This is going to be something like a travel essay. I had to look up what an essay actually was though. For your information in case you don’t know either, it’s a ‘short piece of writing on a particular subject’. So that’s easy!
The subject of this short piece of writing is a weekend break to the Italian Riviera and some observations on Italy in general. The Italian Riviera, or Ligurian Riviera as it’s also known, seeing as we are defining things, is ‘the narrow coastal strip which lies between the Ligurian Sea and the mountain chain formed by the Maritime Alps and the Apennines’. That description makes it sound less interesting and more geological than just ‘The Italian Riviera’ which sounds terribly romantic.
I’ll pop a few photos among the words to make you jealous as well as you probably haven’t been there but wish you could go. You should make some arrangements to do that. I’m hopefully not going to talk you out of it here.
Firstly in order to spend time on ‘The Italian Riviera’ one must make their way to the North of Italy. If you have read any of my work you’ll know my preferred continental destination is France. I understand some people are big fans of Italy. I’m not usually. If I have to make a choice between the two I will always choose France for reasons that will become more obvious as we progress with my essay.
So getting to the North of Italy. The most logical destination to start a long weekend on ‘The Italian Riviera’ is Genoa. From here you can head up or down the coast to your resort or town or village of your choice. Getting from my place to Genoa requires the services of an aeroplane. The British Airways flight to Genoa leaves from London Gatwick Airport. Gate 109 at the North Terminal last time I looked. Gatwick Airport is in West Sussex and gate 109 is somewhere at the far end of Kent or so it seemed given the distance you walk from check in to your flight.
Sadly before you can start your expedition to your aeroplane you have to get undressed in front of uniformed strangers wielding long handled ping pong bats. This is because the world is now frightened that some of the disaffected youth of Mesopotamia may wish to hijack our aeroplanes using a large bottle of shampoo and some nail scissors. We fear that once they have taken charge of the aeroplane by aggressive use of personal grooming items they will then offer to fly us into a tall building to convince others of the benefits of their choice of religion. It’s all very tedious.
However, despite this we find ourselves magically transported to Genoa Airport from where we will make our way to our personal choice of accommodation for the weekend which was the splendid seaside town of Rapallo. This is where we start to remember why I prefer France to Italy.
There is a train that runs from a station very near Genoa Airport, all the way down to Rapallo which is about 45 minutes down the line. The station is near, but not so near you would choose to walk. So you engage the services of one of the many taxis available to you at the airport. You ask to be taken to the station by name. After a few minutes or so you will notice he is taking you to another station much further away and you will advise him accordingly. He will feign misunderstanding and drive you at great speed back to where you wanted to be in the first place. The taxi meter will say 10 Euro’s but he will demand 20 for a trip which in London’s black cabs would have cost about a fiver. The Italian Taxi driver would appear to be a great student of history and his favourite historical character is the ‘Highwayman’. Get into an Italian Taxi and the term ‘highway robbery’ will never be more appropriate or experienced more often. You should see the list of extra tariffs they have on top of the fare on the meter. I didn’t see it but I’m sure one of them is an extra charge for doing up your seatbelt, which is for sissies.
Having finished the argument with your highwayman and taken the short journey on a train which feels and looks like a relic from the cold war you arrive at your destination station. There will be some more taxis. You will be asked to pay 15 Euros for a run to your hotel that should have cost 2.50. It’s ok though, you are on holiday and you enjoy engaging in the local culture.
As a pause for reflection, I wanted to have a quick word on Italian men for no particular reason. It’s just an observation but I get the distinct impression that Italian men actually worship their women rather than treating them more as potential mistress material or lack of it as the French seem to do. I’m generalising of course but women run Italy. The home, the family is so important and the women are in charge. It’s a matriarchal society whereas France is more Patriarchal. The Italian men seem genuinely reverential to the women they meet and interact with whereas your Frenchman seems either overly flirtatious or dismissive depending on his interest or lack of it in the woman he is addressing. Your thoughts on this?
Seeing as we are on holiday in Italy we are going to be eating out a bit obviously and that usually results in some exposure to food. You will most likely find the food available in resort destinations somewhat poor value for money. You will end up paying more than you wanted or expected to for no good reason. French food is better than Italian food. It seems all Italian restaurants have the same stuff on the menu. I’m sure there are regional differences but that just seems to be in respect to what the sauce consists of. The food is pasta, pizza and sauce based meat dishes. There is much tomato in evidence and also pesto. Lots of tomato and pesto.
French food is better. French bread is better. French wine is better. The choice is greater. The restaurants are better value. The Italians always seem to have a hidden charge or extra cost stuffed up their sleeves that they break out when they see a tourist approaching. I never feel that way in France. In Italy there is a constant niggling feeling that you are being robbed at every turn. A plate of fish that should have cost 10 Euros becomes 25 because the waiter said you should try it with this or that extra ingredient. He never mentions that it will double the price of the fish but you discover this to be the case when the bill arrives. You’ve just been robbed again.
I don’t like feeling robbed when I go on holiday and I’m pretty savvy so I’d hate to think what they do to the gullible. Enough negativity though, forewarned is forearmed. Assume you will be misled and lied to, over charged and misinformed about most things by people selling you stuff or taking you places and you’ll do fine. The Italians are very friendly though. Lovely people! I like the Italians; I just don’t like being shafted at every turn when I have to open my wallet to pay for things which is what it always feels like.
What is there to do here? Walk, eat, drink, walk, wander, meander, and malinger even if you wish. The place is a visual feast. The architecture is completely amazing; the contrast between derelict grandeur and ornate magnificence is striking in places. So much of the area looks like it is something from a painting or about to become one. You will want to make an effort to dress up just to go for a walk along the sea front in the evening before you retire to a bar looking out upon the Mediterranean Sea. The high cliffs with massive houses almost carved into them. The great grand seafront hotels. Little bays full of brightly coloured tall houses perched in a row and right on the sea. The wheeling seabirds above or the flocks of them keeping each other company on some fishing boat that hasn’t been used since last season. There is nothing obvious to do here but shop, walk and shop a bit more. Move on the next impossibly pretty town or village and do it again. Walk the cliff tops or waterfront from one to the other. You are just looking at stuff if you are me. Soaking up the amazing visuals and watching the interesting people go by.
The shopping though, isn’t just some tourist tat, there is that but so many shops full of lovely things as well. Down in the tiny village of Portofino are the most extraordinary array of high end fashion shops for example. Gucci, Puccini, and Hermes among others, each have their own store in what is a tiny old fishing village. But one of such beauty and style they don’t look out of place at all. Quite the opposite! The place is as I said, extraordinary.
When we were there some Billionaire’s super yacht was parked off shore and we watched the tender bringing a few people from it in to Portofino for lunch. One of the very biggest super yachts in the whole world, just there, for lunch, amazing! All too soon it’s time to put away the beautiful history and make the return journey to real life. Most likely having a couple of arguments along the way with a highwayman or two. In no time you are back home where you mostly get what you pay for, but in less fabulous surroundings.
Sandy, you’re such a great writer… This is very insightful. Thanks for the inside info.
Cheers Shauna. That’s kind of you to say.
Oh you’d love it Kellie. The shops are amazing. I liked the studded purses with knuckle dusters on top best though I think. 🙂
Reminded me of when we went to a restaurant in Florence and it was apparent from our view of the plates passing us that the locals were getting much fresher food, and that our pasta was a bit harder than al dente…Despite our protestations, neither the waiter nor the manager were willing to work with me, so upon receiving the bill, I left what I thought the food was worth, about half of what we were charged…When they tried chasing me down, I told them I wrote for a travel magazine, and they backed down…
Compare and contrast, however, a little trattoria in Rome near the Vatican, on the same 10-day trip, that we saw loads of locals supping in. The proprietor brought over some of the nicest antipasti, and we had the most wonderful mains, and he grabbed my wife by the arm as if she were an important guest and explained all of the different desserts to her. We had to be rolled out of there we were so stuffed, and the bill was half that of the bill in Florence. Has really coloured my opinion of Florence as a destination…
Still, gotta go back to Italy. I do like France, and I like French people. But I feel more at home in a more purely latin-style environment.
(And I think you might be right about the relationship between Italian men and their women.)
I’ve not been to Florence. I went to Venice once, must go again. I guess budget is a big thing. If I only have so much money to spend on a trip, I’ll spend it on one knowing I’ll most likely enjoy rather than get angry about. I doubt I’ll be hurrying back to Italy anytime soon. Cheers!
All part of the experience. Glad to read that you weren’t actually robbed! That would be awful.
No, not actually robbed, more like fleeced
Am laughing out loud at the ‘at the airport’ saga 🙂 Oh and particularly like the Nastro photo… Cheers 🙂
Cheers TWS. It was a nice photo to be able to take. The beer tasted good too!
Looks gorgeous – I wanna go and get robbed too!
Take a taxi!! xx
There’s no doubt that restaurants in Italy that attract tourists will take advantage. A general rule is, if you see menus in english, walk away. If you’re near a popular tourist site, make sure there are Italians in there as well. I like your points on men in France and Italy – it makes sense. On the food though I think you’ve missed out – Italy has incredible food and it’s not just pasta – that’s like saying French food is all about butter (I’ve heard Spaniards say that – they’re insane!). And definitely on the wine – Italy has at least 5 to 1 advantage in the variety of grapes used – maybe more. Most of these amazing vintages never make it to export because of small production. France, however, has better control over labelling which leads to fewer regrets when purchases are made with low information.
Thanks for your comments Benita. I think the French are all about duck rather than butter. I do like Italian wine, very happy drinking it. You make a good Gavi and I love Barolo but can’t often afford it. I haven’t spent enough time in the regions though. Need another visit