Monday, September 12, 2011

Italy Part II - Italian Alps and Lake Garda

It was an unbelievably gorgeous day when we left Trento to head toward the Italian Riviera. With our handy Atlas in tow, Big R found us a detour that would take us around Lake Garda in the Italian Alps. We had quickly figured out that Lake Garda was a popular destination, and it was easy to understand why. The revelation that Big R was more relaxed when he could view the scenery and take photos along the drive, and my anxiety level was greatly reduced when I had control of the wheel, made this part of the trip a calm and exciting adventure.

The initial plan was to take the drive along the coastline of the lake, but we quickly squashed that plan when we saw the line of traffic. Apparently it was not an original idea because all of Italy was joining us. We had originally thought the other side of the lake would be less interesting because the atlas showed that it traversed many tunnels. This ended up being a fantastic trip. I suppose we can thank Mussolini for the extravagant tunnel system. Unlike the typical approach in the USA where we blow up the mountain to make room for the road, this system of tunnels hugged the edge of the lake. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to get a decent picture of these roadways. Nearly every tunnel had a series of windows bringing light into the tunnel and providing a peek at the waterway below. I was so excited to be driving this segment of the trip. Although the roads were narrow, and the Italian drivers were nothing short of crazy, it was so much fun.
Big R was able to capture only a few good shots from the moving car, but they illustrate the grand beauty of this region. (It also helps that I am blessed to have found a husband that has uncanny photographic skills.)
The weather was perfect, the detour went so well it might as well have been planned, and despite poor little r wishing he were anywhere but in the car, we really could not have asked for the drive to have gone any better that day. The end point for our day was Campiglia, Italy through La Spezia. We had reservations at Locandi Tromanti, which sat in the quaint 1800's town at the top of a hill. The advice we received prepared us for the narrow, winding road up to Campiglia. What we were not as prepared for was the trek through La Spezia to get to our windy road. If we learned anything on this trip, it's that you should never use directions through Google maps. I have no doubt someone worked very hard to map out these little towns, but people there don't do directions the same way that we do. No street signs, and all signs point to destinations. Bottom line is, you just have to have an idea of where you are going. This creates an interesting challenge. A few wrong turns, and we somehow found our way. I was amazed considering we were truly clueless.
Campiglia formed in the 1800's, and it is a very small little group of buildings at the top of the mountain road. It sits half in the national park of the Cinque Terre and half in the regional park of Portovenere. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to explore both, so we decided we'll just have to return to that beautiful little town and hotel and extend our stay.

The hotel was nice, but what made it so wonderful was the hospitality of the owners. Not a lick of English, and yet we somehow managed to get checked in and settled. The owners quickly took to our puppy and spoiled little r, wanting nothing more than to make us feel right at home, which we did. Exploring the town takes all but five minutes, so the afternoon was used instead to relax, drink wine, and plan for our trip into the Cinque Terre the following day.

Right behind the old town church was a small vineyard and hotel where they serve food picnic style and allow guests to enjoy the area surrounded by vineyards including hammocks and picnic tables. The wine is served out of the tap and into water glasses handed to you in a wooden box.

LIttle r finally gave into the heat and Big R and I enjoyed our balcony as we looked over maps and information for our Cinque Terre adventure.

We had reservations at the only restaurant in town, and dinner was at 8 p.m., and that was EARLY for these locals. We were glad little r rested before such a late dinner. He wasn't a huge fan of us waking him to sit at a fancy restaurant. The weather cooperated and we were able to enjoy dinner on the patio with the other local guests (and we were relieved that another toddler was among the crowd). Embarrassed that we knew not a lick of Italian, we managed to pick up some necessities pretty quickly. Most people still seemed to think we were German. I still find that amusing.


Stay tuned for Part III and the Cinque Terre...



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