Brugnato in Fiore


Each year, the small Ligurian town of Brugnato [pronounced 'broon-yato'], transforms its streets into floral fan-fare. Many towns and villages across Italy will have such festivals and if you get the chance to see one, it is truly remarkable.


Get Lucky in La Spezia

We have a friend that just opened an Inn/Rooms called "Il Quadrifoglio", which means four-leaf clover in Italian. It is less than a five minute walk from the La Spezia Centrale train station, which takes you to the Cinque Terre in less than 10  minutes and to Lerici and Portovenere by bus in under 30 minutes.  Her rooms are clean, colorful and brand-spanking new! The rooms are climate controlled, have flat screen TVs, mini-fridge and free Wi-Fi all included for an unbelievably low price! I have tried to tell her to charge more for such nice rooms, but she prefers to under-sell her competition.

Clean bathrooms are at the top of my list for staying somewhere and I can vouch for these sparkling new bathrooms (also because my husband helped build them).

Pretty nice, huh? With all the amenities, its fantastic location to the Cinque Terre, Lerici and Portovenere and prices from 60-80 Euros a night, there is no reason to stay elsewhere!

Giusi does not speak English, so for more information, or to make a reservation in English, contact me.

Il Quadrifoglio                                                                                       
Via Agostino Oldoini 45                                                            Tel: 346.2126.797
La Spezia                                                http://www.affittacamereilquadrifoglio.it/


Festa di San Guiseppe

Each year on March 19 is the Festa di San Giuseppe, the patron saint of La Spezia. For the weekend leading up to the day, a large part of the city is covered with tents selling everything imaginable. I took a stroll through festival to give you a glimpse of how Italians celebrate with festivals.

 Every festival always has stands representing the different regions' typical food fare. Above, there are the cheeses of Sardinia, known for their particularly strong ricotta salata
Below are the bounties from Puglia, known for their olives, terralini (cracker-like rings, often flavored with fennel seed), sun-dried tomatoes, and lots of pickled items like fava beans, onions and capers.

One particular specialty are olive dolce (sweet olives), which are large, green olives that are preserved without a salty brine, just many, many changes of plain water. The result is a very bright green, firm and delicious olive that is not salty in the least bit. I had never tried these "sweet olives" before, but I really enjoyed them. 

I do have to make a comment here about Italians' use of the word dolce, or sweet--even after speaking Italian for years, being offered "sweet" olives made me expect them to be "sweet". But, just as they use the term acqua dolce for 'fresh water' (or non-salty), they use olive dolce to describe non-salty olives--not that they are actually sweet. After being teased by my in-laws and laughed at for making such a silly error, I learned my lesson!

Here we have the most popular food at the San Giuseppe festival--La Porchetta, a Tuscan tradition of a stuffed whole pig, roasted on a pit over an open flame. There were more stand and trucks with whole roasted pigs than I have ever seen in my life! I have never tried it--I'm not against it--it just tends to gross me out a little seeing the shriveled cooked head. 

The Sicily truck was quite popular with all their fried foods and ricotta desserts. 

Here we have the stand from Umbria, known for their sausages, cheeses, il cinghiale (wild boar), and most of all:

Tartufo nero or black truffles!

The other very popular food, found on almost every corner were these amazingly fragrant sweet chips made with anise. The machine you see above was constantly stamping out these thin wafer chips into large piles that were then bagged up still hot, fresh for the taking.

There was a little bit of everything at this festival, all kinds of trinkets, all kinds of food, 

and all kinds of desserts!

 They even had the newest novelty--Caramelle Americane (American candies).

The Jelly Belly stand was extremely popular!

But there was a lot more than just food. They had everything

from the home linen outlet stand to clothes, to hats, to house pets for the kids.

Artiginal jewelry

Hand carved olive wood

This is the area that I refer to as "infomercial row" where they have slicers and dicers, steam cleaners, magic mops and microphoned demonstrators to show off the goods!

 And more of those divinely anise scented crispy cookies.

The festival took up a large portion of the city and it was still packed with people!

Be sure to check out the Festa di San Giuseppe in La Spezia, every year during the weekend leading up to March 19.


Bar Dell'Amore

Today was a joyous occasion in the Cinque Terre and another step in providing for the people of Vernazza. It was the opening of the Bar dell'Amore, located along the Via dell'Amore, or Walkway of Love (the hiking path linking Riomaggiore with Manarola). 

With breathtaking views from every table, you can now take a relaxing break from your journey with a glass of local wine and a plate of munchies for an afternoon apperetivo, or start out the day with fresh air, clear turquoise seas, beautiful vistas of the Cinque Terre, a freshly baked muffin and a creamy cappuccino.

Buy some fresh lemons from their tree-can't get more local than that!

You may have seen this bar if you been to the Cinque Terre recently, but it has been closed for nearly three years after problems with the park officials. But because the people of Vernazza have lost their businesses, their jobs and their livelihoods, the park has been working to provide new jobs and opportunities.

Run by four friends from Vernazza and one from Riomaggiore, the Bar dell'Amore is back in business. Stefano, Chilli, Silvia, Luca and Matteo have worked hard to clean the place up and make it new and they are happy to greet their new visitors!

They have it all in this little place, so whether you want to buy a bottle of water or beer; a postcard or a guidebook; a little something to nosh on or full sandwich; a locket to add to the Wall of Love, or to enjoy one of Stefano's cocktails, make sure you make a stop at Bar dell'Amore!


Due to the rockslide in 2012, the closure of the Via del'Amore has closed the bar. It is accessible from the Manarola station, but the building is closed.


5 Terre Is Open for Business

Posted from Cultural Comments:

As we head towards the spring season, many are wondering if the Cinque Terre is open, if the hikes are hikeable and if it's even worth keeping the Cinque Terre in their travel plans. The answer is an overwhelming YES!!!

Before going into details, here is an overview: The trains are running on normal, regular schedules with stops to all five villages without interruption or access controls. Riomaggiore, Manarola and Corniglia had little to no damage from the floods and all shops, restaurants and hotels/rooms are open for business.


5 Terre: Leave a Lasting Mark

 Check out this great program in Monterosso for rebuilding the typical 'dry stone walls'. With a minimum donation of 150 euros, you can have your name "carved in stone" that will adorn a wall in downtown Monterosso. Visit Rebuild Monterosso for more information.


Vernazza: Good News and Bad News

   Posted from culturalcomments.blogspot.com:

The clean-up effort is progressing at an amazing speed!

The tireless work of the people can be seen with a clean piazza that is now acting as a command center and food service area.

Il Ristorante Gambero Rosso
Many businesses are now accessible, like this one, where my husband worked for years and my father-in-law helped remodel. More good news today was the joyful recovery of a beloved dog, still alive after being trapped for a week. 
The townspeople, the volunteers, the military and emergency workers have all excavated and cleaned into the wee hours of the morning, filling barges to haul away debris.

The massive machinery that has been brought into this tiny village has certainly been impressive.
Each of these huge machines can do the work of a hundred people, moving and clearing debris. And clearing debris helps to find things buried beneath.

Recovering an intact boat can be high point, which helps provide a small slice of normalcy for those whose lives have been devastated.
Seeing the boats lined up by the water again, even if only a few, can warm their hearts and give them encouragement to carry on.

The church, just off the piazza, has been converted into a warehouse for supplies, drinking water and blankets. It also acts as a respite to catch a bit of rest. Its baptistery room has been converted for fist aid and chiropractic treatments for the workers.
Below is one of the structural victims of the storm--look familiar?
We lost the little stone bridge over the grotto. Once the picturesque spot to admire while eating your gelato, or to snap a photo while standing over a hole in the mountain side with a view of the blue see below. Now it's gone.
Notice the large green tank? That was the propane tank at the top of the hill, providing gas for the entire village. It was ripped out by the landslide and taken for a long, destructive ride, traveling over two kilometers and out of that hole to this final resting place. I guess we can blame the tank for taking out the little bridge. 

But there is a bright side...a new addition...

Vernazza will have a new beach! Thanks to that hole with a view to the sea, the landslide has filled in an area that has always wanted to be a beach. If only it had happened under better circumstances. 
The tank taketh...the beach giveth.
But the losses, at this point, still outweigh the gains. There are still three people missing, even with rescue crews searching the sea. In Monterosso, they just had a funeral for the only victim of the flood, a volunteer worker that was trying to help protect the town. For more information, visit LittleParadiso blog.
Reads: Here is the house at via Gavino

Many homes have been lost completely or just rendered uninhabitable. The house above completely collapsed.

But even though buildings can be rebuilt, memories cannot. 

A fellow American living in the area gave the best description of the depth of sentimental value of these homes: 
"I think we Americans, even when we visit Italy repeatedly, or even live here, need constant reminders of the depth of Italian culture when it comes to connecting with people and place. Our culture is so different. We sell our houses, we "hi-ho" our neighbors from our driveways, we make appointments to see each other, and by the end of an hour or so, we want a happy ending.

In little towns like Monterosso al Mare or Vernazza, you see everyone you know every day. Everybody talks to everybody. Almost everybody lives in a house their grandfather or great-grandfather lived in and died in. When I rented my furnished apartment, my landlady pointed to the huge double bed that came with it and said "I was born there!"

When all that washes away, and your neighbors have to pack up go to La Spezia, even though that is just 20 minutes away, something is truly no more." 
Losing or having to evacuate their homes is more painful then we can even understand--and yet they carry on.

The structural stability of many of the buildings is uncertain. The stream that the road was built over has eroded the ground beneath the foundations, and the force of the landslide and the impact of cars and other large debris has added to the problem.

Engineers are inspecting the foundations and have already ordered the evacuation of some buildings for fear of collapse. They are being extra prudent in these early stages, but let's hope that things can be fixed with only minor intervention.

With all the work accomplished, there is still so much more to be done.

The roads are still a disaster zone and as I write this, weather reports are predicting a new wave of violent storms and turbulent seas at the end of the week. All of Vernazza and part of Monterosso will be evacuated as a precautionary measure. There is still a lot of loose dirt and mud at the top of the town, so in the event of another landslide, they want to make sure everyone is safe.

At this point, all we can do is pray that the work that has been done does not get undone and that the rest of the mountain holds its ground. Maybe with enough prayers, wishes and positive thinking, we can manifest clear, dry skies.

I want to give a big round of applause for the tireless work everyone has been doing; locals, volunteers and emergency crews alike.

Organized groups of volunteers have come from other local towns like La Spezia, Levanto and Riomaggiore to join the locals and work knee-deep in cold mud. There is still no gas or running water in town, and yet the people continue on, cold and dirty, but with smiles on their faces.
The above photo is of a volunteer group that joined Vernazza to help clean. A Vernazzan commented on this photo to  thank them for being so great. But then someone from this group responded: “In all modesty, you guys are great. I saw people today that had nothing left, but they still lead the battle and then drank a glass of wine together with us and made us feel like one of them.” If that doesn’t sum up the Italian spirit, I don’t know what does. Siete tutti grandi!
This photo was posted with the note: “This is what we will return to…” 
Vernazza, the Pearl of the Cinque Terre.

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