Tunneling to the Five Italian Lands
There are 111 tunnels between Nice and Genoa. We know because we counted them. When you take this drive along the Italian Riviera, be prepared for the tunnels. If the weather is sunny and bright, going from bright-to-dark-to-bright-to-dark-to-bright-to-dark, etc. will make you dizzy if not crazy. Fortunately unfortunately, it rained almost the whole way to Monterosso Al Mare in Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Sea — a four-hour drive door to door with a few detours along the way, thanks to closed roads and a mishap or two.
Past Genoa and before La Spezia on the Autostrada, Cinque Terre is comprised of the five hill towns perched on the steep sides of the mountains of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Set on little inlets of the sea like being poised on the webs between the fingers of a hand, you cannot drive between them without going back down and up each digit.
We booked a sweet luxury boutique hotel in Monterosso, “La Poesia,” run by a woman named Nicoletta Capellini, who said she was born in the suite in which we stayed (“Il Giglio Rosso”), we being the only guests of the small hotel. It was beautifully decorated and appointed, like an old Italian villa with warm terra-cotta colors and black and white marble floors. The three other rooms, “Clizia,” “Annetta” and “Aspasia” were named in honor of the three women to whom Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale dedicated his poems.
After depositing our bags in the room, she informed us of her two favorite restaurants in the town — to both of which we were sure she was related, since everyone living permanently in this distant corner of the planet must be somewhat incestuous. You simply don’t come and go easily out of any of the towns.
Lunch was taken in her first favorite restaurant — Al Pozzo, where a large group of loud Americans were dining. It was a bit of a shock, having gone so far and to such a remote spot to be blasted with our own culture. They left not long after we sat down, leaving the entire restaurant to ourselves, being low season in what must be during the summer a hotbed of tourists. Lunch consisted of a seafood salad, two different pastas, a bottle of a white Cinque Terre wine and Italian espresso — what one might call ‘nectar of the gods.’
The entire village of Monterosso takes only about 15 minutes to walk down all the narrow little cobblestoned streets and visit a shop or two. So, instead of wasting the last hour of sunlight, we hopped back in the car to work our way to Vernazza without realizing the depth and breadth of the excursion. Down a long, narrow, very winding mountainous road, made up of one hairpin turn after another, also washed out in spots of long stretches, we finally arrived at the dead ended parking area and walked through the town to the port. Small skiffs were parked directly on the Piazza in shades of blue set against rose-colored stucco buildings, their paint peeling adding a special patina.
In the dark we headed back down the treacherous road home to Monterosso and under pouring rain ventured into the other restaurant recommended by Signora Capellini — Ciak — a large contemporary restaurant empty save for one other twosome, where we dined on roasted sea bream and gnocchi al pesto topping it off with espresso, of course.
Then, it rained all night long. The room was comfy and breakfast was served by Signora — copious and loving. We’ll never forget her warmth and charm of La Poesia.
Today we’ll drive to the other towns of Cinque Terre — in particular, Corniglia where no house is on the same level as another. Yes, this, my dear, is Italy — the REAL Italian Riviera…and it’s so close to “Nizza!” Does it get any better?
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Nice
P.S. “Americans love France and Paris, the French are fascinated with the United States, and particularly California. That’s how it goes.
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“A dozen Californian musicians contributed music to the soundtrack and a few of them are also featured in the movie, including an up and coming LA band called The Ruse. They will be performing live for their first European concert at the movie premiere. A kit for school teachers is in the works so that they may use the movie as a base to explore several historical themes as well as to study English. This is an exciting time for the whole team who has worked on this project for months both in California and in France.“