Italy, I was soon to discover, is notoriously known for its regulated beaches along the Meditarranean. By regulated I do not mean keeping the beach litter-free; instead the beaches are strictly divided between a public (free) beach or private (pay) beach.
We were lucky enough to rent a small villa overlooking the sea in the beach community of Diano Marina. The view was fantastic but we soon wanted to check out the beach. By the by our walks from our Villa and back became serious workouts as the Villa was on top of the hill. As we were strolling along the walkway that runs beside the beach I realized that beach was filled with sunbathers lounging in chairs under identical umbrellas. If you are prepared to pay, and in some cases what seemed a ridiculous amount of money, you could sunbath to your heart’s content.
The no-money-in-their-pockets sun-seekers and swimmers hoping to find an acceptable patch of public sand for free had very little to choose from. And what was free, wasn’t very nice.
Those who know me well will know that this would become a source of irritation for me as it likely is for many others.
Thus the hunt was on to find a descent, free beach where we could enjoy a refreshing swim. One such hunt had us riding on a bus to Imperia which took about 15 min. After a hot walk through city we came across a newly built park with a lovely Cafe. Where we would discover a large fence that had been intentionally torn down along with a “no swimming” sign. Here we would find a small well worn dirt path that would lead to a long, rocky beach. I believe some Italians had enough of paid beaches. It goes without saying we were happy to make this discovery.
On our last day in Diano Marina we took a bus to Cervo and discovered several nice free beaches. Cervo (pronounced ‘Chervo’) is a small medieval town built on top of a hill overlooking the sea. In the 12th century a fortress was built that incorporates the tower of an 11th century castle. The towers and ramparts are still protecting the village. Cervo became a shelter for pilgrims in the middle ages which one could see as we walked through a maze made by these homes.
We walked the steep, very narrow streets to San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist) which stands high above Cervo providing a lovely view. A small Museum of Ethnography (study of people and culture) is inside Cervo castle. We saw many artifacts from the towns local heritage as well a display of the region’s local history through the eyes of the Ligurian women using 250 Barbie sized dolls spanning from 1850 – 1950. We topped of our visit in this amazing small medieval village maze with a lovely dinner at a restaurant near the top of the hill and a wonderful view.
Our next stop was Como, a small city north of Milan on Lake Como. This took us away from the Riviera and a little closer to the mountains and Switzerland.
With the cost of a ticket that is less than of a GO train going to Toronto from Pickering and it took less than hour to travel by train from Milan to Como. (More to come later about Milan) Como sits on the southern tip of the upside down Y shaped Lake Como. Our host was Elena a lovely part time free lance journalist that Steve knows but had never met.
Elena let us use her apartment in historic building that she and her parents live in. The building was by designed by the Italian architect Giuseppe Terragni who worked during the fascist regime of Mussolini. Terragni would known for pioneering the modernist movement. It is hard to determine the true purpose of the building as it is both a place for living and working. In fact beside her apartment is a office for a oil company. The only thing that is known for sure is that it was the headquarters for the Nazi party during WW II.
We had some time to relax before heading out for dinner while walking to the restaurant Elena showed us a War Memorial which was also designed Terragni and his brother who were asked by the National Fascist Party to design a monument for the victims of World War I. Their design was based on a sketch of the Italian futurist Antonio Sant’Elia, whose sketches showed modernity, dynamics and speed. Some claim the designs sketches the brothers used were for power buildings which could explain the very straight and polished look of the monument. Most of his designs were never built, but his futurist vision has influenced many architects.
Elena pointed out to us The Tempio Voltiano as well, a museum dedicated to Alessandro Volta, a prolific scientist and the inventor of the electrical battery. After our mini tour we headed to her favourite local restaurant.
Dinner time in Italy we had discovered does not start until 8:30 pm. These dinners are full course meals which can last for hours. Which would explain why Italians are for the most part not breakfast eaters, a shot of Espresso starts their day. We also discovered that in northern Italy cappuccino is only drunk in the morning and espresso is for morning, afternoon, evening and even midnight!
Next morning we went out for a morning breakfast of cappuccino and croissant. Alas even ordering a cappuccino in the morning in my best Italian did not disguise the fact we’re tourists. I barely got my Italian words out and the waiter responded in English. Of course it did not help that each different region of Italy would pronounce the same word slightly different.
After breakfast we took a small walk before taking the Funicolare (funicular- special railway on steep hills or mountains using cables) to about 1000 metres up to the lighthouse above the little town of Brunate. During our stroll we came upon a memorial commemorating the local people who gave their lives in the Italian resistance movement during World War II.
That evening enjoyed a wonderful home-cooked dinner around 10 pm with Elena’s family. We ate on their terrace, which is the roof the apartment building that over looks Lake Como. It has huge, with vine-covered dinning area and their garden filled with many different types of plants. Elena’s father, an architect, designed a small spiral staircase from the the roof to directly into their living room. It was like entering a submarine, with a similar waterproof hatch, except this one doubled as a skylight.
Next morning we had a small breakfast with Elena after she gives us small historical tour. Then of course we stopped for lunch and before you know we are on a train heading to Milan for the next few days. We were looking forward to it since we would be seeing our friend Rob along with our daughter Katrina and her fiancé Phuc. Plus we had a some soccer games to watch.