordered by beautiful rolling hills. Not far from the city, the countryside becomes very rural – after all they don’t get that fabulous Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano from urban areas!

The plains and low hills in the middle of Italy are often foggy –

02 October 2014

Lunigiana Cheese Aged for Two Thousand Years

The Local Food of An Ancient Roman City
The Plains of Luni Still Offer Cheese & 
Milk to the World 

The cities  of Luni, Lucca and Pisa on the Tabula Peutingeriana - 1265 A.D. 
Between the Ligurian city of Sarzana and the Tuscan border at Carrara, there is a wide grassy plain separating the Apuan Alps from the sea. Here you can choose what you see. Will you see fields of bright green grass stretching into the distance, with a sprinkling of exercising Ligurians? Or perhaps you will see a kilometer of stone houses, two gleaming marble temples, a Roman forum, a huge amphitheater, and tens of thousands of Romans going about their famously chaotic business. This plain was the city of Luni for over a thousand years, and renowned in the Roman empire for its timber, marble, wine, and cheese. Luckily, today you can sample the local cheese as well as visit the ruins of Luni (especially the amphitheater at 10:30 & 17:30) - Archeological Park & Museum Link.

Luni Moon, San Pietro Church Avenza (Carrara) 1187 AD
Luni Moon, San Pietro Church
Avenza (Carrara) 1187 AD
Ancient Cheese  The cheese of Luni was made in wheels that weighed 1,000 Roman pounds (that's 650 modern pounds) and shipped to other parts of the empire bearing the crescent moon symbol of Luni. For comparison, those big uncut rounds of Parmigiano* you covet in the gastronomia weigh a mere 85 pounds. There are few historical facts available about Luni's cheese, but the size of the wheels leads to the conclusion that it was made with cow's milk. The grazing area needed suggests that more of the Magra Valley than just Luni was involved, and given the long established connections between Lunigiana and Emilia, cheesy archaeologists have written that Luni's cheese was a forerunner of today's Grana and Parmigiano style cheeses.** Since there's evidence that the Ligurian tribes knew how to make cheese, the Romans may have capitalized on local skills when they conquered Luni in 177 B.C. They apparently knew a good thing, for in the first

10 September 2014

Current Cinque Terre Ferry Boat Schedules

The Most Popular Cinque Terre Boat Timetables
For Reference, Smartphones, I-Pads, and Mobile Devices

Today's Boat Times for La Spezia, Lerici, Portovenere, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso, & Levanto 

Ferry boat  service for the Cinque Terre and the Gulf of La Spezia ended November 2, 2014. 
We guess it will begin again Saturday, March 28, 2015.

08 September 2014

Complete Boat Ferry Schedules Cinque Terre, La Spezia, Portovenere for Fall

Levanto, Lerici, & Island Tour Boat / Ferry Timetables
Includes Monterosso, Vernazza, Manarola, Riomaggiore Times

Tour Schedules for Autumn / Fall 2014 for the Gulf of La Spezia / Cinque Terre Boats.
Cinque Terre Battelli / Traghetti Orari Autunno 2014 // Fähre Zeitplan Herbst 2014

The best way to see the unique and beautiful coast of Liguria Levante is a boat excursion around the Cinque Terre, Levanto, Portovenere, Lerici, and La Spezia area. For schedules, first, choose the suitable time period:

Below are the latest complete Schedules for Fall . They cover the period September 8 to November 2, 2014, when the boats stopped for the season. These PDF links have both times and prices for the Gulf of La Spezia / Cinque Terre Boat Ferries. On the timetables, Cinque Terre is written '5 Terre'.

---For planning a Spring 2015 trip, use this link: Latest Spring Boat Ferry Schedules.

---For planning a Summer 2015 trip, use this link: Latest Summer Boat Ferry Schedules

Why Old Schedules?  The schedules for the boats based around the Gulf of La Spezia are only available when the boats are running. So we've created archives of the recent schedules including the price (in pdf format). These timetables are for planning, and may vary from the official information available only during the season and found here: Gulf of the Poets Maritime Consortium.

The schedules are similar from year to year, so you can use them to figure out your next vacation, but be sure to verify before you travel if your schedule is time sensitive. The boat service is cash only and subject to cancellation due to weather and wave conditions, which is uncommon in summer, infrequent in spring, but a distinct possibility in autumn.

Ginestra flowers above Punta Corvo beach, Gulf of La Spezia
Ginestra (broom) flowers above Punta Corvo beach on the Gulf of the Poets.
Is There Service to Portofino?
There is No Fall or Spring Service to Portofino from the Gulf of La Spezia and Cinque Terre ports. In the summer there is service three days per week from early July to early September.

There is excellent Portofino service in the fall from ports further north in the Gulf of Tigullio, such as Rapallo. Look at this article: Portofino Ferry Boat Schedules from Rapallo & SML.

Are the Cinque Terre hiking trails open?  Unequivocally yes. While a few trails might be closed at any given point, there are always plenty of very scenic trails open.  Use this link Cinque Terre National Park Trail Status to check. Famous trails will often be crowded - for hikers with a car, consider this wonderful hike in the foothills of the Apuan Alps a few miles away: Hiking the Ortonovo Fontia Ring.  For hikers using public transport, consider a neat hike on the other side of the Gulf near Lerici:  The Forgotten Villages of the Gulf of the Poets.

The Cinque Terre Boat / Ferry Schedules

02 September 2014

Portovenere Travel Guide - The Top Ten Attractions

Things to See in the Pride of the Gulf of the Poets 
Travel tips and Tour Guide By Local Experts 

Portovenere is one of those places you really don't want to miss.  The timeless Ligurian town on the beautiful Gulf of the Poets will be one of the highlights of your trip to Italy. Our touring guide below describes the things to do - historic churches to visit, the fortress to explore, the streets to walk, the food specialties to keep you smiling. We start along the waterfront, then retrace steps to the town gate, then walk uphill.
The Palazzata, San Lorenzo Church, Castle Doria, Capitolare Tower. Portovenere, Liguria
The Palazzata, San Lorenzo Church, Castle Doria, Capitolare Tower, and 2600 years of history. Portovenere, Liguria 
Your first view of Portovenere will seem like travel magic. The old Ligurian town will appear like a romantic oil painting with that famous facade of tall, vividly colored buildings arranged on its promontory slope. This is the timeless picturesque fishing village that you've read about and dreamed of.....oops, sorry folks, actually it was not built as a fishing village and nothing here is original. It's a fortified town and while it's really charming, every part has been rebuilt, often numerous times. Going back more than 2,600 years, Porto Venere* has been conquered, reconquered, destroyed, rebuilt, bought, sold, repurposed, and rebranded. The history will completely fascinate you.

Italians love this wondrous place, and you'll see many more Italian tourists here than in Cinque Terre. The poet that captured the essence of the town in Italian was Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale – a Ligurian - for whom a local piazza is named. His poem 'Portovenere' from 1925 gave imagery to the feelings that a contemplative visitor senses. Here is one of earth's special places where land and sea and sky are trying to communicate with you. As Montale wrote: "Here, you are at the origins / and deciding is foolish: / Begin again later to assume a nature."

1. The 'Palazzata' - Fortress Houses
The Palazzata - Fortress Houses, Portovenere
The Palazzata - Fortress Houses.  Portovenere.  Daniel Horacio Agostini

The symbol of Portovenere’s attraction is the iconic and famous waterfront - pretty in every weather, harmonious and Ligurian with lots of traditional reds and yellows. A perfect background for the molo (the dock) where there's always something to watch. In Italian, they are referred to as case-fortezza - fortress houses. It's because these emblematic colorful buildings were not built this way for homeowner pride or urban harmony, but for protection.

Historic photo of the Palazzata - Fortress Houses, Portovenere
The Palazzata before the molo (dock). Portovenere.
Together the buildings form a defensive wall since they are tall and narrow and contiguous, and before there was the molo, a large boat couldn't approach them. The pretty wall has resisted Saracens and Pisans - but yields willingly to nice tourists. There’s a seaside entrance to each house at ground level, but the access to the street behind - via Capellini – is from a different, higher floor. The windows are small and there are no balconies and there is no street providing uphill access through the line of buildings, just a few steep, defensible stairways.

The oldest buildings are toward the open sea

20 August 2014

Food is History in Liguria

Pignone Festival Celebrates Local Food 
One way Italians express pride in their culture and their history is with food - God bless them. Almost every town has it's Prodotti Tipici (local specialties) and the Ligurian town of Pignone has some that are really interesting. An historic town near the Cinque Terre and north of La Spezia, its food traditions go back centuries, and with good reason.  You don't need a history or marketing degree to realize a town on trade routes with rich farm land near a rocky coast might have the edge in food production. But keep in mind that Pignone's prodotti tipici  developed when marketing meant carrying the products on foot to La Spezia or to the coast. 

Dry corn or Granturco Dall'Asciutto of Pignone
Granturco Dall'Asciutto of Pignone on the cob. Named dry corn because
it can survive dry spells. It makes good polenta and a special focaccia.
The big festival called Gli Orti di Pignone (The Gardens of Pignone) is the annual expression of local food pride in Pignone. It is held on a weekend at the end of August and it draws thousands. There is food and wine to buy, to eat, or just look at. Local music groups help celebrate the town's contadini origins, the atmosphere is lively and it lasts into the night. According to the Pignone Pro Loco, in 2014 the Sagra will be held Saturday August 30th from 18:00 to 24:00 and Sunday August 31st from 12:00 to 23:00.  Here's a rather long amateur video that you can flip through to see what to expect: Gli Orti di Pignone 2011 Video.

We genuinely like Pignone and have written about it before in Beautiful Villages of Liguria Part 7, where you can read a short description of the town and its history.  The Touring Club Italiano likes the town too and awarded Pignone its quality seal, the Bandiera Arancione: TCI Best Small Towns - Pignone.

Pignone's Products. Here is a guide to some of the most notable local foods. Most are hearty specialties that will store and travel well. As your friendly test dummies, we have tried almost all of