Trip to Italy

5:45 pm, Thursday, March 17….Hotel Picolo Paradiso, Villecrosia, Italy….. sitting on my balcony watching the waves roll in on the beach. Can it get much better than this?

Anyone who has been reading this blog already knows that I have a passion for the ocean and big, crashing waves.  I’m getting my fill here….. the waters of the Mediterranean stretch as far as the eye can see.  The beach is quite gravelly here.. in a few minutes we will meet to walk along it.  It’s been a full day since we left Riez at 6:30 am in the dark and drizzle.  We’ve had sun, cloud, rain, more sun, and have taken our jackets of and on half a dozen times.  It’s clear now as the sun prepares to go down, but the breeze is still cool….. cooler, I’m told, than is normal here.

The countryside of Provence is very beautiful…… rolling hills, green, green trees, craggy rocks jutting up into the sky in places.  There are fortified farms, and quaint houses with their tiled roofs and painted shutters.   Lots of fruit trees are flowering now, peaches and almonds especially.  And the mimosa…. towards the end of the season here, but still stunning as the hills come alive with masses of yellow blooms.

Driving to Italy, we passed Cannes and Nice and Monaco.  There is a turnout with a lovely view of Monaco, but there was a heavy fog over the bay so there was no point in stopping. We stopped at a more primitive one……good thing I’m used to these in the Middle East. 

The motorway goes straight through the mountain cliffs, one long tunnel after another connected with bridges that tower high above the valleys below.  There are a lot of greenhouses in this area…. and the hillsides are all terraced and bursting with plants.

One more tunnel, and then the sign welcoming us into Italy.

Sanremo is not too far from the border… one of a string of towns that ring the Mediterranean. We left the motorway and headed into town… toward the beach.  It was very busy..we discovered that it is a holiday celebrating 150 of Italian unity.

We were lucky to find two parking spots side by side. We travelled down here with friends of Corinne and Ray – Elaine, Clair-Elise,  and their three dogs. Those dogs are amazing….. Bounty, a Siberian Husky with clear blue eyes, Dakota, a huge Bouvier who cocks her head to one side when they talk to her and loves to “hug”, and a small white one who is not too well anymore so they carry him around in a backpack.  The dogs go everywhere with us…. and you would be surprised just how many dogs there are in Sanremo.

The architecture here is amazing – you can really tell you are in Italy. The ironwork and plaster decoration on the buildings is something you don’t see anywhere else.

Near the Tourist Information Centre, there is a Russian Orthodox church built in the 18th century….Czar Nicholas of Russia spent the winters here because of the lovely climate.  Apparently (won’t know for sure until I get to visit Russia) the dome is very like the one that graces St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. I bought a couple of postcards of the inside… it looks incredible.

We found a little terrace restaurant across from the marina for lunch.  I had a local speciality.. spaghetti with calamari ink sauce.  I know.. it looks pretty weird and my lips were black afterwards, but it was quite tasty.  The others had more normal fare.. like pizza.

After lunch, we drove north of Ventimiglia to Dolceacqua.  This covered medieval town is dominated by the 14th century castle which crowns the hill. The buildings are tall and of stone…. stone arches connect the buildings together above the narrow winding alleys – they connect and support the buildings and also give extra stability in case of earthquakes.  There are people still living here. The photos give a much clearer idea of the remarkable structure than I can ever do in words.

We didn’t walk all the way up to the castle… guess that will be for another day. I imagine the view is incredible.

We had a coffee in the cafe there, and while I was sitting there, I noticed how the three buildings nearby were at three different angles, as they have obviously moved in the 500 years they have been standing.

After we settled into the hotel, we walked along the beach and gave the dogs a chance to run and do what dogs do. Then, off in the cars again to Sanremo (only about 10 km) to a wine bar with wooden tables, free snacks and one wall taken over by shelves of wine and other spirits that you can take home with you.  One drink and then off to another restaurant for dinner… and then home to bed.

The next day we were off to Ventimiglia market early.  Coffee first, at the Canada Bar and Cafe The fruits and vegetables are incredible (sorry if I use that word to often)… much of it grown locally.  There is fresh pasta and cheeses and meats and almost everything you can imagine.  And in the outside part, stall after stall of sweaters, scarves, wallets, shoes and so much more.  I did some power shopping (most of the shop keepers speak French) and off we went, back to the beach.

After lunch, we were back on the road to home.  We drove on the coast road all the way from Ventimiglia to Nice.  Monaco is a total concrete jungle….. but at least I can say I drove through it.  We saw a lot of white sand and azure blue water……. you can see why this area is called the Côte d’Azur….. and why everyone from cold climates wanted to spend the winter there.

 Arrivedercii, Italia.  I hope I can come again.

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