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.