I recently visited my friend Karen, who rents an adorable apartment above the town of Camogli on the Italian coast south of Genoa. She was my guide for five days as we explored this bellissima region. Following are photos which say it all.
Karen at her favorite spot in San Rocco, about a half-hour walk from her apartment. Right, Camogli.
Manarola, above, is one of the five Cinque Terre villages perched and nestled along Italy’s rocky Ligurian coast. They are a magnet for tourists, especially Americans after travel writer Rick Steves touted their merits. Many years ago husband Bob and I hiked the trail between the villages. It was magnificent – not packed with the masses. At this writing, parts of the trail are closed for repairs. Karen and I visited four villages by train.
Manarola, one of the Cinque Terre villages
Lots of tourists, mainly Americans, visited Vernazza, the most popular village, in March, well before the tourist season.
We followed the recommendation of a German tourist and hiked to the Portofino lighthouse. Right, another view of Portofino
Only in Italy: My hotel room window had a clothes line outside (left) — very practical. Clothes hanging out to dry decorate many buildings in Italy.
Albergo La Camogliese, a centrally located hotel in Camogli, is affordable with friendly, helpful staff. You even get a clothes line outside your window. http://www.lacamogliese.it
My other writing projects, Immigrants on the Italian border and Alzheimer- caregivers and victims, are on the burner.
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A complicated tale of money, violence, crime, racism, lies, traffickers, a story of misery, tragedy, heartbreak and death: Immigrants on the Italian- French border.
There are similarities to the dreadful situation on the Mexican-US border. Thousands and thousands risking their lives to escape conflict, persecution, famine, death. The journeys are dangerous, often plagued with violence, theft, and hunger. They only want a chance at life, to have food and shelter, to work, to live in peace. They deserve that chance. Will they get it?
I live in France just 20 auto minutes from the French-Italian border. I recently started volunteering with a French organization, Relier, offering assistance to the homeless immigrants in Ventimiglia, the Italian border town. The majority are young, black males from dozens of different African countries . Most want to enter France, perhaps proceed to other European countries. In this part of France, they are not welcome.
It is a complex topic. I plan to write a more extensive article/blog soon. I need more time and research. Watch this space.
Another topic I am very involved with is Alzheimer. For four plus years I have watched this cruel disease slowly destroy my husband. I will write more on that too, with a focus on the dedicated caregivers devoted to the lost and confused.
I had hoped to post a blog on one of the above sooner, but since that has not been possible, and it’s been so long since I have posted, I wanted to give a preview of what’s on my agenda. And, an update on husband Bob since my last post: Christmas without the Merry.
The helpers I mentioned in that post, Kyle and Paola, were fabulous, although Paola quit after three days. Apparently, it was too much for her. I could not have survived without Kyle. He managed Bob with perfection and helped me keep my sanity. It was not easy for either of us. The accident (fall and broken pelvis in several places) greatly accelerated the Alzheimer. Bob was confined to a hospital bed in the living room. He was difficult, especially at night when he was very agitated and slept little.
After three weeks, Kyle and I, both exhausted, came to the same conclusion. We could not continue. Fortunately, I found a place for Bob in a near-by EHPAD, a type of French medicalized senior citizen home. He is in the Alzheimer unit with 14 others. The staff are patient, caring. The food is good, very French with four-course meals and a gouter (snack) in the afternoon. The ambience is pleasant– bright, clean and spacious. He has never asked to leave, to come home. I don’t think he remembers our apartment nor realizes where he is and why. That is sad, but probably a blessing. I visit daily.
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It was hot – too hot – in southern France, and much of the world this summer. Day after day. Week after week. I had to escape. The mountains called. I chose Italy’s Dolomites, about 650 kilometers (400 miles) from our abode in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France. We made the drive in two days, less stress for seniors, with an overnight stop in Brescia.
As a passionate skier (sadly those days are over), I knew some of the Dolomite’s famous slopes, including the renowned Sella Ronda, a 500 -kilometer ski circuit. It stretches through four valleys around the Sella mountain which are also connected by road passes. And, I remembered a challenging ascent to the Adamello, a 11,000-foot peak, many, many years ago. I was eager to return to these mighty mountains – even without the challenges and excitement of bygone days.
This would be a Dolomites for Seniors trip. I am not as fit as I was in younger days, and husband Bob is struggling with Alzheimer. No overnights in mountain huts for us. No all-day killer hikes. Not even strenuous 1/2 day treks. Been there. Done that. We would take leisurely walks and drive – not hike -through the heights. Thanks to tips from friend Noel and his Italian buddy Fabio, we stayed in a lovely, if not luxurious, apartment in the town of La Villa. My friend Karen was with us.
Unlike us, Karen is a very fit senior and dedicated walker. She set off every morning for two-hour hikes. Bob does not move too quickly in the morning. While Karen hiked, I got Bob up, dressed and breakfasted. When she came back, we were ready for adventure at a slow, senior pace.
My trusty new Suzuki Swift, Poppy, was the perfect mountain car. Agile, responsive and fun. She took those curves like a champ, and they were endless. Not quite like my beloved Porsche, but that too was a different era.
We drove the Sella Ronda route, up and down, switchback after switchback. Fortunately, there are places to pull off for photos. During our week in these rugged mountains, I went photo crazy. I could not resist. Every view was a postcard.
While Bob and I are not up to strenuous treks, we figured we could try a gentle mountain walk. We followed the advice of a local and set off on a trail to the hut/rifugio, Munt Pasciantado. The jaunt was not exactly senior flat as we had been led to believe. There is no such thing in the Dolomites. Yet, it was pleasant and the goulash lunch at the rifugio was delicious. Goulash, not pasta, in Italy?
We were in South Tyrol, known as Sud Tyrol in German and Alto Adige in Italian. The region borders Austria to the north, and was part of Austria-Hungary until it was annexed by Italy after World War I. There are three official languages: Italian, German and Ladin. The latter is an ancient Rhaeto-Romance dialect derived from popular Latin and spoken by just four percent of the population. Ladin is also spoken in the Engadine Valley in Switzerland.
Most everyone in Sud Tyrol is bilingual, and most Ladins are tri-lingual. We were in the southern part where more Italian than German is spoken, yet there is much that is Germanic, such as the architecture and food.
We had another fun and tasty rifugio interlude at Rifugio Valparola at the top of a mountain pass where more German specials were on the menu: Bratwurst, potato salad and apple strudel. The cozy ambience was 100 % gemütlich, almost like being back in Germany. Hikers, bicyclists and motorcyclists savoured their accomplishments and replenished themselves after strenuous activity. We had not earned those calories, but we still enjoyed. I even went for the Italian finale: Grappa. The rifugio has 10 different flavors of this fiery brew, all homemade. I followed the owner’s suggestion and went for Cirolo Zirm, delicious, although I have no idea what the flavor was.
The rifugio was on our route to Cortina d’Ampezzo, a ski resort that is part of Dolomiti Superski, the largest ski area in the world. We were disappointed. in the town, but the drive was spectacular.
We could not hike to the peaks, but we could ride. From Corvara, just a few kilometers from our apartment in La Villa, we rode a gondola then a chairlift to a windblown, barren area with super views of surrounding mountains and endless photo opps. Getting off a moving chairlift with no boards attached to your feet and no snow on the ground can be tricky — at least for some seniors. We conquered, but with senior angst.
The part of Sud Tryol around the Sella Massif is Ladinia, the heart of the Dolomites where 30,000 Ladins live. In addition to their language, they have their own culture, traditions and culinary specials. Since food is a travel highlight for me, I was eager to try Ladin cuisine.
Claudine Saltuari, a manager at our apartment complex (www.dolomit.it), suggested an agriturismo, Maso Runch. We have been to many agriturismi over the years, usually rustic farms which offer simple local food and lodging. This one was especially popular, and only with Claudine’s assistance could we get a reservation.
It was like no other agriturismo – china, crystal and fine wines – and more popular with seniors than the younger set. The food was copious, course after course. Following a hearty barley soup, we tasted three different kinds of tutres, pastry filled with spinach, sauerkraut or potatoes. Both are popular in the Ladin kitchen.
Next came a pasta course, ravioli filled with spinach. And more — multiple platters with goulash, pork shank, polenta, sauerkraut, fried potatoes. We were stuffed, but could not pass on the dessert: Apple fritters with ice cream. After all that, a digestif Grappa was in order.
For more about the Ladins, we visited the Museum Ladin Ciastel de Tor in the town of Badia – good senior activity. The informative and well-presented displays are housed in an ancient, restored castle. For centuries Ladins lived somewhat isolated in this terrain of steep, rocky slopes. They were poor, living off the harsh land. Things began to change with more skiers and hikers discovering the attractions and beauty of the Dolomites. Tourism brought opportunity for an easier life. As they began to intermarry and intermingle, preserving the language became challenging. In Ladinia, children learn both German and Italian in school, and Ladin three times per week.
We found cool and delightful temperatures in the Dolomites – and much more. No need to be a hardcore athlete to appreciate the Dolomites. Even old folks can enjoy this awesome region.
Scroll down for more photos.
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Way, way up: A precarious auto journey slowly, cautiously climbing a skinny, twisty road. We passed a few houses clinging to the hillsides, others hiding below the road down treacherously steep lanes. Lots of overgrown vegetation all around. More curves, hairpin turns, and more of each
This was rough, remote terrain in Italy’s Liguria region above the Mediterranean. I was driving, and hoping we would not meet a car coming in the opposite direction. I am not skilled at driving in reverse, and this road was barely wide enough for two vehicles. How much farther? I was nervous. Did we miss it?
Alas, a small sign. “ L’Oasi del Rossese,” our destination, an agriturismo above the town of Dolceacqua. Agriturismo is a combination of the word for “agriculture” and “tourism” in Italian. Agriturismi (plural) offer farm stay vacations and are very popular in Italy. In addition to lodging, most offer meals featuring local specialties, often made with products from the farm.
Farm hostess Marinella greeted us and showed us to our rooms. My brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie from Colorado were with us. First order of business was a welcome coffee and cookies on the terrace overlooking deep green valleys, mountains and the Mediterranean in the distance. Sadly, we had no sun to enhance the views. Even with overcast clouds, it was splendid.
We heard English at a long table under a wall of balloons. A group was celebrating a birthday. I got up to take a photo and one of the gentlemen stopped me. “I think I know you. Are you a member of BA (British Association of Menton)”? Yes. We sat with Wayne and his wife Veronique, who was celebrating her 60th birthday, at a BA luncheon not long ago. It was Veronique who told me about this agriturismo. They have a farm nearby.
Marinella, husband Nino and son Stefano harvest grapes and olives on their 7,000 square meters of terrain. The main farm product is wine, Rossese, hence the name, Oasis of Rossese, the noted red wine of Dolceacqua which we enjoyed with dinner.
We were hoping to see farm animals. Their livestock consists of chickens and rabbits. I did venture down to the chicken coop and rabbit hutch. The bunnies were big and beautiful. I hated to think of their future.
Rabbit, Coniglio alla Liguria, is a local special and often served here. Steve announced he would not eat it if it was to be our dinner. Luckily it was not, although I would have indulged. The French are also fond of rabbit, and I prepare it occasionally.
Food is a big attraction at agriturismi. Our dinner was a never-ending, multi course feast. Italian meals begin with antipasti. One after another, Marinella served us five different antipasti dishes: Tomatoes with fresh sheep cheese, a slice of bruschetta, a frittata of zucchini and peas, stuffed zucchini flowers, and a tasty a slice of torte made with tiny fish from the Med. This was followed by the pasta course, ravioli burro e salvia (ravioli stuffed with sage) – all homemade. Instead of rabbit, for the main course we had both roast pork and goat with fagioli (white beans). The latter was our favorite. Dessert: a strawberry tarte. Plus, a bottle of Rossese.
Marinella cooks, all from scratch. Nino lends a hand, stuffing the ravioli. They have a large vegetable garden, in addition to the chickens and rabbits, to supply the products for her cooking. Stefano and Nino care for the grapevines and olive trees. Stefano also makes the wine. Their production of both olive oil and wine is limited. They only sell to guests and a few local clients.
“People are happy here,” said Marinella. She did admit that the first time is difficult due to the seemingly endless, challenging trek up the mountain. It is only seven kilometers, but they are long and very slow. Many French come for the day from Nice just to eat, she said. In August they have guests from Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
Agriturismo began in Italy in the 1960s when small farmers were struggling to make a profit. Some abandoned their farms and went off to work in cities. However, agricultural traditions are sacred in Italy. In 1973 an official agriturismo farmhouse designation was created to help prevent farmers from abandoning their farms, and to offer tourists a farm stay so they could learn about rural life.
In some regions, but not all, farmers need a license to take part in agriturismo. We have visited nearby Dolceacqua many times. Every time it seems there are more “agriturismo” signs on houses in the village. What do they have to do with farms and agriculture?
According to a spokesperson at the Dolceacqua tourist office, to be considered agriturismo they must show documents to prove they have land and crops. Of course, many may have such up in the hills. But all of them?
Marinella tells me that today many agriturismo are just Bed and Breakfast accommodations and have nothing to do with agriculture. I asked Arabella, my Italian friend with whom I study Italian.
“E una giungla,” (It’s a jungle), she explained. In Italian the expression refers to situations when laws are not respected, everyone does whatever he/she wishes … a bit like Italian drivers.
Agriturismo breakfast — Bob, me and Yoshie. No one looks very happy, but we were very happy. The farm and surroundings are a treat.
AZ Agrituristica, L’Oasi del Rossese de Zullo Stefano, Loc Morghe, 18035 Dolceacqua, Italy, Tel. xx 39 347 8821298.
“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.” That is exactly the way I felt during a September visit to Lago di Como (Lake Como) in northern Italy. It is sublime. Glittering waters at the feet of Alpine mountain ranges. Photo-opp villages with cobbled alleys and flowered promenades. Baroque villas and impeccably manicured gardens.
Like me, lots of famous people have been seduced by the lake’s beauty and charm. Artists, writers, opera singers and aristocrats have homes on the lake shores. Not to mention Hollywood stars: George Clooney, Madonna, Richard Branson, Sylvester Stallone…
My friend Karen, who knows the lake well, suggested we stop at Lake Como en route to her apartment in Croatia. I had fond memories of previous lake visits and was all in. She chose Varenna, considered one of the prettiest lakeside towns, as our destination for two nights. We enjoyed soaking up the vistas and the captivating ambiance of the lake and town.
The most heavenly time was high above the lakeside town of Tremezzo at the restaurant Al Veluu. Karen has friends who know the restaurant owner. She made a reservation mentioning her friends. We never did meet the owner. The waiter who greeted us was neither impressed nor happy to see us. It was close to 2 p.m.. The restaurant terrace was empty. He, no doubt, wanted to call it a day.
We had the spacious terrace and garden all to ourselves. The divine surroundings and spectacular views made up for the disappointing food. It was calm, peaceful, relaxing. We did not want to leave, but the warm sun was no longer so warm, and we needed to start the trek (taxi then 2 ferry rides) back to Varenna.
Boats are the primary means of transportation for visiting Lake Como. Ferries of all sizes shuttle from town to town. The previous day we took a ferry to Bellagio, the “pearl” of the lake. Years ago husband Bob and I visited this treasure of a town. We visited the park and gardens of the grandiose Villa Serbelloni, hiked in the hills, took boat rides. It was all delightful.
Years later we returned with my mother who was overwhelmed. In addition to the gorgeous views and surroundings, she loved the shops. Bellagio, like most of the towns, has a plethora of boutiques and souvenir shops. On one visit, I purchased a large olive wood basket which I still treasure.
In Varenna, we stayed at an Airbnb which promised a “bella vista” of the lake. What a joke. From a small bedroom window in a corner, if you twisted your neck you could spot the lake. Never mind. We had plenty of bella vistas as we climbed up and down the steep stairways in Varenna that lead to the lake, and strolled the path, Passegiata degli Innamorati (walk of lovers), along the shore.
Lake Como was the perfect start to my much-needed R&R break.
Thanks again to Karen, adventure in Croatia followed. Read all about it in an upcoming post. Don’t miss out.
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For more on Bellagio, read my report on a previous visit- click here.
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