Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lake Garda and Trent

We left San Marino about midday. After a long drive on the motorways (in order to get some distance behind us) we finally arrived at Lake Garda. The plan was to have a picnic lunch somewhere alongside the lake.  Well, it was very busy and built up and unattractive.  Whenever we found somewhere near the lake that appeared to have parking it was totally full. We finally found somewhere for our picnic lunch at ten past four.

Lake side stop for a picnic lunch
Afterwards we continued to follow the lake around its western shore.  For a long time we did not like what we saw, but eventually it started to become more attractive.  We were also trying to work out where we would spend the night. Places that we drove through looked very difficult to park in, and when we checked the price of one place it was incredibly expensive.  So we kept driving.  

We went through quieter roads in the hope that we might find something, but this part of Italy is very industrial and unattractive.  We arrived in Trento (also called Trent, as in the Council of Trent), couldn't find anywhere to park and it was getting very late.  We tried trip advisor and there wasn't a lot around. We had already decided to take a break the next day to let Andy do some work, as the next thing we wanted to see was Ötzi the Iceman, and that museum would be closed the next day. Trip advisor did include a Best Western. Rather than book online we decided to drive there and check it out. It was in the middle of an industrial estate with trucks and containers everywhere. But, strangely, it was quiet, and you know that a Best Western will be clean and have reliable internet, so we decided to stay for 2 nights.

Actually, it was lucky that we made it into Trento in one piece.  Sadie (our sadistic SatNav) twice told us to "turn right now" when to the right of us was a solid wall, and once told us to turn left when there was a no entry sign at that point.

The next day actually turned out to be a holiday (the Festa della Repubblica) so the restaurant wasn't open for lunch or dinner, which was very annoying. Especially as the Hotel didn't tell us, or have any signs up - they obviously assumed we knew it was a holiday and that we knew the restaurant would be closed as a result. We ended up going to a place recommended by the hotel for lunch (which was incredibly hard to find, even with their directions and our sadistic SatNav, and going back into Trento for dinner, and I can't say I fell in love with it (Trento, that is).  The dinner was good, though.

Trent castle

Andy's dinner - blueberry gnocci.
My dinner was less dramatic

Saturday, July 26, 2014

San Marino

Approaching San Marino we could see its three towers crowning the rock upon which the little independent country lies. That was our first sight of the fortified country of San Marino. San Marino is a country entirely within Italy. I don't know why it didn't become part of Italy in 1861, as there are plenty of signs within the walls saying "Giuseppe Garibaldi was here" (or words to that effect), and Garibaldi was the architect of Italian unification,  but it didn't.  So now it is one of two independent countries within Italy.  The other is, of course, Vatican City.

We hadn't seen any signs for accommodation of any sort between Coriano and San Marino and were starting to get a bit worried. We started to see signs for a Hotel Montana and kept heading towards it. We eventually found it. It was above a bar/restaurant (not that any food was being served). The building looked like it was built in the 60s. It wasn't exciting, but we said we'd take a room if it had a view out over the valley.  Well it did have a lovely view, but what we didn't realise until too late was that the bathroom absolutely stank! But the staff were very friendly and were going out of their way to be helpful, and it was cheap, and it did have a wonderful view, and it was only for one night.

View from our Hotel Room
We had dinner at a restaurant inside the old walls and watched the sun go down over the valley. The meal was very nice (but there was too much of it - we had ordered a special set menu), but the views and the sunset were spectacular.

Mountains surrounding San Marino at dusk

 Last of the daylight - view from our restaurant


San Marino after dark
Next day we walked around the town and went up to one of the three towers. My overwhelming impression of San Marino is that it is full of shops selling all manner of things to the tourists - jewellery, leather goods, knives, guns, medieval weapons and armour.  I suspect it is some kind of tax free haven, and a haven for re-enacters. It was also full of people, even though it was nowhere near peak season.

Medieval helmet...

... knives ...

... and swords.

One of the towers

San Marino Guard
From San Marino we headed off towards Lake Garda.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Coriano Ridge War Cemetery

Since we were in Italy with time on our hands, we decided to drive over to the east coast towards Coriano. The trip took us through some fantastic countryside, which is always a pleasure, but the main ambition was to visit the Coriano Ridge War cemetery. 

Andy's half-uncle is buried there. Edwin Timms (known to the family as Ted or Teddy) was just 23 when he died on 9 September 1944 at Croce during what was known as the battles for the Gothic Line.

Like all of the Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries, it was very well kept, and it felt very peaceful.  He was buried in the far right corner, so he really is buried in "some corner of a foreign field that is forever England".

Coriano Ridge War Grave Cemetery

Grave of Lieut. Edwin Timms

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tuscan Cooking Class

As mentioned in the previous post, we had decided to stay an extra day in Montalcino to do a Tuscan cooking class.  This was something I had really wanted to include on our itinerary (well, an Italian cooking class - it didn't have to be Tuscan), but most of the classes I could find online were for a whole week, and I only wanted a one day class.  Also, there was the difficulty that we weren't sure where we would be on any given day, so booking ahead was difficult.

The cooking class we did was great fun, and worth putting up with the horrible accommodation. We were met by our teacher, Marcella, who took us to the market to buy ingredients for the food we were going to cook.  As I've said before, I love looking at local food markets overseas, to see the type of food they have and also how it has been arranged.  These were not specifically food markets, they were the weekly markets that sold anything and everything, but that did include food.

Fruit and Veg stall at the market

Some of the charcuterie at the market
Marcella then took us back to her agro-tourismo farm, which is run as a B&B and is also where the cooking classes are. There was a fantastic view from this farm. I really do love the Tuscan countryside.

View from the location of our class
The first thing we made was the desert. A cake with an apple topping.  Apparently Andy thought he'd just sit back and watch as I did all the work.  Oh, no.  He had to do it as well! So I made a batch of cakes, and Andy made another.  That was six cakes in all!
Andy making the apple cake
The next thing we made was the gnocci. The original plan had been to make spinach gnocci, which would have given it the green colour, but spinach was not in season. So in the true spirit of using fresh local produce in season, the plan was changed to make asparagus gnocci instead. It was a lot more work than I expected, making all those bits of gnocci.

We started with an appetiser of grilled ham and cheese on bread.  Marcella also opened one of the bottles of Brunello di Montalcino from her husband's vineyard to accompany the food.

Brunello di Montacino
Next we settled down to consume the results of our hard work.  The first dish was the gnocci.

Asparagus gnocci with a tomato sauce
Next came some grilled zucchini (or courgette, whichever name you prefer), along with a liver sausage which I have to say I was not keen on.  Liver is an acquired taste, and while I like liver from poultry, I don't like other liver.  It's just too strong a flavour for me.  I think this was pig's liver.

Then the final course was the apple cake, along with glass of grappa.  (In case you are worrying, we only ate one of the cakes - Marcella was going to use the other five for breakfast at her agro-tourismo.

The Apple Cake
At the end of the day we were overfull and tired, but had enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thank you, Marcella, for a great day.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


The next Tuscan hilltown we headed for was Montalcino. We found some parking,  and were following the signs pointing to tourist information.  This involved walking along a road with no footpath,  but beautiful and distracting views. After having twisted my ankle in London, broken my finger on the Orient Express and face-planted in Santa Margherita Ligure,  I was being very careful.  But Andy was worrying and watching me, and he was the one who fell over, landing hard on the road on his hip and knee. We don't know exactly what he did, but he did some damage.

The distracting view

Montalcino and its walls

We then found the tourist information, and went in to ask if they did accommodation booking. They said they did, and had a property inside the town walls for €100, or properties in the countryside for €120-140. We said we thought we'd prefer the countryside.  They said the property in town had views over the valley, and parking, so we said we'd go there. We arrived and were being checked in when I noticed a folder of tours that were available. I was flipping through it, when I saw one for a cooking lesson for a day, which included shopping at the market first for the ingredients.  It was advertised for Fridays, which was the next day, so I asked if we could get booked into that and also stay in Montalcino for an extra night. 

That was all arranged, and then we were taken to our room. There was no way it could be said to have had a view of the valley.  It opened up onto the "panoramic terrace with wonderful views". Well, it certainly had views of the car park! What was even worse was that the room smelled.  It was eye-wateringly musty and damp and there was mould on the walls of the bathroom and the main room. Not pleasant. 

This was the view.
Not what I'd call a valley view, but then you can see a
tiny bit of the valley.

We were planning to eat in their restaurant that evening, and asked when dinner started.  We were told "7.30 or thereabouts". At about 7.40 (when the restaurant still hadn't opened) all the lights went out, and when we asked what was going on, they said that the whole town had lost power. We asked if they were going to be able to do at least a cold meal,  they said they didn't know when the power would come back on. It didn't look like any food had been in preparation, so after about 15 minutes we decided to see what was happening elsewhere. It was only one side of one street that was affected by the power outage, and other affected restaurants were doing what they could and had lit candles. We found somewhere else to eat that night, and on our second night didn't want to bother with their restaurant.

Montalciano is best know for its "Brunello di Montalcino" red wine, which can only officially be grown in that area. Some of it was very dear, but we did have a not-so-dear bottle with dinner, and also some during our cooking class the next day.




After leaving Pisa, we continued down to Volterra. Once we arrived, which was at about 4pm, we decided to first find somewhere to stay for the night. We ended up finding somewhere through TripAdvisor which had a very misleading entry. Here is my review:

"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."
Next morning we went back up to look at Volterra. It was another wonderful medieval, stone built, hill town surrounded by medieval walls.  It also had the ruins of a Roman theatre just outside the town walls. There was an entrance fee, but it could easily be seen through the fence without having to pay anything. 
Roman Theatre just outside Volterra's walls
One of the gates, known as the Etruscan Arch, was built in the 4th century BC and is said to be the only surviving round arch dating back to Etruscan times.
Etruscan arch with very weathered heads
Volterra's town hall may look familiar. It seems to have been the inspiration for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
Volterra's Town Hall
Carving in Town Hall wall that acts as the town's official
measure for the markets held in the square

Tuscan Countryside from Volterra

Flavoured dried pasta
Volterra shop display

Friday, July 18, 2014


We left the coast and were heading to the Tuscan hill towns. The route was going to take us by Pisa, so it made sense to stop and see the leaning tower. Before we reached there we stopped and had a picnic lunch in a lovely park or reserve of some kind. Then it was off to Pisa. 

A wonderful picnic location
Just to let you know, it is still leaning over - the tower that is. They haven't fixed it. We didn't go up the top, as this was just a detour for us.
Andy was not happy about posing for the traditional picture holding up the tower

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Cinque Terre (the Five Lands)

We arrived at our hotel in Levanto with the help of Sadie the sadistic SatNav. She was behaving herself and didn't try to direct us to turn right over any cliffs (she became more troublesome as time went on).
Our room in Levanto
We had chosen to stay in Levanto because I couldn't find anything nice at a reasonable price in the Cinque Terre. One guide book said it had nothing to recommend it and you should only stay in Levanto if desperate.  But we liked the town. It was very easy to get the train from there to the five towns making up the Cinque Terre, or if the weather was good, you could get a boat. We were staying in a 19th century Palazzo,  with painted ceilings and lots of character.
Ceiling of our room

Riomaggiore Harbour

We decided to look at one of the five towns that first day and leave the other four for the next day. Riomaggiore was the one we chose. It was (well, still is) a fishing village clustered around a few streets. I was thrown from the beginning, as our guide book told us to start by taking the lift to the top of the hill, but the lift was not working.  We then didn't know whether to go up or down hill. We went downhill first, to the harbour.

After that we headed up the hill.  We walked up one street, and then doubled back on ourselves, past the local church and children playing in the square, supervised by adults who all sat in the shade gossiping, and on up to the high point from where we could see the path to Manarola (the Via dell'Amore).

Via dell'Amore
We didn't intend to walk between all of the Cinque Terre, but thought we might do the easiest leg, which is between Riomaggiore and Manarola, but unfortunately it was closed.

The next morning the weather had changed. It was cold and very windy, but dry.  We were very glad we hadn't chosen to catch the boat to the Cinque Terre towns because they were cancelled as the weather was too rough.  We had already purchased our two day rail pass, so that was no drama.

Our first stop was Vernazza. This was not the next town north of Riomaggiore, but we chose to go here first as it was market day at that town. I love looking around the food markets when I am overseas to see what different food items they have for sale and how they present them.  But this was a rather disappointing market. Very small, in keeping with the size of the town's population.  
Market produce

We then wandered down to the harbour. The sea was incredibly rough, but that was an amazing sight. I find the sea fascinating, how it can change its moods so easily. They had actually roped off the access to the quay as waves were breaking over it and there was a danger people could been swept off into the harbour or the ocean.
Waves crashing over the breakwater

Vernazza Harbour
Street in Vernazza
Next stop was Manarola, which I think was my favourite of the five towns (though Vernazza was a close second). The sea was still being whipped up by the winds, so we got some incredible visions when we walked out a little way towards the headland and looked back to the town.
Sea still rough at Manarola
Local shop selling an assortment of dried pasta
One of Corniglia's narrow streets
Corniglia is the only one of the five towns not to be on the water. We got a bus from the train up to the town, rather than climb the hundreds of steps.  This was the least impressive of the towns. We had a very long wait for the train to the next town - at least one and possibly two timetabled trains never turned up. This was very unpleasant as by this time the wind had dropped and it was very hot.

Monterosso al Mare, the last of the five lands, was the place I had been primarily looking for accommodation before we decided to stay in Levanto instead. And I'm glad we did make that choice.  At least one of the places I was looking at, which looked ok in the photos, was in a location that was completely unappealing.  And I didn't think much of the beach. I guess I just have to face the fact that having grown up with the Australian beaches I have been spoiled.
Beach at Monterosso al Mare

In summary, I have to say I was very disappointed in the Cinque Terre.  I didn't think it was a patch on the Amalfi coast and Sorrento which we visited on our last trip to Italy. (see

Local speciality - anchovies