Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Voyage en Italie, Part Two

As I reported on Monday, Friday drew to a close with champagne, courtesy of Olivier, celebrating my birthday! We stayed the night in comfortable beachfront bungalows at the Villaggio dei Fiori Centro Turistico sul Mare. This facility offers very affordable bungalows, chalets, holiday homes, camp areas, a restaurant, pizzeria, swimming pools, tennis courts and other family amusements. Since we were up late partying on Friday night, our Saturday started mid-morning with brioche at the Villaggio café. Seven euros bought us three brioche, three cappuccinos and one steamed milk for Emily; what a deal!

Upon consuming sufficient amounts of Italian caffeine and pastries, we headed to the market to buy the supplies that would fill the little trailer. Just wondering through the grocery was a special treat. It was very important to my companions that we selected products authentic to the Liguria region. Liguria olive oil is protected with the D.O.P. mark on its packaging (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). Most of the packaged foods we bought were from companies that have been in existence, supplying these products since the 1800's. I believe that these products which have withstood scrutiny for 100 to 150 years are bound to be the best!
After gathering an obscene mound of formaggio romano, parmigiano e mozzarella, D.O.P. olive oil, tomatoes, anchovies, tuna packed in olive oil, meats, sausages, pasta, bread sticks, cakes, cookies filled with nocciola, coffee and candies, we loaded the trailer and resumed our promenade through old San Remo and its open air market. As I mentioned yesterday, the market was filled with beautiful fashions, flowers and plenty of souvenirs, all very reasonably priced. We figured we could find a way to squeeze a few more things into the car.
Our promenade led us through the charming old town, called La Pigna, built during the Moyen Âge as a walled city, complete with castle, to protect the citizens from Saracen raids. There we saw an abundance of steep and narrow streets, charming squares, and passageways that are reminiscent of medieval times. Traffic is limited to pedestrians in this part of San Remo. Homes five stories high, often with shops on the ground floor, were linked across the passaggio with an array of arches at varying heights. The couloirs and the bâtiments were unforgettable. In every direction, pictures were waiting to be taken.

Tourism took hold in San Remo in the 18th century and the town rapidly grew beyond La Pigna, with grand hotels that stretched to the sea. This époque, extending into the early 19th century, brought many famous visitors to San Remo, including Czar Nicola of Russia, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, consort of Alexander II, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. During this period and spilling into the start of the 20th century, many impressive and luxurious buildings were erected, including the Russian Orthodox Church of San Basilio.

With more time, San Remo offers tourists a number of interesting museums, churches and homes to be toured, including the one-time villa of Alfred Nobel, which he purchased in 1891 and died within in 1896. Each year the officials of San Remo send to Stockholm the flowers used to decorate the annual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet.

A number of well known artists have ties to San Remo, including writer
Italo Calvino; Sicilian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Luigi Pirandello who lived there a year and became artistic director of the Casino; artist and writer Edward Lear who lived and died there; Italian-born sculptor Giuseppe Moretti who lived in San Remo in his final years and died there in February 1935. Moretti is best known for having designed the world's largest cast iron statue of the Roman god Vulcan (56 ft. or 17 m.), which was erected on Red Mountain in Birmingham, Alabama. Famous actor and comedian Carlo Dapporto was born in San Remo as was Director and cinematographer Mario Bava, born in 1914.

While our group would most certainly beg to differ, the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett who traveled through San Remo in 1765, wrote in his book Travels through France and Italy, (published in 1766), “The women of St. Remo are much more handsome and better tempered than those of Provence." Huh!

We continued to stroll until we reached the beachfront promenade, lined with flowers and palm trees. The palm trees along the seaside walk of Corso Imperatrice (Empress Avenue) are there for all to enjoy as the result of the generous gift to the city made by Maria Alexandrovna, consort of Alexander II of Russia, after having spent the winter of 1874 in San Remo.

This beautiful city is nestled in a large inlet, between Capo Nero to
the southwest and Capo Verde to the northeast. This location offers calmer waters and protected beaches. The year-round mild temperatures and phenomenal growing conditions for flowers and citrus are attributed to its microclimate. The unique conditions are achieved through the combination of the location on the Mediterranean coast and the framing protection from the Maritime Alps with its highest peak, Monte Bignone, at 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) above sea level rising directly behind the city.

From the tiled walkway we had easy access to the beach, for one last dose of Mar Ligure. We practically had the sand to ourselves. Emily could have stayed there for hours, but by mid-afternoon, we worked up an appetite. We were ready for our final authentic Italian meal before heading back to France. More tomatoes and mozzarella, more pasta and parmigiano, more wine, more caffé; is it possible to have too much?

We arrived back home Saturday night; the unloading went quickly and we all settled in for a well-earned rest. Needless to say, my shutters stayed closed until noon the following day! We've enjoyed pasta, parmigiano and tomatoes every night this week and my only regrets are that I didn't manage to cram in a few more hours on our promenade and a few more treasures into the remorque!

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