Monthly Archives: April 2012

ITALY – DAY 4 & 5.

Varese Ligure – Ligure Region – Portovenere.

What I wanted to capture from going inland to the mountainous region of Liguria, were the true Old Italian faces, the old farmhouses & rolling hillsides of vineyards & olive groves. Imagine being in a Castle or someone’s home who’s families have lived there for generations & there is Mamma making her very own home made pasta while the men are outside, drinking wine & sitting in the shade talking wildly about football or life in general.

On route I noticed how practically every Italian village or settlement is build on top of a rock, mountaintop or hillside! On top of that (excuse the pun) every village, town or settlement has a church, a fortress & castle that seem to be the most expansive building in the area! Huge buildings, gothic in style, steeples almost reaching the clouds & dead silence! There seems nothing going on…maybe it was an early siesta, but until we reached Varese Lagure, the countryside was almost dead! Beautiful, colorful, serene, peaceful…but almost asleep!

Varese Ligure is a very small pretty inland summer town & was for centuries, an important market town & stopping place on the route north to Parma. After the decline in the traffic across the mountains in the 19th Century, the town acquired the rural role it still has today. Agriculture is the main trade in this region. Varese Ligure was a possession of the Fieschi family, who obtained it in fief from Emperor Frederick 1 in 1161. They build the rather splendid 15th Century castle. This stands prominently in a piazza in the centre of town.

It was here between the multi colored facades, arches & porticoes that we found a lovely restaurant & met Igna Gabriele Depeietri. He & his family own & run the restaurant called “I Fieschi” & they cooked a stunning meal that was region appropriate.

The local diner who sat next to us enjoying his meal provided some great images of which he was not aware I was taking. They are hilarious yet so typical. These are the typical portraits that I was after. Walking around Varese Ligure like many a tourist I take in the medieval stronghold in the main square, the winding alleyways, the burbling river and its stone bridges, and the circular borgo of ancient houses with freshly painted & renovated facades. But that´s not the main reason why I came here. The most interesting monument to visit in Varese Ligure is the ancient castle, which is now a private property. The castle has a large tower that dates back to 1435. The turret mast was built forty years later. The castle can only be admired from outside the walls since it is not open to visitors. Damn! I would have loved to have gone inside & taken some images but then again there were going to be other Castles to admire and photograph.

The next day it was off to capture two castles. Castello Compiano & Castello di Bardi.

The Castle of Bardi is a very important building, for the position, the architecture & its history. It is the second fortress for extension in Europe, build, as the legend says, over the skeleton of the last Annibale´s elephant. In ancient Bardi the lords of this place were the Landi´s family. Photographing this giant building I saw the fashion of the middle age, in one of the greatest & most important castles of Italy. One of the most antique parts of the fortress is the ´mastio´, dating back to the 1200´s, originally adapted for habitation & then transformed into a prison. Under the care of the Landi, the castle was transformed from a military fortress to a noble dwelling, through the realization of elegant apartments, frescoes, gardens, fountains & a big library. Voices tell the story that the fortress has always been inhabited by a group of nice ghosts. Not even is the horrid chamber of torture missing, where the hangman´s axe has been left in full view. Furthermore, recently an antique manuscript has been found, which is proof of the existence of buried treasure in the castle.

Mid day we arrived back in La Spezia & I witnessed the unfriendly side of an Italian car rental staff member. We arrived an hour later than supposed to & the lady refused point blank to help us even if she was sitting behind her desk. She was very rude & lucky for me I can’t speak Italian otherwise I think I may have been deported if I gave her what I really wanted to tell her!

Once the dust had settled it was time to head for one of the most exciting villages on the Italian Riviera, Portovenere, which is picture perfect & has such famous history. It is like a flower on the cliffs, lashed by the wind & waves or rather, a pearl set in the crown of a wonderful panorama. At the top of the village there rises the mighty tower of the old citadel, which like a giant, keeps a firm grip on the walls, reinforced by turrets & bastions, which embrace the whole of the front of the village. Walking through the village I met Giuseppe the sailor who had some crazy good stories to tell me about life! Thanks Giuseppe! Portovenere is a village of fisherman & bold sailors, jutting out-wards into the sea & locked in the grip of its old & crumbling walls, reinforced by its towers, standing high on the cliffs scorched by the sun & echoing with the storms! A photographic gem! It is a small world of seafaring tales, rich in history & beauty. This landscape thus becomes such a marvelous & characteristic picture that it is hardly surprising that the ancients dedicated it to Venus, the goddess of love & beauty, who arose from the foam of the sea…so legend has it! The two main tourist attractions are St Peter’s church build of black dolomite limestone with veining’s of Portoro marble & was first erected in 1256-77 & the ancient Upper Portovenere castle believed to have been build in the 12th century.

Vernazza & Montorosso Al Mare

Cinque Terre – Vernazza and Monterosso Al Mare

I left the last two villages on the Cinque Terre until last. It was far more important to get Portovenere done properly rather than run out of time& not have amazing images from there at all.

The first stop was Vernazza. A stunning little village & community formed towards the year 1000 around the chapel. Vernazza is the only village on the Cinque Terre to have a harbor; this is known to have been in use in antiquity. The port has made Vernazza the richest village in the area while the combination of the surroundings & architectural grace also make it one of the prettiest in my opinion. In ancient times in order to combat the assaults by the Saracen pirates who were punishing the Ligurian coast, Castle Doria was build. It was build around the 11th century on the rocky spur that dominates the village. All that remains of this old base is the fort & the ruins of some of the towers. Proud of their Vernazzan heritage, the town’s 500 residents like to brag: “Vernazza is locally owned. Portofino (a nearby commercial village) has sold out.” Families are tight & go back centuries; several generations stay together. There is much leisure time here for the locals & they call it “vita pigra di Vernazza”…the lazy life of Vernazza.

The last village was Monterosso Al Mare which comprises of the Old & New villages. Unfortunately as time sped away I couldn’t get to the Old town, but nonetheless I was more captivated by the New village & especially the statue of the Giant (Il Gigante), which was carved out of concrete & set into the cliff face over looking the sea. A few decades ago a violent storm hit the coastline & the Giant lost a few of his limbs. The locals have left him that way, as they believe that even a “broken man” can protect their coastline & bless the fishermen & people with sea food! It is an amazing piece of sculpturing & dominates the area. Monterosso is the largest village in Cinque Terre & the most popular with tourists. This village has very few cars & loads of hotels, rentable beach umbrellas, crowds & a thriving nightlife. Monterosso is the only village to have been build on flat land. Unfortunately due to the amount of tourists in this town a decision was made to get back to the beautiful Portovenere to take images at night of the village’s harbor, St Pietro’s Church from as high up as the old upper castle & to also enjoy the last dinner before heading back to Florence in the morning.

Italy Final days

Back to Florence

Arriving back in Florence I had a few ideas left of what I really wanted to do. Part of my assignment besides some final early morning shots of the Piazza del Duomo was to capture loads of street scenes & people entertaining tourists & locals alike with street entertainment.

There were buskers, singers, painters, human statues, musicians all displaying very different acts. On walking around the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Piazza del Duomo) I came across the typical Italian old man playing a violin. His face had all the expressions I was looking for. Old, weather-beaten, yet so full of emotion & expressions. Further on as I made my way to the Galleria degli Uffizi for the last time I also came across a pair of human statues. Unfortunately the female was in bright sunshine however I made it count in my favor but the shot would have been so much better if she was in the shade! Can’t win them all!

It was time to catch my bus to take the most anticipated & exciting journey I had been so looking forward to in Tuscany. The bus was taking us into the mountains of Tuscany to see & experience the growing & making of one of Italy’s most famous wines, Chianti.

The bus headed off towards the landscaped hills of Tuscany characterized by pretty picturesque villages, vineyards & gentle hills. What was noticeable here compared to Cinque Terre, was that these hills were much greener than those in the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. Different climates, different soil, different landscapes and different wine altogether.

Part of my main levels of excitement was because we were ending off the tour at a famous old Castle, which still makes wine after all these centuries. Castello del Trebbio could be seen from a few kilometers away on the winding road and what a sight it made. Towering above all the foliage, vineyards & olive groves was this massive breathtaking panorama above the Chianti Rufina.

Once the bus had stopped the first person I laid eyes on was Mario! As I stepped off the bus his arm was fully extended with a massive smile right across his face. Mario is nearly as old as the Castle (just joking). He is the Castles gamekeeper & has served at the castle since 1952. He is also their caretaker & still goes there every day to open up the commercial parts of the Castle, delivering breakfasts & to greet everyone. He has also been a very loyal employee to the Austrian-Italian family who has lived in the Castle since 1968. There are oil paintings of Mario in some of the main dining & lounge rooms, which is testament to his loyalty to Castello Del Trebbio & the family. He lived here by himself, maintaining all the grounds & helping the farmers with the vineyards while the Castle sat vacant from 1953 – 1968 under its previous ownership. Mario, in effect, comes with the castle. According to his previous contract, as is tradition, the gamekeeper is not permitted to get married because his sole focus must be on the property. When Anna’s family bought the castle in 1968, Mario petitioned for a new contract, & the family broke tradition & permitted him to get married. Two weeks later he & his girlfriend were married, & nine months after that he became a father. Mario is now 84 years old, & still wears his uniform to the castle, where he works (although technically retired) seven days a week, as he always has; you can find him easily – he’s dressed in a green felt hat with a pheasant feather, matching green overalls and handmade leather boots with handmade half-chaps overtop. He gets around without any help, although he speaks in a very soft whisper. He lives for the castle, the family, the tourists & clients who stay at the castle & he also told me that his only other highlight during the year after tourist season is the annual plucking of a new feather for his hat. Bravo Mario, a wonderful man!

Part of wanting to visit this Castle is that the owners have opened it up to the public & staying at this ancient Castle in the charming area of the Florentine Hills & the Chianto Rufina offers relaxation, peace & a wide variety of activities including wine tours, Tuscan cooking classes, ceramics & painting classes, trekking & mountain biking & lastly to offer the Castle as a Wedding venue. The ancient farmhouses around the Castle have been renovated in different sizes to afford every comfort for the guests & include swimming pools & all the main stylish services expected.

Castello del Trebbio is all about magic & enchantment surrounded by an uncontaminated Tuscan landscape that offers unique natural, historical and gastronomical treasures. The Castle of Trebbio, build in 1184 by the Pazzi family, rises on a hill, surrounded by olive groves & vineyards. It is surrounded by 350 hectares of estate (54 hectares vineyards, 10.000 olive trees) & is bordered by native forest. Once owned by the Pazzi family, it was the scene of the attempted murder of the Medici brothers in 1478. The Castle was given to the Medici family who changed it from a fortress into a villa for the bishop of Fiesole. Anna & her Austrian-Italian family bought the estate in 1968 & have restored & kept the Castle to its respecting architecture & furthermore they live in the Castle. The Castle has its own private chapel. The Pazzi coat of arms was sculpted by Donatello & can be seen in the courtyard of the Castle. The shoot was concluded with a visit to the old Castle’s wine cellars where the wine is aged in massive vats & the oil is stored. There are many ancient bottles of wine under the Castle in its cellars of which no one knows their age. Furthermore I noticed the large steel rings in the ceiling to which prisoners were obviously tethered. A truly mesmerizing, creepy thought and feeling indeed.

In conclusion, I also enjoyed a full wine tasting of their famous wines accompanied by typical Italian snacks such as ciabatta, bruschetta & crostini’s & some sensational biscotti’s made with almonds. There is also a restaurant called the La Sosta del Gusto, which is part of the farm & located in an old wine cellar so the atmosphere is intimate & very classy. Private cooking classes can be experienced with Arianna especially since she usually has the men rolling out the homemade pasta. Alberto is in charge of tourism activities, wedding planning, co-coordinating & wine tours & he was a very interesting & informative host.

It was an exhilarating experience to have visited this memorable Castle and I honestly hope to be there again one day in the future.
And so it was once again time to head for the airport and fly back home leaving behind the heat and beauty of lovely Italy to the freezing temperatures of sunny South Africa.

Join me on Face Book to seem more of these images and others from the rest of my journey from Italy:

Thompsons Travel Annual Awards

Sandown Motors Annual Strategic Synergies

Shepstone Gardens Fashion Show

Model Portfolio 2

Model Portfolio 1

Fitness Pro Magazine Shoot

Bridal India Cover Shoot