Valtournenche – Just a Little Mountain Getaway

DSCN1714I like sunshine. And heat. W does not. We have some lovely friends who live in Orlando, Florida, and wanted to come and stay with us in Tuscany. They wisely chose not to visit us in Bagni di Lucca during the late July heat wave. Heat is so much easier to bear with air conditioning, I admit, but Italy doesn’t have much of that.  W has been wanting to go up to the mountains to cool off anyway, so we drove up to the village of Valtournenche (still in Italy) to meet Paul, Rene’ and their daughter Melissa.

Rene’ is a planner. She does an excellent job of finding things to do and places to stay. I think she prefers to have more time to do so, but even on short notice she found a wonderful little B&B for us all to stay in.

DSCN1778It was very nicely priced, and had an excellent location in the village, with free parking just across the street. Breakfast was phenomenal both mornings. Carla puts on a traditional costume to serve fruit, yogurt, Panini, cereal, coffee and made-to-order omelets. If anyone left breakfast hungry I didn’t see it. There’s a wonderful terrace on which to dine if the weather is nice, and it has great views of the village and mountains. I would definitely recommend Le Petit Nid.

We had a walk our first afternoon. Here’s some of what we saw on our ramblings:

The next morning after breakfast had settled a bit, we decided another walk would be just  the thing to work off some of those calories. We headed off up the hill from the B&B and came to a marked trail that took us through some fields, around some houses, and then up into the forest. It was amazing! We could see so far into the distance, up and down the valley. We kept hearing rushing water, and when we found that I was in heaven.

Then it was time to head to The Matterhorn, or, as the Italians call it, Monte Cervino. We took two cars up into Cervinia, and after some fumbling about and with the help of a kind stranger, we located the lift station.

I DO NOT LIKE HEIGHTS. I really don’t. Sometimes I can deal with them reasonably well, and other times it just freaks me out. I felt I could handle the gondola ride up to the first level, though, and everyone was nice enough to go along with that. Rene’ (also no fan of heights) and I figured that if the rest of the group wanted to go up further they could, but as it turned out we got everything just about right.

Here are some photos from the journey:

I did surprisingly well on the ride up, no vomiting or fainting involved. I think it helped having my better half with me, along with the pre-trip briefing on NO comments along the lines of, “Those cables look a bit frayed, don’t they Paul?” It was pretty nice up there at the first stop, with a little café and bathrooms, and a road you could walk up a ways. This is what we saw on our little hike:

And yes, that mountain is Monte Cervino, or the Matterhorn as seen from Italy. It looks very craggy and not as high as I thought it would. But it is so very pretty up there! It was a lot of fun seeing skiers coming down in the gondola, or mountain bikers in full gear (complete with back & neck brace) going up. I felt brave for doing the cable car, but I had nothing on them!

Then just like that, it was the night before we were going home. We had a lovely dinner out, and W and Paul were able to go out for some “really good beer” on their own. I snapped just a couple of photos on the way back to Le Petit Nid, but I like them so you get to see them.


Too soon it was time to say good-bye to our friends and wish them a safe and swift journey back to the U.S. I hope they enjoyed this part of their European vacation as much as we did.


Colori & Sapori, Ponte a Serraglio


Back on 12 July (yes, I know, I told you, I’m slow!) there was an art competition in Parco Villa Fiori. The Colori & Sapori began at 0800. The artists probably would have been happy to get going even earlier than that, as the day became incredibly hot and sticky.

They painted until 4 pm, and then all the works were gathered up and placed on easels in a circle for viewing and judging.

There was a SLOW foods lunch around 12 or so. I thought it was scheduled for a later time, so when W and I got back everyone was already seated and eating. It appeared to be very well attended, which I was happy to see. Sometimes the local events don’t draw as much of a crowd as they should, especially when you consider all the work put into planning them.

I did manage to get back later in the day for the viewing, and then the awards ceremony at 6:30.

There was a table set up with angels, doves and canvases for children (or adults) to paint and then take home with them, for a small charge.

There were a couple speeches by the mayor and the president of the Art Association and then the winners were announced. I liked some of the winners, but preferred some that didn’t win. Not surprising, since art is so subjective.

I loved seeing the art works outside like this. What a great idea!

It Was a Grape Day

W likes to do things. Learning new skills, buying gadgets and equipment and savoring the results make him happy. And since his leave time is all about relaxation and joy, I thought I might as well go along. So, what does the expat in Italy do on Independence Day? Bottle up some wine, of course!

First things first. Some supplies needed to be purchased. Our friend Ray, who hails from San Francisco (but now lives with his wife, Teri, and their two big, gorgeous dogs in Benabbio) helped us out in finding all the necessaries. The supplies were purchased at a hardware store in Borgo a Mozzano, and the wine we located in a little out-of-the-way store in the same village.

Once we had the supplies, equipment, and most importantly! the wine, we took it all home to our cantina (basement-type area) where it is nice and dark and cool. It all sat there for the night, and then the next day it was time to bottle it.

It was a lot of fun to do this, and pretty cost-effective. The bottles and jugs and corks and things were around $40.00. We borrowed the corker from Ray. We’ll probably get one ourselves, but they’re not much. The wine was €44 for 20 liters of a really good, dry red, and €11 for my nice, dry white. We got 26 bottles of red, plus “a few glasses of silliness” and 6 bottles of white. That seems quite reasonable to me, plus it was a lot of fun.

I Was On A Boat

Tour boat docked in Viareggio.

Tour boat docked in Viareggio.

Back on Monday (I know, I’m s-l-o-w) some friends invited me along on a boat tour of part of the Cinque Terre. I enjoy boat tours so I was totally on board. Plus, a lot of the most amazing photos I’ve seen of Italy are of places in the Cinque Terre. How could I not go??The seven of us left Ponte at 0715, right on time, something I wouldn’t have believed could happen until it did. It took a little over an hour to drive to Viareggio. We found a very convenient parking place that was 10 euros for the day. Viareggio is a pretty nice beach city, as far as I could tell.

At the beaches here in Italy, you usually have to rent your chair for the day. There’s usually a little changing hut, and you can get drinks and things. Someday I’ll treat myself to a posh day at the beach. Of course, there’s always a tiny strip of un-chaired beach that’s free, but they don’t seem very inviting (especially compared to those pretty loungers).

On to the boat! We did a shorter tour that left around 9 – 9:30, taking us along the coast for some amazing views. Monterosso was our furthest point, where we docked and had around 3 hours for sight-seeing and lunch.

Here’s some more views from the boat:

Monterosso is a beautiful little place. The train goes right through it, just above the sea, it seemed to me. I wonder if they ever get flooded there? Here’s some photos:

We had to dodge a short rain shower here, but then the sun came out and gave us a beautiful sky. We headed back the way we’d come, but veered a bit to dock in Portovenere. This is a seriously gorgeous place. I love all the tall, colorful, wonky looking houses that seem to rise to the heavens. We only stayed a couple hours (at most) here, and of course I want to go back.

The rest of the trip back was very relaxing, rolling along, snapping a few more photos, and munching on the half-kilo of cherries I’d bought for 2 euros in Monterosso. Yum!

At the risk of boring you to tears, here are some more photos from the return leg of the journey.

Now I’ve seen part of the Cinque (pronounced Cheen-kway) Terre, I definitely want to go back.

Tourin’ Torino


Balcony of my single hotel room.

I want to do some solo traveling while I’m here in Italy. Who wouldn’t? A short trip seemed like a good thing, to stretch my wings and give myself some confidence. Sarah recently went to Torino (Turin to my Americano friends) and highly recommended it. So I found a hotel, booked my train and museum tickets, and off I went.

I need a clock in this house! I should have been paying  more attention to the time. As it was, the walk that normally takes me 30 minutes, I made in 23, lugging a tote & a small duffle bag. I was waiting  for two whole minutes before the train chugged into the station. The rest of the journey went quite smoothly, and the longest ride was on one of the newer, faster trains and  quite pleasant.

I found my hotel very easily as it was directly down the street from the Porta Nuova station. It was small and friendly and had the older style décor I was looking for. The bathroom had a small shower and strange (to me anyway) non-terry towels. Drying off with them was like using a tablecloth. Functional, but somehow just not as satisfying as a nice, nubby towel.

The room was quite charming, with its single bed and chandelier.
The room was quite charming, with its single bed and chandelier.

The other issue I had here was the noise. Being right on the main avenue and near the Museo Egizio was very convenient, but the street noise was deafening with the doors open. There were at least 4 traffic lanes, plus a couple cable car tracks. And Italians love to honk their horns and yell at each other. I didn’t get too much sleep the first night. The second night was better since I’d found my earplugs and as it was cooler I could close the doors. In future I’ll worry less about the décor and more about being on a quieter street.

The Egyptian Museum was amazing! They’re doing some work around it, so the entrance was less than inspiring, but inside it was terrific. I’m sure I’m posting too many pictures here, but I could put up so many more!

Once I got my wristband, which was much more of an ordeal than it should have been due to poor signage and my lack of Italian skills, it was on to the exhibits. More pictures!

Definitely visit this museum if you’re into Egyptian stuff. If not, you’ll be bored to tears.

There are a lot of other things to do & see in Torino. I took a walk down to the River Po after my late lunch, and it was very pretty. I also did some walking around the shopping area, which had some pretty pricey, lovely things. They were fun to look at, as were the gorgeous buildings and beautifully dressed people.

Here is a sampling:

And a few more:

All in all it was a great trip, and while I enjoy having a companion or two, I have no doubt I can venture out on my own and be happy and safe.


The Mille Miglia Roars Through Town


Some cars are just so dang good-looking.

Our race day was pretty wet early on, with the rain coming down quite heavily at times. But that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of either the Mille Miglia (1,000 miles) participants or those of us watching. It wasn’t quite the rowdy crowd of the Giro watchers, but since it was much more spread out that makes sense.

The first cars to come through were Ferrari’s, followed by Mercedes, and then the antiques.

Some of the drivers did stop, whether for a coffee, a gelato or a bathroom break, their vehicles garnered a lot of attention. This gentleman stopped to put his top up.

The sun came out sometime after 4 pm, and it warmed up quite a bit.

There was something for everyone. I enjoyed hearing the church bells ringing as the cars were zipping by.

And it’s not every day you see one of these being walked…


Even on a gray, rainy day it's still an amazing view.

Even on a gray, rainy day it’s still an amazing view.

I threw in this last photo just because I can.

I think that’s it for wheel-centric events here for a while, but I make no guarantees.


Giro d’Italia Excitement

The Giro d’Italia is a very big deal, apparently. Not being a geeknoid fan of the sport doesn’t mean you can’t get into the spirit of things. Sometimes being on the outside looking in can be just plain fun. And that’s how it was yesterday, here in Ponte. There are three little villages that make up this (main, I think) section of Bagni di Lucca: Fornoli, Ponte a Serraglio (where I live) and La Villa. The race came through all three. It was really nice to see all the flags out, even the ones not Italian, and the many people who came out to watch.

The Piazza was brimming with people, and I’m sure the Bar Italia and Il Monaco were reaping the benefits. As did we all, since they repaved the roads prior to the race. So much nicer than before! The decorations added to the festivities, along with plenty of noisemakers.

After much anticipation, and lots of vehicles and motorcycle-riding officers and photographers racing past, the first group of cyclists came through. They were just the first pack – the second, bigger group were what everyone was really waiting for. The helicopter overhead added to the level of excitement.

And then there they were!

They were so close!!

They were so close!!

They were followed by a bunch more support vehicles, and law enforcement and ambulances. Then, very helpfully, a vehicle letting us know that it was over.


Now we all prepare for the Mille Miglia that comes through on Saturday, May 16th. Living here is pretty amazing!

If you want to see a short video of the cyclists going through town, you can find it here:


Un giorno perfetto (A Perfect Day)

Most days here in Italy, for me, are pretty darn great. But every once in a while there’s a day that is just frikkin’ awesome. Yesterday was one of those days.

I met my friend Debra at Il Monaco, the local café. We had cappuccino and croissants, and then we took off for a bit of a drive. We got off the autostrada for the last part, and were rewarded with some lovely views of Tuscany.

Our eventual destination was La Foce, but first we went to a pretty little town called Pienza. After having a quick look around the town centre and a few shops, we had lunch in the piazza.

After a nice sampler-type lunch of pecorino (made right in Pienza), salami, roast pork, cotto and crudo ham, and bread, we headed off to La Foce. It’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, down a gravel road, and we had some arguments with the Tom Tom sat-nav lady, but we managed to arrive just in time for the 3 pm tour.

This place is just gorgeous. The wisteria was still blooming (or wisting, as Debra says), but if we’d waited another week it would have been gone or almost gone. So Yay! to our timing. The building dates from the late 1400s, and was originally an inn. The inn was purchased in 1924 by Iris and Antonio Origo, and then was renovated and the fabulous garden begun. You can read more about its history here:

Just take a look!

The drive home was much shorter, as we didn’t have to argue with the Tom Tom gal and we stuck with the autostrada. And it rained! I’m happy about that because it had been a hazy day, but we never got rained on. Except in the car, and I am OK with that.

After a quick clean up, I caught a ride with my neighbor and friend Paul, up to Sarah’s house in (I think!) Pieve de Monte di Villa. Sarah is one fabulous cook. Much to the amazement of the dinner guests, I have never before had curry. It was really good! Sarah is a very nice hostess and can cook like nobody’s business. It’s a real blessing to me to have all these generous, helpful, fun friends here in Bagni. A perfect ending to a perfect day!



This is my end of Ponte a Serraglio. You can just see Casa Fioretta’s upper windows. The Casa is the white building just to the left of the tall cypresses on the far right.

Spring is here! Everything is greening up and growing. The sun is shining – for now, anyway. Next week we are due for 3 or 4 days of rain. I am loving the sunshine and warmer days. Here are some pictures of the local area and the lovely colors.

Bagni di Lucca is a beautiful area. I love that when I open a window or my front door I can hear the water in the River Lima, where it has a bit of a drop. I hope to enjoy the warmth and beauty for quite a while before the really hot days of summer arrive. And I hope you all enjoy your spring weather, wherever you are!