Monday, July 26, 2010

Craving Calamari - Part 4!

Spicy Summer Salad

One of my very favorite summer dishes with a little Southern California twist!

Ingredients for baking the calamari:

Olive oil

1 lemon

Glass of white wine

Peperoncino to taste

Bread crumbs

500 grams of fresh calamari, cleaned and chopped into little pieces (you can buy the rings if you want, but fresh is always best)

Ingredients for salad:

1 fresh onion

1/2 an avocado (hence the touch of SoCal!)

6 small tomatoes, diced (I prefer “datteri” but cherry are fine too)

125 gram of canned cannellini beans, rinsed

Lettuce of your choice (I like arugula for its “bite”)

Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees celsius (350 degrees F). Mix all the calamari ingredients in a bowl, except the bread crumbs, and make sure to coat well the calamari. Place them on a cookie sheet (covered in carte al forno) and then sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. Cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cut and clean the salad ingredients and place in your serving bowl. When the calamari is ready, let it cool for a few minutes then add to salad. I use only olive oil and a little salt for dressing, but you can add balsamic vinegar if you like. (Serves 4)

Buon Appetito!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Borgo Life Blues...

The Borgo in quieter days...

It’s 7:30AM and I am sitting on the terrace typing away. It has become my favorite part of the day, or maybe better put most peaceful part of my day. Most people are still asleep. I feel a breeze on me (rare these days), hear the sound of birds and even my own typing. This will all change shortly.

Our little borgo above Lerici is home to probably 50-60 people, mostly elderly who have lived here all their lives, and a few of us “exceptions”. When Lui and I moved in 5+ years ago, we brought the age median down by a good couple of decades. Over the years we accrued a few more under 45 neighbors. Still the borgo remains small, quaint and tranquil...until July and August.

I am going to guess that 40% of the dwellings in the borgo are summer homes. Who can blame them? The place has a wonderful climate, amazing views and is just far enough away from the beach by foot (10 minutes by foot) to escape the seaside mayhem that attacks the area every summer. But a disturbing trend has hit our borgo. I refer to it as the “Invasion of the Inlanders”.

These summer homes, probably each no more than 65 square meters (less than 700 square feet about) and usually just one bedroom apartments, become a “summer party house” for families. Ok, so they may be avoiding the stifling humidity and heat of their home towns (usually Parma, Modena, Milano), but with 4-10 people crammed into these little places, they need all windows open just to get a little air in the tube they are temporarily living in. Which leads to the noise. (Ahhh, let me relish in the morning silence for another moment...)

Ok, back to the noise. These people are on vacation. I can accept that and their need to have fun. But as a working girl with a husband who leaves for work at 6am, I think we have a right to feel irritated when the kids next door are playing and screaming out the window at 11:45PM. Unfortunately, our bedroom window is un-strategically placed just a meter or so above the window of a posse of Modenese with 3 children under the age of 5. This is painful. Last night, I feel asleep to the white noise of the TV and a fan in order to drown out one kid’s toy piano playing “Twinkle, twinkle Little Star” (if only that song could make him sleep like most babies!).

Our bedroom window to the right,
the "Gaza Strip" to the left

Right now, we are surrounded, literally. Family of 8 just below our garden, family of 6 to the side of us, family of 5 above us, family of 3 to the left. I am constantly dashing toy trucks, bicycles, kids running amuck and yes even a dirty diaper left on the ground, whenever I go outside the gates on my own home. It’s hot as hell so open windows lead to hearing 6 conversation going on at one time. There is no parking and 75% of the cars do not have a pass to park here. It’s a zoo. No other word to describe it.

Beauty with a price???

I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but these dreaded months can make a working girl cranky. I have about a 1/2 hour before rumblings begin (one in particular that wakes up with a blood curdling scream of “Nooooonnnnnnaaaa” each morning should take place preciously at 8:30AM). It’s my time to enjoy the borgo and to (usually) get some work done in peace.

I’ll be more pleasant in my next post, promise.

Charming but not necessarily cozy right now...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chasing Away the Borgo Blues...

When Borgo life gets you down (more on that to come),

your head is about to explode from too much work

and you can longer take the July heat,

it’s time to go swimming.

Early morning or early evening, there’s nothing better than a dip in the sea.

Ahhhh. summer time therapy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chianti on my Mind (and not the wine!)...

...and my 200th blog post!

A Door into the Countryside

I recently spent a couple of days looking at villas in Chianti. It is probably Italy’s most popular “non-city” destination and often referred to as “Chianti-shire” due to the amount of English and other expats who have bought homes in the area over the last 20 years (although I think the name is now being passed down to “Puglia-shire”).

Some think it’s over-saturated with tourists and no longer the “real Italy”. But ever time I visit, I am impressed by its beauty, the warmth of the people, the fact that there are so many lovely homes, and to be frank, how well they have their act together. Here is just a sneak preview of the landscape and villas that will become a part of the Bella Vita Italia family shortly...

Stone used in the most beautiful and practical way.

Subtly tempting me to dive in.

Lavender everywhere.

The perfect spot for a ice cold lemonade.

Pure relaxation.


One of my favorites.

Ending a day's work with a good meal.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Lerici from a Local...

"Downtown" Lerici

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article on Lerici (full article here) which was an exciting surprise and also probably a big boost for my hometown. The writer was very positive and accurate in terms of the villages charm. Most of you have seen my photos throughout the years, so you have an idea of how colorful and idyllic it is.

But being a writer from New York visiting for a weekend and being a local resident of 6 years are two very different things. So, I thought I would weigh in my “two centessimi” on the article as well as enlighten people to other splendors of the area, not mentioned and probably not known.

First and foremost, I need to point out that Lerici is not exactly a sleeping fishing village, except for in the dead of winter. There are actually about 8,000 inhabitants in the various borghi that surround the town on the sea and probably double that in the summer. Still, there is a very “small” feeling about the town as the same characters can be seen day after day, and because it’s easy to walk from one end to the another at San Terenzo in about 20 minutes. The parking issue as addressed in the article is the fault of the commune that is still occupied mainly by those in “pensioni” (ok, I will translate that as old folks) who are doing just fine without tourists. But the younger generation has been pushing for years to modernize the town’s touristic capabilities. Some good strides have been made. One noticeable one would be the famed parking lot located a good 15 minute from town (not so easy for going to the grocery store huh?) is now free after 3 years of costing a euro to go the 5 minute drive. The lungomare (waterfront boardwalk) has been widened and “beautified” so nicely, it would be a sin to not walk its 2 mile distance at least once during your stay. And a few nicer shops have come in making for a minimally interesting shopping experience. It still has a ways to go to make it the “ultimate Italian Riviera stop” but in my opinion should be added to anyone’s must see and do list when visiting the area (just maybe not in July and August!).

“Lerici holds much of the same appeal as its more popular neighbors (referring to Le Cinque Terre and Versilia), with beautiful swaths of beach and miles of hiking trails with photogenic vistas, minus the suffocating crowds.”

This photo was taken this morning.

San Terenzo di Lerici

The fact is in the summert, this place is a zoo filled with Italians and foreigners alike AND because we’re in a bay, there is little to no wind and right now about 80% humidity. While I certainly understand everyone’s reprieve to the beach, it’s not the place I would want to be mid-day for the next two months.

Tellaro in Winter

The mentions of Fiascherino and Tellaro are wonderful as there is arguably no prettier coastline in Italy (ok, you can argue but you have to see it before making a case!). Tiny coves with sapphire blue water really exist here! Fiascherino is more of a residential area with a couple of (less than average) hotels, whereas Tellaro is as charming as any of the Cinque Terre villages only sleepy most of the year. Even in the heat of summer (like now), I wouldn’t call it crowded.

One of many secluded coves of Fiascherino


The NYT does give credit to Piccolo Hotel Lido, which I would agree with as being the best hotel. The rooms, all at the water’s edge are super well equipped doing wonders with small space. The bathrooms are big by any standard and the double size showers are unique for Italy. You have a sliding glass door (you can see out but no one can see it) instead of a door and window maximizing the views. A private rooftop terrace each with 2 lounge chairs and panoramic views of the bay make the 200+ euro price worth it alone.

Lido di Lerici Hotel & Beach Club

The paper fails to mention the town’s other “great” but on a different level hotel, the Doria Park. Just a 5 minute walk up the hill from the main piazza, this family run hotel has recently renovated and comfortable rooms with super views of the bay and village. There is also a decent restaurant on the premises and serves one of the most abundant and delicious breakfast I’ve ever had in Italy UNTIL NOON! Additionally, the Beghe family and their staff could not be more warm, welcoming and helpful.

Ok, Hotel San Terenzo. Right on the water, great views, use of the beach club, but the rooms are not just “ho-hum” as the writer states. Leave alone the views, of course they are great, but 200+ euro for a room with just about the ugliest and flimsy furniture I’ve ever seen in a hotel room, is just a rip off. 5-star view with 1-star interior plus a so-so (at best) restaurant at astronomical prices makes me hesitate to recommend it even if it’s the last place available in town. Just go there for the beach.

In Tellaro, there is Il Nido which was also recently renovated and has its own private beach area and lovely views. It’s a bit removed from the crowds, which is nice, but also within walking distance of this uber-cute village.


Again, well done NYT writer for the notation about the seafront restaurants not being so great. This is true with a couple of exceptions. Due Corone (Calata mazzini, 14, Tel: 0187 967417) serves quite good seafood dishes and the service is good. Golfo dei Poeti, despite being very big and very “loud” looking, actually has decent food and good pizza. Staff is a little aloof but you can eat well and enjoy the view, no problem.

Bonta Nascoste is our favorite (pizza and farinata to die for) but service can be slow if they are crowded, which is just about every night now. Just a few doors away, is the wonderful Il Frantoio, an old olive mill converted into an excellent little restaurant serving one of the best seafood antipasti specials in the entire Gulf.

Bar Vertigo in San Terenzo is just awesome for cocktails and live music at night. The menu is limited but it’s more about the ambience here. Go and enjoy! There is also cute little StraLuna trattoria right on the main drag across from the sea. While a typical menu for the area, it is better than average and the setting is nice. There is also Bar Torino which serves an excellent cappuccino waterfront and also has the only WiFi point in town!

Further afield are the cozy and delicious Osteria Redarca (past blog here), my numero uno restaurant in Liguria and one of the most romantic at Il Pescarino, La Brace for all meat grilled to perfection and Tellaro’s own Locanda Miranda with a 1-star Michelin ranking.


Arcobaleno is just average, especially if you are a gelato connoisseur. The 10x’s better, head to Rana Golosa in San Terenzo. You won’t have a hard time finding it, just look for a long line out the door of some whole in the wall. Don’t miss the flavor, “Vero Amore”.


Eco del Mare has always been the most “chic” beach in the area with limited admittance and sublime little bay. How the new bungalows on the beach are, we’ll still have to wait as they have just opened and a visit is in the works. But for sunbathing snobs, it’s probably the best beach around (and the most expensive at about 30 euro!).

Eco del Mare

When heading toward Tellaro, you also have “Franco’s Beach” which gets sun mostly in the morning giving you a nice glow by noon!

Franco's Beach

Otherwise, there are two nice bathing establishments between Lerici and San Terenzo called Lido di Lerici and Colombo (which also houses Hotel San Terenzo). The Lido is a white sand beach, that despite having to pay 14 euro a lounge chair, it does fill up by about 10:30AM. Still you’re given your own space, which makes your sunning experience a bit more pleasant. Colombo is a terraced rock area and pier jutting out into the sea. Space on the pier is by far the best as you actually do get a breeze out here and kids cannot easily run amuck here, but price is steep at 37 euro for 2 chairs and an umbrella.

Carrara from Montemarcello


Just above the village is the gorgeous and lush Montemarcello National Park which has an old Roman cobblestone road running through and over it leading you to the lovely village of Montemarcello (a member of “I Borghi Piu Belli” in Italia, just like Tellaro) where you can find some of the most yummy focaccia sandwiches at Bar La Pineta. You will also find almost overwhelmingly beautiful panorama that consists of the Carrara Mountains and Apuane Alps to the east and the entire Gulf of Poets and Corsica to the west. There are several trails, well marked, and you can begin from the main piazza in Lerici, then take the bus back.

The Old Roman Road for Hiking


It is easy to rent fancy, motorized dinghy’s for either a 1/2 day (130 euro) or all day (200 euro) at Locazione Gommoni next to Bar Corona on the waterfront. Boat fit up to 6 people and are powerful enough to make the gulf crossing to Portovenere if you like (or you can just stick to the great little coves of nearby Fiascherino). Stop by and make a reservation, they speak a little english as they tend to fill up on weekends and July/August.

There is also the ferry boat that takes you to Portovenere, Le Cinque Terre and as far north of Portofino certain days of the week. Timetable here.

San Terenzo

It will be interesting to see if this article does effect little, supposedly unknown Lerici and gives it a boost of tourism. If so, there gonna have to find another piece of precious and expensive land for another parking lot!

That’s it from my little sanctuary up on the hill above the next “Portofino”!