Lovely summer days in Italy
06 August 2011 | Le Grazie
Portovenere, just over the hill from Le Grazie
We left Bonifacio on a forecast of dying winds, so we have gone from an excess of wind to absolutely nothing, mirror flat seas… well there has been the occasional light afternoon sea breeze. In the last two weeks we have motored part way up the coast of Corsica, then across to the Italian island of Elba and further north to where we are now anchored at Le Grazie. Le Grazie is a bay within the Golfo di La Spezia or as locally known Golfo dei Poeti. Bryon and Shelley and other literary greats were regular visitors here. There is a mistral blowing over the other side of Corsica at the moment and today we are getting some of it sliding gently over the hill into the bay. We are weather watching now because it is time to head southwest to the Balearic Islands south of Spain.
Apart from all the motoring we have done we have enjoyed our trip north. The SE corner of Corsica has beautiful beaches with pink sand and crystal clear water. Porto Vecchio was interesting but full of tourists and not as nice as Bonifacio. We decided there that Tuatara’s hull needed a good clean, mixing amongst all the big and small Med boats we looked decidedly grubby. Not a good advertisement for NZ, the only excuse we had was we had come a long way in the last few months, not just out of the marina for the summer holiday as the locals had. When we anchored at Elba Island the next morning after a night crossing from Corsica, we could hold our heads up as we anchored a sparkling clean Tuatara amongst the many anchored boats in Golfo di Campo. Elba was a lovely island to visit, lush and green we even saw lawn something we haven’t seen for a long time!! Many of the Med Islands seem to be just huge lumps of rock but at last we are starting to see more greenery and less rock.
Moving from Italy to France to Italy again I was starting to get my merci and grazie, mixed up, which country was it now??? At least the money stays the same and the prices…..after a while it doesn’t pay to convert how much lunch was or the cost of a bus fare, even tho the NZ dollar has been strong lately. Some things are good value others not, the all day bus fare for Elba worked well for us all though we balked at paying 7E each to spend a short time in Napoleons’ house in Portoferraio . What was excellent value was the 10 Euro each we paid for our day in the Cinque Terre National park. The ticket included unlimited train trips between La Spezia and each of the five villages, bus transport within the park, and access to all the walking tracks. The bus was handy especially at Corniglia where there are 382 steps up hill from the station to the town.
The anchorage here at Le Grazie is a great base for sightseeing in this area, a 20 min bus ride into La Spezia and 5 min walk to the train station and northern Italy is at your finger tips. We decided a day in the Cinque Terre national park was our main thing to do while here. The scenery was lovely and the little towns with the little harbours were as picturesque as the postcards stacked in the souvenir shops. The houses cling to the hillsides no room for cars, at Manarola boats sat outside houses, no room in the harbor. There the boats were launched down the steepest ramp I’ve ever seen or there seemed to be a winch system that lowered the boats about 20 metres down into the water. The vines and gardens grow on the steep terraced hillsides, there are modern mechanical lifts for transporting the boxes of grapes, old photos at Manarola show woman climbing the hills with baskets of grapes balanced on their heads. It must have been a hard life.
We intended to walk along the coastal paths between Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia but discovered the second path between Corniglia and Manarola was closed because of slips. After talking to a couple of Australian ladies we found we could get the bus up hill (essential as the hill is very steep) to the village of Volastra then walk along the hill and then down to Corniglia. That was a great decision, the bus wound its way up hill past the steep vine yards to Volastra. We found the path, no problems there it is well marked and well…. We followed all the others that were on the bus! The first part of the walk took us along the hill through the vineyards and some wild blackberries ( nice ripe berries). The path was essentially flat so it was a leisurely walk enjoying the views out to the villages and down into the sea below. The water was so clear we could almost count the stones in the water way below. Eventually the path turned down hill through the cool forest, when we saw others struggling up the steep path towards us we realized we had walked in the right direction. The rest of the day we travelled by train between villages for which our legs were very grateful!
By lunchtime the day was becoming quite hot and we looked with envy at all the swimmers, we should have taken our togs. We wouldn’t have joined the young kids jumping off the high rocks but a cool float would have been nice. It is august and the Italians are out sunbathing, swimming, sailing, boating, eating gelato, in fact we feel quite at home here, just like an NZ summer. Where ever we have been in Italy so far there has always been a little group of kids sailing optimists either learning or perfecting their skills under the watchful eye of a coach. At Cannigione the coach had a system where he whistled and the kids tacked. He had them going around in circles along in long lines and zigzagging across the bay. They didn’t even seem to mind when it poured with rain although he did let them go in when the lightening started.
Here at Le Grazie there are several classic yachts and motor boats moored on the quay. We gaze admiringly at them as we go past hoping maybe someone might ask us aboard for a look! There are also lots of little old motor boats puttering around, all beautifully kept. Last night a little old square rigger came into the bay, flags flying and lights twinkling, they motored past all the classic yachts firing off what sounded like a cannon. After a while he motored out past us and as I took a photo the man behind the “canon” fired it off giving me a huge fright and with a big grin on his face he waved back as they disappeared around the corner. Not sure what it was all about but they looked like they were enjoying themselves! With the boats, the church bells ringing throughout the day and the terracotta houses on the hill it is a charming place to be. Tomorrow another day trip, this time south to a place called Lucca. Tuesday the weather looks right to leave sunny Italy and head to the Balearics. 360 miles closer to our half way point.