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the sweetness of doing nothing     (no) lazy summer days in italy

Josefina & Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, October 2013

By the time you read this, we are back in Vienna from a blissful two-week summer vacation in Alto Adige (South Tyrol) and the Ligurian coast in Italy. Our sore muscles are fit again, the tramping boots cleaned and stored in a cabinet waiting for the next walking tours. Perhaps we are back just physically, but in our mind's eye we may still be there, dreaming about the superb "Rosalpina" hotel in the Dolomites and the beautiful evenings we spent in Portofino.

It was supposed to be lazy summer holidays. Not too much traveling by car, no hunting for places of interest, just some lazy fun for Mrs. and Mr. Bleier. It didn't happen, at least not during the first week of our vacation, when our sturdy shoes run hot from hiking in the Dolomites.
Our plan for this year's summer vacation evolved from the idea to travel with our own car, not going too far away from Austria. Later in spring a well-styled magazine about Alto Adige inspired us to spend one week in the Italian Dolomites and another week somewhere at the seaside. Being in Alto Adige with packed bags, the Ligurian coast appeared to be a good option to get our portion of Mediterranean life, a region we've never been to but always wanted to visit. We recalled names like "Cinque Terre" and "Portofino", which we read about years ago in an article about the most expensive fishing village on earth. After just short time our decision was made and the vacation plan accomplished.


Alto Adige - or Südtirol, as we used to say

In the Dolomites we stayed at the unique, family owned Rosalpina Hotel. The Rosalpina is a refurbished historical building in an absolutely marvelous place 1.800 meters above sea level. It is an extremely quiet and relaxing location facing the stunning "Geisler-Gruppe", the authentic mountain cliché of the Dolomites. The ambience of the Rosalpina and the surroundings is almost magical; it feels like the incarnation of nature and tranquillity. We've been rewarded with an extraordinary view of the dolomites from the hotel's terrace, where guests can enjoy their extended breakfast or watch the glowing Geisler-Gruppe during sunset. At midnight, when the hotel's lights go off, the nights are darker than black and reveal a sky painted by a million of stars and the clearly visible milky-way.

The hotel compensates the fact that it is almost impossible to go out for dinner outside of the hotel due to its remote location. The wine list and the dishes served for dinner are really excellent. Last but not least, the young and attentive staff and the presence of the family Hinteregger owning the hotel made our stay perfect. Their charm is an expression of their friendly, open-minded character and not artificially trained. Amadeus, the frisky dog of the Hinteregger's, is around all day entertaining the guests. We were quite surprised to learn that even a hundred years after South Tyrol became part of Italy even the very young generation feels much more related to Austria than Italy. Wherever you go north of Bozen, you will feel Austrian mentality, customs and traditions. German in a perfect Tyrolean accent is spoken everywhere, which strongly preserves the Austrian culture in this part of Italy.

On the Plosen, the local mountain of Brixen, travelers who love nature will find wonderful, never-ending hiking trails leading up to 2.500 m above sea level. Some like the popular "Woody Walk" welcome families with children, some are quite challenging, other trails lead to secluded places deep in the woods and on one - shame on us - we gave up. Completely exhausted we didn't know anymore where we would end up. On our program was also a visit to Brixen and Meran, two very enjoyable, neat towns in Alto Adige. The "Gardens of the Trauttmannsdorf Castle" in Meran are a must to see. Plants from all over the world grow in these extensive gardens, where one can spend all day and wonder about such proud vegetation.


Those who want to stay at the Rosalpina should set their navigation device to Palmschoß 292 and follow the small road leading from Brixen up to the Plosen. The Rosalpina is worth the price you will pay - you won't be sorry. Just beware of the public bus commuting between Brixen and Palmschoß - it appears quite big on that narrow road.

Liguria - Riviera di Levante

Touching lightly the Piemont we drove straight from Alto Adige to Rapallo nearby Portofino and Santa Margherita on the Ligurian coast, Italy's smallest region, stretching from the French border to La Spezia.

While the picturesque Portofino is known as the most expensive fishing village on earth and the frivolously expensive Splendido Hotel as meeting place of the rich and famous, Santa Margherita and Rapallo are the better places for the not-so-lucky. Of these two towns Santa Margherita appeared a bit too touristic to us. Rapallo was the perfect place for us to stay, because it isn't only a pretty town for vacation, but also holds the very genuine Italian lifestyle.
The Grand Hotel Bristol is not exactly the kind of hotels we usually choose for vacation, but the most suitable we could find in Rapallo. But besides of that we have absolutely enjoyed our stay in the Bristol firstly because of the pleasant and very sympathetic personnel at the rooftop restaurant, and secondly because of its fantastic location. From its Spa and breakfast terrace, and especially from the rooftop restaurant, the Bristol offers a dreamlike view of Rapallo's bay up to Portofino. The wine list in this restaurant contained an impressive collection of excellent wines and we've been very well advised by the restaurant manager, which one to choose. Although the food was not the genuine "Cucina Italiana" it was cooked on very good level, rather in haute cuisine style by using fresh quality products, a good slice of the Ligurian cuisine and of course using the classic Basil Pesto. Pesto is "the" product of the Riviera di Levante. Eating in Santa Margherita wasn't our thing since most restaurants cook for tourists, unlike in Rapallo where we've found some very good trattorias where the locals go to have a good meal. Our favorite was the "Trattoria Da Mario" where the dishes are cooked just like "Nonna" used to make.

Cinque Terre

Portofino - living the "dolce far niente"

Portofino is a fantastic location based in the Riviera Ligure, not very far away from Rapallo. It is a small village of no more than 500 people. To go there from Rapallo takes 20 Minutes by car, one hour by bus if you are lucky to catch them in right time, or about two hours by foot, which we did also one day.
We were surprised that such a tiny village wasn't overly crowded by day-tourists like us. The reason seems to be its pricing structures, which suits to the bigger fishes rather than typical travelers making their way there. Famous names like Armani or Dolce & Gabbana have their holiday homes in Portofino, and waterside boutiques line up at the small harbor where you may spend a fortune for buying something you don't need. Restaurants in Portofino can be shockingly expensive, yet there are also some very good trattorias, where the owners themselves care about their guests. And we love that. These are the right places to enjoy excellent "cucina Italiana", which we prefer much more than snobbish restaurants out of touch with the real world. The "Taverna del Marinaio" was such a place where the owners and their staff recommended the best dishes and took care of us in a warm and friendly manner. It goes without saying that we also picked up some delicious ice cream from the famous "Gelateria San Giorgio".
Although Portofino is just a small village, one can go for nice walks and even make extensive hiking tours around Portofino. During a longish walk to the Castello Brown high above the harbor and further to the lighthouse we were rewarded with superb views down to Portofino and the bay of Santa Margherita.


So what do you get in Portofino for your money?
This question is quite difficult to answer and at this point our essay is at risk to turn into a review of irrational enthusiasm. Portofino is an incredibly pretty fishing village at the coast of Liguria, built into a protected cove with gorgeous gardens and jungles of bougainvillea. No one can ignore the beauty of the small marina with the Piazzetta behind, embraced by color-washed houses. Every cliché in the Mediterranean fishing village is there, and in the evening it turns into a very calm and cozy place - simply stunning. Small fishing boats weave their way unnoticed between luxury yachts, each a little larger and more exquisite then the other, with the only signs of on-board life being warm light and the flags of origin flapping in the breeze of the sea. We will never forget the evening we spent there until late night, going back to our hotel only at midnight by boat. The boat drove extra slow from Portofino to Rapallo, the sea was calm and the night sky twinkled from thousands of stars. It was an unforgettable experience. For people who can enjoy the moment Portofino is simply suggestive of another world.

And what do you do there? Nothing, but live the "dolce far niente".

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre - the five lands

We bought train tickets and went to Vernazza, one of the five lands, and then to Manarola. The world-famous Cinque Terre is composed of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The region is just twelve kilometers long and is registered as a world heritage site by UNESCO. It can be easily reached from Rapallo by train in about 45 minutes, and of course we went there for hiking between these five pastel-colored villages nestling at the rugged steep landscape. The villages indeed look spectacular - each of it more than the other. The way they are built into the cliffs is simply unique. Unfortunately that leaves also a knotty problem, but we've ignored warnings of our friends not to go there in summer. Over the years Cinque Terre became a very popular place - almost too popular. Summertime brings hordes of visitors into the region and each of these tiny villages is on its limit. Even the hiking trails connecting them are crowded. There are so many that one can hardly enjoy the places, consequently the food served in restaurants was average, rather than very good. Nevertheless, it was great to see the Cinque Terre. To go there during summer was just the wrong time.

San Fruttoso

San Fruttuoso

Once the sweetness of doing nothing began to bore us we took a ride by boat to San Fruttuoso. It is a tiny, secluded cove not far from Portofino, accessible by nothing else than a boat, where long time ago a monastery was built on the beach. There is a submerged bronze statue of Jesus Christ (Il Cristo degli Abissi, or the Christ of the Abyss), of which the original was in the Mediterranean Sea off San Fruttuoso between Camogli and Portofino. It was placed in the water in 1954 at approximately 17 metres depth. San Fruttuoso is the perfect location to hang out and enjoy "la dolce vita". It has just two very small beaches and a few tiny trattorias chiseled into the rocks, such as the romantic "La Cantina". Here, at long last, we ate "fritto misto" followed by "dolce della casa", and put our feet in the turquoise-colored water.

Rapallo bay

Back at the hotel, we relaxed on the terrace chatting with the lady bartender and contemplated our experiences we made at the Riviera di Levante. The calm Mediterranean sea, softly lit by the lights of Rapallo, was the canvas for our meditation about this idyll, two glasses of Caipirinha the accompaniment.
We miss it . . .

Ciao Portofino,
"Griaß di" Alto Adige

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