Sunday, October 18, 2009

La Riviera di Levanti

Today, we found a village like what I thought Cinque Terre was going to be in my at-home fantasies. There are many villages like this one in the area--in fact, many mountain tops have them spilling down the sides, crowned by a church with a steeple. It's just that they don't have restaurants, and they probably aren't in any guidebooks, and they haven't been promoted by the Italian gov't or themselves. I could be wrong about this, but as we walked through the village of Legnaro, it seemed that we were trespassing. There were no keep-out signs, but we whispered to each other, and we saw no one. It was beautiful, and the views were terrific. There were two agriturismos attached to the village, but evidently they are hard to find, because the only other two people we saw in Legnaro were a man and a woman looking for Agriturismo I Pipette. Oh. And you can't drive into the village because the streets are too tight.

After Legnaro, we drove up the coast to Portofino. Giancarlo recommended it to us, saying it was very beautiful. We drove on the two lane road through the mountains through pine forests and away from the ocean until we came down at a town called Sestri Levante. It was a tired, closed up beach town, the kind of place that's awash with the worst kind of tourists in the summer and boarded up and dead in the winter.

After that, the towns on the coast improved beginning with Chiavari. We had heard from the woman who bought my old Audi that Rapallo was an interesting town, "Italians keep it for themselves," she said. Whether or not that is true, we didn't see any Americans there. We stopped for lunch at 4:00. We haven't gotten our schedules right yet, and I was frantic with hunger. We had beaten the bushes in Sestri Levante looking for something to eat with no luck. The groceries and delis close between 1-4, and many restaurants don't open for lunch. In that town, it meant no food except at the gas station, and I was not going to eat a cold hot dog no matter how hungry I was. I would have had to go much longer without food to settle for something like that in Italy! I ate an emergency fruit and nut bar, and we forged on, but I wasn't nice. I blame Chris when we don't eat lunch because he's like a camel with food. No, no, nothing for me. I can just live on clouds and water! And when I get hungry, I better get fed or someone's going to get hurt.

Lucky for us, we both survived and had a really nice lunch on the seaside promenade in Rapallo. The place made a beautiful insalata Rapalloise (like a Nicoise, the waitress said, but with cooked ham and other Italian things) and sausages with beans (and funghi). Delicious, healthy, satisfying.

Rapallo's seaside promenade is full of faded Belle Epoque mansions. In fact, all up the Ligurian Riviera from Levanto to Portofino, there are astoundingly gorgeous, old huge homes on the seaside. More wondering about the kind of money it takes to finance those mansions.

Santa Margherita Ligure was full of elegant 5-star hotels, and Portofino reeks of money, but interestingly enough, it is (on the face of it) the most humble. It's seemingly simple but colorful buildings are pressed up against the steep cliffs, its bay small, and the real estate niggardly. We walked from one end of the promenade to the other in 10 minutes at a very leisurely stroll. Huge yachts are anchored in front of the humble ocean frontbuildings, but up on the hills above the village are the houses of the rich.

How do they get up there? The roads are hidden. The shops are evenly divided between T-shirts vendors, hand-embroidered froufrou sellers, and Gucci and high end jewelry and watch stores. It has the cleanest parking garage in the world (well, in my little experience of such things) where the hoi poloi have to park, and there's an electric sign around the corner from the entrance to the village that tells visitors how long they have to wait to get in. I suppose that may be tough if you live there...unless, of course, they come in the back...

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