Friday, August 10, 2012

Tuscany & Cinque Terre

Last week, friends of ours were flying to Pisa, Italy and then driving an hour to a Tuscan hotel where they would spend a day hunting for a vaction home and another in Cinque Terre.  Since we'd wanted to get down to Tuscany we asked if we could tag along. So that's what we did, except we drove, with a stop on the way down in Zurich, and planned to meet up with them at the hotel.



This was our last stop in Germany before driving into Switzerland, buying gas at an ESSO station at US prices. This shows the cost in Euros, 84.98€ which at the current exchange rate is $106.22. The amount of gas purchased is 52.49 liters or 13.86 US gallons. That works out to be $7.66 per gallon. But, with our privileges at ESSO it only cost us right around $55. Of course, in Switzerland and Italy we don't have those ESSO privileges and have to buy straight off the economy. OUCH!! You can also see here the per liter rate of 1.619€. Later during this trip we paid as high as 1.91€ per liter.

We're at the Swiss border. Since Switzerland isn't part of the European Union they still have check points at their borders.

We're in Switzerland.

We're in Zurich.

After checking into our Zurich hotel we hit the town. This is Bahnhofstraße, the way high-end shopping street in the city. Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Tiffiny's; they're all there.  If there's a retailer that sells outrageously expensive stuff, then they have a store here.

Zurich is at the northern end of Lake Zurich. This is the eastern shore of the lake from the southern docks of the city.

Western shore of Lake Zurich.

Looking south across Lake Zurich with the Swiss Alps in the background.

A strange little prison sort of men's toilet across the street from the lake.

Jeff has been wanting to take me to eat here at the Zeughauskeller for years. This was a popular place to eat when he flew Zurich trips for American Airlines.  Among airline crews it became known as the Armory.

There's two reason the Zeughauskeller was nicknamed the Armory. First, it really was a medieval armory. Also, today it has on display a number of military weapons. Here's a wheeled mortar, right next to the TV.

An anti-aircraft gun above the restaurant entrance.

In Switzerland, military service is mandatory and once a person completes their commitment they are expected to take their issued weapon home with them. So today, in Switzerland, it's very common to have at least one automatic weapon in a home. That's one of the reasons there's little crime in the country. This case holds the military issued rifles of six generations of the owners family; the first issued in 1878.

They even claim to have the crossbow of the country's hero, William Tell.

Outside Zeughauskeller is a poster of the ideal Swiss woman, complete with crossbow.

Obligatory sightseeing pictures.  This is the Grossmünster, as protestant church in Zurich.

Fraumünster on the River Limmat. It was originally a Benedictine abbey but is now just one of the city's parish churches.

Well, that's enough of Zurich. We've got bigger plans ahead and a long drive tomorrow.

Day 2

Drive through Swizterland & Italy

Next morning after breakfast at the hotel we drove south out of Zurich, GPS’s kicakss!! Here we’re on the motorway towards Italy. We’ll cross the Swiss/Italian border at Chiasso.

Random pictures of the beautiful Swiss countryside.

This is an interesting warning system that we approaching a tunnel in Switzerland with some associated construction.

An image of our GPS. Pretty mountainous in Switzerland.

I think this road will take us to Milan.

We’re at the Italian border and, again, because Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, there’s actually a manned checkpoint.

After the five hour drive from Zurich we found the little village where our hotel is located; in the small Tuscany village of Licciana Nardi. Seriously, thank goodness for GPS. Our friends drove from Pisa to the hotel using a Tom-Tom GPS which didn’t have as good of directions as ours and ended up driving into no-where Tuscany.

Castel del Piano

This is our hotel, Castel del Piano. It’s a 15th century fortress/castle that’s been renovated to a small hotel, just nine rooms.

The courtyard of Castel del Piano. Very nice place for an evening wine.

The medieval wall around the courtyard. I’m standing in the doorway that once led to the upper walk way along the fortress wall. You can still see the holes build through the wall for shooting ports.

I’m standing just below our hotel window on the backside of the hotel/fortress main building. High above on the ridge is a beautiful, huge Tuscany villa.

Our room window there on the second floor. You can see the shooting ports on each side of the window.

A closer look at the medieval shooting ports built into this fortress in the 1400s.

A look out our other window up towards the Tuscan villa on the ridge.

The shooting ports, covered with glass, from inside the room. 

Even had two shooting ports in the bathroom.  They sure thought ahead back in the 15th century.

We met up with Cassius and Linda and after a long day of driving it was time to relax in the garden outside the fortress walls. We’re drinking a very nice red wine, Pepe Nero, produced by the hotel owners at their nearby vineyard.

They had hammocks tied up for us to use too. Nice place for drinking some fine Tuscan wine.

Cassius and Linda enjoying the hammocks.

Linda and I.

The wine drinking rolled into a very fine meal of antipasta, pictured here, and a great pasta meal.

That rolled into a great evening in the courtyard with some more Pepe Nero. Behind us is the turret on the fortress wall.

Day 3

Corniglia & Cinque Terre

Next morning Cassius and Linda met with their realtor and went to look at houses/apartments that might be of interest to them for a vacation home. Jeff and I decided to drive to the only Cinque Terra village, Corniglia, that isn’t accessible by the ferry that we’d be taking the next day. So here we are on our way to Corniglia, one of the five villages that makes up Cinque Terra.

Now, Jeff had done some reading about this area and Cinque Terre. He decided that to get to Corniglia it might be nice to drive via the village of Pignone. So after a rather harried drive here we are in Pignone.

Here’s the quaint little square in Pignone.

The statue in the Pignone square honoring the village’s WW I veterans. In that war they were on our side.

OK, Pignone was done very quickly and we’re on our way again to Corniglia; pretty scenery on the way. But were we ever in for a shock.

We’re driving along very narrow, single lane roads on the side of the mountains. Off in the distance we can see the Mediterranean. We drove on very steep roads, up and down. Switchbacks that were so sharp it required a three point turn. And, oh yeah, last October there was an overnight storm with over 20 inches of rain that washed out roads and flooded some of the villages. So we’re driving along roads with no guard rail and barely wider than the width of the car. Very scary!!

Then we came upon this. Luckily, after turning around the GPS found us a new route but it was certainly no better than what we’d already experienced.

Here’s a video of just a little part of our drive to Corniglia.  You can see where the landslides totally washed out the road and ripped the guard rail aside like a piece of tin ribbon.

Finally, this driving nightmare is almost over, there’s Corniglia in the distance.

We’re just outside Corniglia now.

YAY!!! We made it.

Corniglia, really beautiful.

One of the other Cinque Terra villages from Corniglia. This is Manarola.

Corniglia is not accessible by the local ferries because there’s no harbor at the foot of the rock formation that the village is perched upon. The train does stop below but to get up to Corniglia there are these steps that must be climbed to visit the village.

This sign welcomes anyone that gets to the top of the stairs and lets you know that you’ve just climbed 382 steps to get here.

The Italian coastline looking northwest from Corniglia.

Church of St. Pietrio in Corniglia.

Inside St. Pietrio.

The via Serra, a narrow walkway through Corniglia.

We left Corniglia to meet Cassius and Linda in the coastal town of Lerici. Here we’re on the much better roads leading to La Spezia looking back down onto Corniglia.

Still driving out of the Cinque Terre area; still climbing. Here, below, is the village of Manarola.

Well, we made it out. Drove through the naval port city of La Spezia and down the coast to Lerici where we linked up with Cassius and Linda. Here’s Linda and I; so the Crazy Show is in town. Jeff said, “How did they know you were coming?”

Very pretty small boat harbor in Lerici.

Closer image of the Lerici harbor with the large medieval coastal castle.

Here we’re at the foot of the Lerici castle looking back to the west across the harbor. We sat here with some cold beer, Peroni, had a nice plate of pasta and soaked up the sun and the scenery.

Wine Tasting

We’re back at our hotel, Castel del Piano. We’d arranged for a wine tasting there but before that, Andrea, one of the hotel owners, took us on a tour of their vineyard. Andrea told us they planted 8500 vines in 2003 on their 2.5 hectare vineyard. Here Andrea is showing us how his red wine grapes are beginning to change color from green to dark purple.

A close up look at grapes that are changing color. These are Pinot Noir grapes.

These are Chardonnay grapes. Andrea told us that half of these grapes will very soon be trimmed away to allow better growing area for those remaining.

The Castel del Piano vineyard. All this was planted in 2003.

The Castel del Piano fermentation building.

The  Castel del Piano vineyards produces five wines in these fermenting tank. This is Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir).

I’m standing next to barrels of new Merlot.

OK, back to the hotel for the tasting. The first wine we tried was Pian Piano, a mixture of white wines, predominantly Chardonnay. This is the only white wine that Castel del Piano produces.

Along with the wine, our hosts put out an endless supply of various sliced meats and cheeses. Way good!!!

The first red we tried was Pepe Nero, a lightly peppery flavored wine. Very good. Sabina and Andrea were very generous with their wine. They poured us a glass to taste and then put the bottle on the table for us to finish.

Next was Groppolungo, blend of various red grapes.  Very good.

Jeff and I, Cassius and Linda enjoying a great wine tasting.

The castle cat jumped into Jeff’s lap. This cat came with the castle when Sabina and Andrea bought the place in 2003.

This is the Melmap, a merlot produced by Castel del Piano. Merlot is not a highly desired wine in Italy but, regardless, this was pretty good.

Now the castle dog decided that Jeff was his friend. The dog’s name is Pepe (Pepper).

This red is Castel del Piano, their Pinot Noir. Also very good. I guess we’re just easy to please.

Castel del Piano, in addition to wines, also produces olive oil and honey. This is a bottle of their olive oil.

That's some light, tasty olive oil.

Jeff and I with Sabina and Andrea. Until 2003, when they bought the castle and started their vineyard, Sabina and Andrea where in pharmaceutical procurement. Now they’re living their dream in this little Tuscany village. Wow!!! What a big day, Corniglia, Lerici, wine tasting. Now that’s a good day.

Day 4

Cinque Terre Ferry

Next morning we’re on our way to Cinque Terre again but this time we’ll be taking the ferry to the villages we didn’t visit the day before.

Cinque Terre (five lands) consists of five villages Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre is on the coastline of the Italian Riviera, southwest of Genoa. We’re driving to Riomaggiore and taking the ferry from there to three other villages to the northwest. Here, we’re high above Riomaggiore and have to take a pretty steep road down to the town where they’ve got a parking garage.

The street leading down to the Riomaggiore harbor.

Looking back up the street in Riomaggiore.

We’re at the Riomaggiore harbor.

Riomaggiore, Italy. One of the five villages of Cinque Terre.

Boats tied up in the Riomaggiore harbor. The water at all the Cinque Terre villages was crystal clear.

Jeff and I waiting for the ferry at Riomaggiore.

Folks like to lay on the rocks around the Cinque Terre villages. There’s no room for the sea lions.

Here comes our ferry. It’ll take us to Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, and Manarola. The ferry doesn’t stop at Corniglia because they have no harbor and that’s why we drove to that village the day before.

Riomaggiore from the ferry.

Approaching Manarola on the ferry.

A boat landing in Manarola. Interesting how folks like to sun bath on a hard surface here any rock or concrete will do.

Corniglia from the ferry. Glad we made it there in the car but that drive will be a lasting nightmare.

Vernazza. This village was hit extremely hard by the 25 October 2011 rains and resulting flood and landslides.

The main street in Vernazza. This street was ten feet deep in rushing, muddy water during the flood.

Here's a video of that same street during the flood.

Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia in the harbor area of Vernazza.

A map showing the Cinque Terre coastline from the northwest to the southeast the five villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

Approaching Monterosso al Mare. It’s the most touristy village of the five that make up Cinque Terre and the only one with beaches. All the ferries anchored here for their two hour lunch break so we had an extended stop here.

The northwest beaches that make up Monterosso al Mare.

Monterosso al Mare beach looking to the southeast.  These weren't sand beaches but small, grey stone beaches.  Like I mentioned, they just like to lay on rocks.

Our Cinque Terre trip is almost over, we're back on the ferry almost back to Riomaggiore.

Walking back up the hill to the parking garage.  There's a good number of Christian images like this built into the apartment buildings.

The end of another long, fun day and we finished it in the village of Monti at the Beatrice Pizzeria.  This is Jeff's huge calzone.  Great food and wine.


Drive Home to Germany

Arrivederci, totally.

Back at the Italian/Swiss border.

A few hours later at the Swiss/German border.  Almost home.

Now that was a whirl wind trip but really fun with good friends, wine and food. Tuscany/Cinque Terre square filled.  Cin cin!!!


  1. I'm glad you guys finally made it back down to Italy. ESSO station. I'll bet we will be looking for those stations in about 5 weeks. Zurich looks beautiful. The water and harbor kind of reminds me of San Francisco. I like the ideal woman poster...especially since it looks like she has a brown border collie with her. I love the swiss flag man...he looks hot. Castel del Piao is beautiful. I'm so jealous that you got to stay there. What a beautiful castle and they have done so much work inside...very modern looking. The wine looks great and I love the hammocks...what a great idea.

    You're WWI the Italians were on our side. But then they switched during WWII. I'm learning so much from our blogs. :) Wow those roads are so narrow...that's scary! But beautiful pictures of the Mediterranean. Corniglia looks gorgeous!!

    Crazy show is basically wherever Mom is at. I love seeing the vineyards...reminds me of Napa (to a lesser extent). The grapes look amazing...yummm Pinot Noir!

    Mom you look so beautiful. I love seeing you in your shorts and that Indian looking shirt is gorgeous. I wish they would let us taste the wine and then just leave the bottle in Napa. I can't believe a cat jumped up in Dad's lap and he is actually petting it. WOW! And now a dog??? Really. OH WOW...small world. At our favorite winery in Napa w played with a black and white spotted dog named Pepper too!! I'll have to show you pictures.

    The water at Riomaggiore is so beautiful. I think it would be funny if the ladies lying on the rocks acted like the crazy sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf in San Fran. The videos of the floods is so sad. It looks like they are recovering well.

    Great blog. Can't wait to go back and take Will to Italy some day.


  2. ...that road to Corniglia...remember it well...Weez and I did that on mountain bikes 3 years ago. Up, up, up for 20 clicks from Manarola, then DOWN, STEEP DOWN for 10 km to the village. I never saw bike brakes SMOKE before! Most brutal ride we have ever done.