Hidden Liguria: Chiavari

gran caffe defilla

1002 days ago by James Martin

We recently spent a wonderful day re-discovering Chiavari. Hardly anyone goes to this Italian Riviera gem. Chiavari offers the perfect combination of old-world lux and down-home Ligurian cooking.

You start the day with a stroll, manybe along the waterfront—and then when you’re feeling a little peckish you stop in for a fruit juice or something with a bit more kick at Gran Caffè Defilla – Corso Garibaldi, 4, pictured. If you’re not used to it, you can stare in wonderment over the small plates of food they set in front of you. Gratis.

This isn’t just a place for sipping and grazing. Famous jazz musicians like Jimmy Cobb have set up shop at the Gran Caffè Defilla. Click “stream” if you want to hear Jimmy jamming.

chaivari market pictureThen it’s off to peruse the daily open air market. Again, it’s not just a market. It’s a place to watch people. It’s a place to get educated, a noisy idea factory.

An Italian evangelist sets up shop in front of the farmacia, waving what is presumably a bible while preaching loudly of murder, mayhem, and salvation. Soon the pharmacist is chasing him around the market. He doesn’t draw much of a crowd, and is soon preaching mostly to spring favas, chicory, slim stalks of asparagus, and artistically displayed of rounds of pecorino.

old men chiavariOld men bask in the spring sunshine from the arcades that allow residents and the occasional lost tourist to see pretty much the whole city center while sheltered from inclement weather—not that there’s much of that.

And by now, of course, you’re famished. If you’ve visited Italy much in the past, you might yearn for the old days, when the food was gutsy and honest, the restaurants buzzing with pensioners and couples and shopkeepers who could expect to pay a reasonable sum for the cooking of their region.

osteria da vittorioYou find it at Osteria da Vittorio. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t start with the farinata, a chickpea pancake for which the region is famous but the best purveyors seem to be found in Chiavari. Then it’s on to the best of old world Italian Riviera cuisine—you choose from an extensive menu with the main courses hovering around an astounding 6 euros, the portions generous.

Check the facebook page for address, map, and opening times: da Vittorio dal 1925 – osteria con cucina

defilla chiavariAnd if you skip coffee at the osteria, you can take a stroll back to the Gran Caffè Defilla for some. You might try the a bit of gelato, too—it’s some of the best in Chiavari (I recommend the Sambuca).

Hidden Liguria: Chiavari originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Mar 25, 2012, © James Martin

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Winter Wander Land: the Riviera in Winter

1050 days ago by David Downie

Winter Wander Land

Winter is often a delightful time to be in Liguria: the crowds thin, the prices come down, and the weather is often mild and invigorating.

This winter has been the coldest in a generation: it has not snowed or been this freezing for this long since the mid 1980s.

But the cold has its advantages: what could be more gorgeous than sea, snow and sun? We’ve had lots of each. Today for instance it is bracing and brisk but the sun is shining bright.

Please come wander with us in Liguria, truly a magical winter Wander Land!

For more information on hiking, the weather, the culture, food, wine, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia, best Italian Riviera discoveries and more, check out our articles archive and weather page, and pick up our books, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa” and “Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera”

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Winter Wander Land: the Riviera in Winter originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Feb 06, 2012, © David Downie

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Enchanted Liguria: Snow and Sea and Sun in February

Snow, Italian Riviera, February 2012

1053 days ago by David Downie

Wandering Liguria goes to the Swiss Alps? Think again: that’s a view of the Apennines near Genoa

The Italian Riviera is not known for its ski resorts and subzero temperatures. This year is the exception: the coldest, snowiest, iciest weather in more than a generation. As I write it is about 6 degrees below zero. Luckily the sun has come out for several hours each afternoon, bringing temperatures to around zero or a few degrees above. That means the region’s countless olive trees will probably survive. Olive trees can usually stand temps of -10C as long as they don’t last for more than a few days at a time. The cold weather might actually be beneficial to the olive crop this year, and will certainly stimulate Ligurian vineyards. We’ll see later this year.

In the meantime, the cold is certainly stimulating residents and visitors. This is actually a perfect time for trekking along the coast and, if you’re properly equipped, in the Apennines. Start at dawn for a brisk hike behind Genoa, for instance, on the panoramic trail linking the forts that Herman Melville described as “Satan’s fortified encampment.”

A sunny but cold day in Liguria
The Devil has a Wonderful Aesthetic Sense: Satan’s fortified encampment?

Or choose one of the many hiking trails behind Rapallo or on the Monte di Portofino. Here are a few images to whet your appetite for a walk. Liguria is a land for all seasons, including winter. In fact that’s when savvy northern Europeans and the Russians of old (in pre-Mafia days) came to escape severe winters in their own countries. While -5C is pretty chilly and unusual here, it is currently around -25C in Russia and the Ukraine, not to mention the Nordic Countries.

The really good news is that, after an initial halt due to weather conditions, trains and buses are running again normally on the Italian Riviera.

Perhaps the best news of all is the Cinque Terre: repair work on villages and trails continues apace. The snow and cold have not added substantially to the problematic situation caused last October by flash floods. In fact today the sun is out, blazing benignly on the Via dell’Amore and the other seaside trails of the Cinque Terre.

For more information on hiking, the weather, the culture, food, wine, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia, best Italian Riviera discoveries and more, check out our articles archive and weather page, and pick up our books, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa” and “Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera”

Book a hotel on the Italian Riviera

Take a private custom tour with us in Genoa, on the Riviera, in Rome, Paris or Burgundy

Enchanted Liguria: Snow and Sea and Sun in February originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Feb 03, 2012, © David Downie

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Cinque Terre: Update on Rebuilding After Flood Damage

vernazza from coast trail

1082 days ago by David Downie

Cinque Terre Cleaning up, Reopening for Business

Last year WanderingLiguria reported on the devastating floods that hit the Cinque Terre, with heavy damage in particular to Vernazza and Monterosso (please see our articles archive for stories posted on Oct 30 and Nov 8, 2011).

Since then, local residents and authorities have been working day and night to repair roads and hiking trails, reopen businesses, and prepare this stretch of Ligurian coast for spring and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The good news is, real progress is being made. Though it is too early to claim that “things are back to normal,” certainly, compared to our last report, much is better.

Visit our Weather page for real-time updates on local weather in the Cinque Terre and elsewhere on the Italian Riviera. Our articles archive also offers useful links to the Cinque Terre National Park and other sources.

Our sister website WanderingItaly also features Vernazza and the rebuilding.

This week (the first week in January, 2012) The New York Times chipped in, reporting on the Cinque Terre. Here’s a link to the Times’ article which features useful information and photographs.

For addresses and opening hours, and much more in the Cinque Terre, plus sites throughout Liguria, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, keep reading WanderingLiguria and pick up our books, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa” and “Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera”

Book a hotel in the Cinque Terre or La Spezia

Book a hotel on the Italian Riviera

Take a private custom tour with us in the Cinque Terre, Genoa, elsewhere on the Riviera, in Rome, Paris or Burgundy

Cinque Terre: Update on Rebuilding After Flood Damage originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Jan 05, 2012, © David Downie

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Dolceacqua: Sweet water, superb wine and Monet

Claude Monet, Dolceacqua, castle, castello, Riviera, Liguria

1092 days ago by David Downie

Dolceacqua: Sweet water, superb wine, Impressionism

Filling the bottom of the Nervia Valley Dolceacqua was the fiefdom and birthplace of the powerful Doria clan. It spawned Renaissance admiral Andrea Doria. The Doria clan lorded it over the Republic of Genoa in its 16th-17th-century heyday.

A medieval stone footbridge arches over the Nervia River, which is more a creek clogged with boulders than the rushing river I’d expected from the tourist brochures—and from umpteen photos and paintings, including a famous one by the Impressionist Claude Monet.

Monet spent a happy winter on the Italian Riviera, painting many scenes in the vicinity of Bordighera. He was struck by the light, the color and the vegetation of Liguria, and found Dolceacqua, with its half-ruined castle and high-arched bridge, particularly evocative.

From the river the village’s many spiraling, buttressed passageways lead via a carved stone Madonna in a niche to the Doria castle, perched high above.

Guelf and Ghibelline factions did battle in Dolceacqua in the 1200s-1300s. But it was the French and Spanish who destroyed the castle about 250 years ago. No one has yet figured out how to rebuild it successfully. But the tumbledown character of the castle is actually a big part of its charm.

Even when the weather is warm in Dolceacqua the temperature inside the alleyways of the village remains cool, almost cold, as in a cathedral. I could see my breath. More than a cathedral, however, the hewn tunnels evoked a shell. I was the hermit crab slipping into its convolutions.

Dolceacqua is a thriving winemaking village. The hills around are stippled with Rossese di Dolceacqua vines that yield a light red beloved of Ligurians but rarely exported. As I wandered through the medieval tangle, sun slanting through cracks between house-towers, I came across old barrels in wine-perfumed alleys. Rivulets of red ran in the gutters as winemakers cleaned their equipment.

In the process of being gentrified, Dolceacqua is no longer rough-and-ready. The locals are struggling to preserve their agricultural landscape and lifestyle: the Riviera’s beaches, casinos and crowds are only a few minutes away. Judging by the success of the light, fruity local olive oil, made with handpicked Taggiasca olives, and some of the best Ligurian red wines going, which also originate here, Dolceacqua’s farmers and winemakers might just manage to stave off the less attractive aspects of mass tourism and keep their refuge alive for locals and intrepid travelers alike.

Travel Tip: Getting to the Rock Villages via the Riviera dei Fiori:

The Riviera dei Fiori is closer to Nice (about 20 miles) than Genoa (about 100 miles). Both have international airports. Direct trains from both serve Bordighera and San Remo, the cities nearest the Rock Villages, with offices of the main car rental agencies.

Weather and temperature: the climate is mild from spring through fall on the coast but nights are always chilly in mountain areas.

Budget several days to inch along the mountain roads to the Rock Villages and a dozen other nearby perched or nestled hamlets such as Pigna, Triora, Badalucco and Bussana Vecchia.

To visit the Perinaldo Osservatorio G. D. Cassini (the Cassini observatory, see part one of the series) contact Cooperativa Omnia, Tel/Fax: +39/0184-356611 or go to www.comune.perinaldo.im.it

The Castello della Lucertola history museum in Apricale is open Tue-Sun 4-7pm in summer, Tue-Sat 2-8pm the rest of the year and Sun 10:30-noon, 2-7pm. Go to www.apricale.org for more information.

Our favorite hotels in the area include:
Royal Hotel San Remo
Corse Imperatrice 80
San Remo
Tel: 39/0184-5391
Fax: 39/0184-661-445
Book a room
This 5-star luxury palace set in landscaped gardens overlooking the seaside promenade in San Remo is the epitome of Riviera elegance. We enjoyed a perfect stay here.

For a modest but comfortable hotel up in the Rock Villages, we recommend Apricale as a base:
Book a room in Apricale

For addresses and opening hours, and much more on the Riviera dei Fiori and the Rock Villages, plus sites throughout Liguria, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, keep reading WanderingLiguria and pick up our books, “Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa” and “Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera”

Book at one of our favorite hotels on the Riviera dei Fiori

Book a hotel on the Italian Riviera

Take a private custom tour with us in Genoa, on the Riviera, in Rome, Paris or Burgundy

Dolceacqua: Sweet water, superb wine and Monet originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Dec 26, 2011, © David Downie

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