Archive for July, 2012

Bari the Nice. (July 2012)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Bari is a port on the ‘heal’ of Italy and like most ports, it’s a place you pass through but rarely get a chance to explore.

We were on our way from Italy to Montenegro and had to go via Bari to get there, so we decided to stay a couple of days and have a look around.

Our first day we walked from the hotel into the old city and came across Bari castle which is now a museum housing an excellent collection of plaster casts. It features decorations of portals, windows, capitals, corbels, architraves and tombstones from all overt Italy.

Below an extract from the plaque outside the castle entrance.

“Bari Castle was built by Roger the Norman in 1131 and then seriously damaged by William the Bad in 1156.”

This description sums up Bari, simple and unpretentious.

Inside the old walled city life goes on. Unlike many we have seen, it’s not been turned into a tourist attraction as washing hangs from the balconies and people ignore the few tourists that do come wandering through their neighborhood.

We then went out or Bari to see the Trulli in Alberobello. These are conical shaped buildings made of limestone slabs, without the use of mortar.

The roofs of the Trulli are often decorated with symbols that are either primitive magic or religious in origin.

This drywall construction is a prehistoric building technique that’s peculiar to this region.

They were made in such a way that they could be easily pulled down, thus avoiding a housing tax, imposed by the crown during the Middle Ages.

Alberobello is a Unesco Wold Heritage site however that part where the tourist gather is very picturesque but not very photogenic.

There are too many tourists and power lines so we moved to the other side of town where there are streets of Trulli in an uncluttered environment. And like Old Bari, this is a working village where the locals just get on with life and ignore the occasional snooping tourist.

The Trulli are not just in Alberobello but are dotted all over the region and are seen in close proximity to the dry stone walls that ribbon the landscape. These walls are made from the same materials and use the same mortarless construction technique as the Trulli.

It was then back to Bari and the port to continue our journey on to Montenegro.

As it turns out, Bari was a very ‘nice’ place.

Who killed the Bell Boy?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

We don’t stay in 5 star hotels, especially in Europe. Hotels with a 3 and 4 star rating seem to suit our needs and our budget.

Stairs not lifts seem to be the rule in most of these hotels. So at the end of a hard day, clambering over ruins or negotiating treacherous mountain bends, the last thing you need is to schlep your 18kg pack up four flights of narrow stairs.

In the past even these less salubrious establishments would have a spotty faced youth to carry your bags.

And you would reward him handsomely for his efforts.

I guess it’s a sign of the tight economic times but they are now an extinct species.

Also missing is the electric jug with your morning tea and coffee.

I wonder if the Bell Boys stole them as a parting gesture?

I do like Limoncello. (July 2012)

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I developed a taste for Limoncello when we were staying in Rome, with a community of priests, in 2005.

They offered us this magic liqueur, as an after dinner ‘digestivo’, and I have been a fan ever since.

So much so that I made a batch, some of which is sitting in storage, waiting our return.

The Amalfi Coast is the home of all things lemon, especially Limoncello.

Apart from bottles of Limoncello, in all shapes and sizes, you can by aprons, with the recipe printed on the front, lemon scented soap, ceramics adorned with lemons, tablecloths and even the famous Sorrento Lemons themselves.

They are the size of a small grapefruit and baskets of them line the streets.

We stayed in Amalfi, put the car into a garage, and relied on the local bus to negotiate the frighteningly narrow and windy roads to Sorrento and Ravello. We also took the much more sedate ferry to Capri for a day.

On the return journey we saw scrub fires racing up the cliffs, just outside of Positano.

Ravello is more refined with an annual music festival, school of fine art and the Italianate villas that have become hotels, restaurants or both.

One of these is the Villa Cimbrone, a property that originally dates back to late Roman times but was more recently made famous by Earnest William Becket or Lord Grimthorpe.

Earnest was one of the aesthetics and intellectuals who made the Grand Tour through Italy’s a youth. He returned to Ravello, after the death of his wife, and in 1904 bought the rundown estate.

With the help of Nicola Manis from Ravello he brought it back to life.

As a result Villa Cimbrone is a combination of English and Italian landscape architecture with formal and informal gardens.

Unlike Sardinia, the English speaking tourists are on the Amalfi Coast in force. There are coaches lining the parking lots, cruise ships in the ports and dozens of luxury yachts peppered across the bays.

The old parts of these coastal towns are certainly worth seeing as is the natural beauty of the rugged coastline. However I just cannot see the value in coming here for a beach holiday, which is what a lot of Europeans do.

There are no real beaches, well not as we know them. They are either pebbles, pontoons or a grey shale.

Admittedly, our Sorrento, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, doesn’t have Mount Vesuvius across the bay, which we climbed on our last day, or shops bursting with Limoncello, but the beaches are better.

Simplicity. (July 2012)

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

First impressions are in many ways the strongest.

As we came off the ferry from Corsica into Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia, I had a feeling that life was simpler here.

The feeling is like Rosebud or Rye, on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, during the summer holidays. There were family groups taking a break and enjoying the long days and warm evenings.

It’s not surprising that things feel familiar, as most of those beaches are the natural habitat of expatriate Italians.

At Santa Teresa Gallura we walked around the Capo Testa, a wilderness park at the end of the peninsula.

From there we drove via Tempio Pausani to Alghero and stopped off at the Nuraghe Majori. There are about 7,000 Middle Bronze Age Nuraghe in Sardinia, dating back to 1,600 BC. Much of their existence was based on the exploitation of mineral resources.

It’s easy to understand why they survived for over a thousand years when you see how much metal has been mined here.

This feeling of simplicity strengthened when we booked into the Hotel Capo Caccia, a holiday resort frozen in time since the 70s’.

There were lots of extended family groups with young children and packs of teenagers, moving en-mass, around the hotel.

Italy is in the midst of an unseasonably early heat wave. It has lasted for several weeks, with temperatures in the early to mid 30s’.

On one of these very warm days we decided to descend the 674 step, known as Escala del Cabirol, or goat’s steps, down to Neptune’s Grotto a series of subterranean caves and tunnels.

Unfortunately we then has to climb back up.

Hungry for more pre history, we then visited the Anghelu Ruji Tombs, near Alghero.

These tombs, or Domus de Janas, comprising one or more chambers or corridors cut into the rock, are from the late Neolithic period. They are simply adorned with carvings in bas-relief of bovine heads and horns, simple geometric motifs and stylised human figures.

Like their Egyptian equivalent they are preparing the dead to enter the afterlife, however these are much more basic.

From there we drove to the Oristano region, down the coast road, via Bosa.

That’s after we had convinced our Sat Nav that this was the best route to take.

Bosa was a beautiful little seaside town with castle ruins set high on the hill behind.

Triposo had described it as a working town, without pretentiousness. They are right, as fishing boats, not luxury yachts line the riverside port.

Our next four nights were at Serra Pitta, an Agriturismo farm stay, just north of Oristano.

According to the regional tourist guide, rural tourism was established by Sardinian farming women in the 70s’.

As we found in Tuscany, it brings you closer to the local people and gives you an opportunity to see and experience working properties first hand.

In Tenuta de Papena we catered for ourselves but here we ate with the family and other farm stay guests, for two of the nights, and experienced the local food and wine. Much of which was grown outside our bedroom window.

Like all of our Sardinian experiences, this farm stay was simple and uncomplicated.

A lot of the farm work on Serra Pitta was done by hand and the family car was a tractor.

From the farm we did day trips to Oristano, Tharros and a long loop around the man-made Lago Omedeo.

The elegantly simple twelfth century church of San Pietro was moved to Zuri to make way when the valley was flooded.

While we were searching for the prehistoric funeral tower ‘Menhir Cuccura Tundu’ we happened upon an abandoned burial site, similar to the Anghelu Ruji Tombs. This site wasn’t only abandoned by it’s original Bronze Age inhabitants but by the local tourist authority as well.

There was nothing there except an empty ticket office and an overgrown and desolate car park.

Our last few days on Sardinia were spent just outside Cagliari at the Hotel Restaurant Calamosca.

The hotel part of the Calamosca combination was another time grab from the 70s’ but nowhere near as charming as the Hotel Capo Caccia.

However in the evenings the restaurant was the place to be.

The official opening hours were 8:00 to 9:00pm but the holiday makers, glowing from a day in the sun, were still lining up at 11 to get a seat.

This is one of the few hotels in Italy where the public beach is actually better than the private one.

The day is spent standing, sitting, walking and talking in the shallows or on the beach. The constant chatter, that starts at 7am, is only broken by the approach of another plane load of tourists coming in to land or the whining of a small child who has had too many hours in the sun.

It’s hard to imagine, but as English speaking travellers we were as rare in Sardinia as we were in Bulgaria.

Lonely Planet describe Sardinia as the ‘Forgotten Island’. I think that most Italians who holiday here would prefer to keep it that way.

The migrating Flamingos, that were dotted around the waterways near Cagliari, seem to like it as well.

Welcome to Hotel Capo Caccia. (July 2012)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A 4 star hotel, where a few of the stars have faded with age.

Frozen in time since the 70s’ this Spanish Mission style hotel reflects the Catalan origins of Alghero.

Stucco walls and arches, painted white and cream with brown timber trim, are set against the rugged coastline of the Capo Caccia Peninsula in Sardinia.

It’s all there, as it was 40 years ago, but a  little worse for wear. Successive owners have added their touch with art and furniture but nothing seems to have been replaced.

Then there’s the glass cabinets full of Italian shoes, that seems to be from the same era. They are all priced and for sale.

Surrounding the hotel are a number bungalows, nestled in the gardens, all in the same style. Now that summer is upon us, they are rapidly filling with Italian families here for their annual vacation.

Late in the afternoon of our first day at the Hotel Capo Caccia, we went down to the pool bar to have a drink and soak up the atmosphere of this time warp.

How appropriate then, that Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen was playing in the background.

And now for something completely different. (June 2012)

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

From the gently rolling hills of Tuscany we now find ourselves in the rugged mountains and craggy coastline of Corsica.

It’s French but not really.

The Corsicans are fiercely independent as is evident by the many bi-lingual roadsigns that have had the French obliterated.

There are even T-Shirts with the same motifs.

Corsica has been independent twice and even briefly came under British rule during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Genoese governed the island from 1347 to 1729 and many of their towers still remain dotted along the coastline.

The new invasion is from the rich and possibly famous, who moor their luxury yachts conspicuously close to the best waterside restaurants.

We started in St. Florent with side trips to Murato, Vallecalle, Canari and L’Île-Rousse. We then moved south to Ajaccio, the capital city of Corsica and birthplace of Napoleon.

Not surprisingly things Napoleonic are everywhere, from the many restaurants and hotels bearing his name, to the Place d’Austerlitz (Napoleon’s monument) high on the hill overlooking the city.

Le Petit Caporal certainly has the best view in Ajaccio.

We then headed south to Porto Vecchio, a town that’s really only been fully habitable since the fifties.

It has an excellent natural port, that was first discovered by the Romans and a low lying swamp that’s been home to Malaria carrying mosquitos for a lot longer.

The disease was finally irradiated by the Allies, to safeguard the forces stationed there, during World War II.

While at Porto Vecchio we did another side trip to the Araghju site, a 3,700 year old Bronze Age fortification, with a commanding position overlooking the surrounding area.

We then continued further up the windy mountain roads to the Barrage de I’Ospedale, a tranquil lake, surrounded by pine trees and rocky slopes.

Our last day on Corsica was spent in Bonifacio, a Tuscan fortress town perched high on a cliff and only a hour by ferry to Sardinia, our next stop.