Thursday, May 18, 2006

Day 15: Castellina in Chianti-Lerici

This morning, the sun is shining is beautiful day as we prepare to leave Tuscany. Enroute to Lerici (with a stop in Lucca) we take yet another of the seemingly inexhaustible supply of scenic roads in Tuscany--this one from Castellina to the superstrada through San Donato in Poggio. As the indispensable H. V. Morton has written: " ... the Tuscan landscape ... is the most civilized rural scene on earth." The rest of the trip to Lucca--on the autostrada--is mundane in comparison.

We now have a routine for quick stops in Lucca. We drive inside the walls at Porta S. Anna and look for parking at the first lot we hit. Today it is full but after a quick look for other spaces nearby, when we pass the lot again, there is an open space. We have two shopping errands--at the chocolate shop Caniparoli and at the nearby bakery for the local variation on coffee cake called "treccia". Next we stop at the Hotel Piccolo Puccini and have a nice visit with our friend Paolo who owns the hotel. Unfortunately he is on duty so he can't join us for lunch.

We walk over to La Romea B&B where I have to collect a commission. We like Lucca very much and feel we know it well, having spent two weeks here a few years ago, and it is very pleasant to be walking around these very familiar streets. The b&b is extremely stylish and comfortable. We take a tour of the four rooms--all very distinctive and roomy. The owners--Giulio and Gaia--are very welcoming and we spend about fifteen minutes talking. We certainly would like to stay here the next time we need a place in Lucca.

On these quick visits to Lucca, we also try to have lunch at Vecchia Trattora di Buralli who make a wonderful Tuscan fried chicken dish. We take a detour past the market and the bar where we had coffee every morning when we were studying at the nearby Italian language school. The chicken and accompanying fried vegetables are as good as we remember--light, juicy and flaky. Diana also has another delicious melon with prosciutto and I have a bowl of zuppa di farro--a barley like grain. A very good lunch--both for the food and the memories.....

We stop back at the hotel and say good bye to Paolo and then walk past his new bar--the Stella Polare--which we had seen last year in the middle of the renovation. Now it is finished--very attractive and lively and filled with customers...both tourists and locals.

We are always very happy when we get off the autostrada at Sarzana and take the familiar route across the Magra River (with the fishermen wading in the water), through the crossroads town of Romito Magra and up the hill into Lerici where we get our first view of the Gulf of La Spezia, the castle overlooking the town and Portovenere in the distance. We have one of the new rooms on the top floor of the Doria Park with a terrace, offering that same view and we spend a lot of time just sitting there and enjoying it.

I make a quick walk up the hill to the Hotel Europa to say hello to our friend Luigi and to confirm our dinner date for tomorrow night. Then we walk down to town and along the fishing port to the breakwater under the castle. They have built a new very attractive "promenade" on the far side of the breakwater which makes another nice place to sit and enjoy the view of the harbor and surrounding hills.

We have a glass of wine at the very pleasant Bar Corona and watch the passing scene. To us, one of Lerici's charms is that, while it is definitely a tourist destination, you feel that it is a real town that has not given up its identity to serve the tourist trade. There are local families out with their children along the waterfront or shopping and, while the town welcomes visitors, it is not dominated by them.

I find out that the Doria Park Hotel now has wireless internet access, but it doesn't reach our room on the top floor. So I am "forced" to bring my computer down to the terrace in the front of the hotel in order to take advantage of it. I do some work down there and then we have dinner at the hotel's restaurant.

We eat outside as the sun sets and the lights come on around the bay. The food is pretty good but not equal to the setting- the chef seems to be aspiring to more creative cooking. I have baccala quenelles (which don't quite work...both texture and flavor) topped with crispy potato strings (delicious) and a wide pasta made with chestnut flour topped with lardo and local cheese (very different and very good). Diana has the tuna tartar mounded on top of a kiwi fruit (very nicely prepared), fettucine with shrimp (which is fine), the fritto misto (very good frying, tasty small mullets but short on shrimp and long on anchovies and calamari). Dessert is a skewer of baked fruit. The white wine is a local Vermentino....light but very refreshing.

It is an easy elevator ride to our room. Tomorrow is our "vacation from our vacation" day.


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