Thursday, June 19, 2014

Start of the road trip

We picked up our lease car in Nice. Our luggage only JUST fitted into the boot [trunk to my American friends].

No spare room in the boot

We drove around for a while, making our way to the Italian border and Ventimiglia. Why Ventimiglia? Well, many years ago Andy had been there with his mates, and had ordered a pizza, which turned out to be an enormous anchovy pizza. Just anchovies. So it had stuck in his memory. But his memory did not match the reality. Ventimiglia was very shabby, very crowded, full of traffic, and it proved impossible to find a parking place. He didn't recognise anything, either.

Instead, we decided to head inland to see what we could find. We drove through narrow roads, full of hairpin bends and in the distance saw a town on a mountaintop. We eventually arrived there (it was called Perinaldo) and saw a hotel (Hotel la Riana), so we pulled over to see if they had any vacancies. As soon as we got out of the car we saw an incredible view back down the valley.   We were greeted by our very jovial German host, Gunter, and his friend Stefan who was visiting for the weekend. We took our bags up to our room, which also enjoyed that wonderful view, and then were invited to come downstairs for a drink, which was very much appreciated after the long drive.

View from Perinaldo hotel room down to the Mediterranean
Gunter recommended a restaurant for our dinner, and phoned ahead to tell the hosts, Angelo and Patrizia, to expect us.  We climbed up the hill to the restaurant, seeing more fantastic views with each corner we turned.  On the way up we passed a lookout with astronomical paraphernalia,  including a giant sextant. It was a cloudy night, but if it had been clear the view of the stars from that point. In fact it turns out that Perinaldo is the birthplace of the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini.

When we arrived at the restaurant,  I Pianeti di Giove, we were greeted very  warmly. Angelo and Patrizia did not speak English,  so communication that night was a combination of my poor Italian, German (with Angelo) and French (mostly with Patrizia). The food was wonderful (though we ordered too much) and at the end of the evening we were farewelled as old friends (Patrizia hugged me and gave me a present of a Venetian mask). I would love to put up a link to their web site, but they don't appear to have one.

Waking up to that wonderful view was magical. After breakfast, we set off across the mountains headed for San Remo. It was hard to find our way around, and there was no parking, so we headed out of town to follow the coast eastwards.  Not finding somewhere to park became a common occurrence.

I have to say I was not impressed by the Italian Riviera.  It was overly built-up, had few buildings of architectural interest, and no "Wow!" views. It just couldn't compare to the Côte d'Azur. We eventually got onto the autostrada to try and get some distance. We were just not finding anywhere to stay, so I thought we'd head down towards Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure  and Portofino.

We couldn't find anywhere to stop and park in Rapallo, so continued on to Santa Margherita Ligure.

We weren't very impressed with the town.  It was crowded and noisy, especially with the huge numbers of mopeds and motor bikes that kept roaring along the waterfront.

It took us ages to find somewhere to park so that we could even start to look for somewhere to stay. We eventually found a parking station just after we had passed two hotels.  The first one we walked up towards and rejected out of hand straight away. The next one we looked at, Hotel Park Suisse, we could see high up from the carpark at the front.

They couldn't even fix their sign
It looked horribly dated, and the fact that the illumination was working only on half the letters gave a bad impression.  A quick check of trip advisor did not give good reviews. Still, we were getting rather desperate, and checked in for two nights so that we could use it as a base  to see some of the other places around there, since parking anywhere was next to impossible. Here is the review I submitted to Tripadvisor:
We found this via trip advisor when we found ourselves in the area. The reviews their rated this hotel well, but that was not our opinion. The pictures on trip advisor make it look like this hotel in on the top of the hill with great views. It isn't.  It is right down the bottom, with no views, and located on a busy road. Our room was next to that road. The site said it was 10 minutes drive from Volterra, it wasn't - it was twenty minutes drive. The whole place feels like the 70s, and the bathroom in particular needed updating.  The shower had mould on the grouting, and the tiles were a horrible dusty pink. Add that to the green bathroom door with doorframe in a different green and it is not a good effect.  The restaurant looked nice, but the meal was very average. I had papadelle with wilk boar, which was a meat ragout on the pasta, but it  contained lots of little bit of bone.  Quite offputting. There is no phone coverage, and no wifi. That might not matter to some people, but it was a problem for us.

We were going to use buses to get to Portofino and Rapallo, but when we were on our way to find something for dinner I noticed that there were ferries. So the next day we chose to catch the ferry to San Fruttoso and then to Portofino. Rapallo missed out on seeing us.

San Fruttoso was very small, and had no road access, only access by boat or ferry.  It had a small beach covered in dark grey pebbles, and many people were swimming. Aparently, it was unusually quiet for a Sunday,  due to the European election that was being held on that day. We didn't actually do much exploring here, just enjoyed our lunch and looked at the besutiful scenery and soaked up the atmosphere until it was time to get the ferry to Portofino.

San Fruttoso
After the quiet of San Fruttoso, Portofino was completely different. It did not have a beach, and was predominantly a yachting paradise. Some of the boats we saw were unbelievable.  I don't know whether the occupants owned them or were hiring them for a holiday, but even in the latter case I'd like to know how many banks they had to rob!

Portofino itself was a cute little town. We wandered up to (and inside) the church,  around it village, and past a very surreal sculpture exhibition in a park. We also had some delicious gelato before we finally boarded the ferry to head back to Santa Margherita Ligure.

It was much quieter in Santa Margherita Ligure that night (Sunday) as it seems most of the people filling up the town were Italians having a weekend away. By the evening they had all gone home and the constant roar of motorbikes had stopped. Our hotel was positively deserted on Monday morning - the only people apart from us was one English family and two American couples.


Enormous yacht

How the other half live

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