9 July 2019
Written by Cate & Dave Williams aboard their Fountaine Pajot Saba 50
Italy – we love it. The weather, the food, the people – everyone is friendly, helpful and happy, no problemo. We’ve been in Italy for 4 weeks and it is amazing how much we have seen already – Portofino, Cinque Terre, Elba, Pontine Islands, Vesuvius, Napoli, Pompeii, Capri, the Amalfi Coast… once just names with a glamorous mystique about them – now explored and not disappoin
Leaving Monaco we travelled eastwards along the Riviera dei Fiori (Coast of Flowers) – bridges spanning steep ravines, south facing glasshouse slopes, green hills, small villages with the church up high, and then headed out across the Ligurian Sea (Golfo Genoa) towards Portofino. It was a great six hours across, we saw two whales and two dolphin pods; dolphins are like the puppies of the sea, always seemingly pleased to see you and play, swimming and leaping alongside and between our hulls. Then we were there – anchoring in Santa Margherita Ligure, green shutters, green hills and the pervading smell of star jasmine. Portofino was a short tender ride away – a picture perfect sheltered village, once a white town now all colourfully painted waterside villas.
The temperature started climbing, water 23 and air 28 – time to take the helm clears off! and cruise down the very hazy Ligurian Coast millpond, past Cinque Terre (Five Earths) – five villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, dodging trawlers and ferries, glad we weren’t with hoards disembarking off the trains. The landscape was impressive – incredibly steep, grape and olive farming with crazy accessibility and awesome rail networks through massive cliffs, arriving later in the day at Porto Venere, a pretty little village at the entrance to Golfo Dei Poeti, once the hangout of Byron and Shelley. It was poetic – locally quarried black and white marble, many twisting stone paths from Doria Castle down into the old town and fishing boats coming home at dusk.
From there it was a ten hour 8 knot motorsail down and across the Ligurian Sea to the Tuscan Archipelago and Elba. Able was I ere I saw Elba – the island is surprisingly close to mainland Italy hence many ferries, some commuters. Main town Portoferraio, a hilltop fortress bathed in evening gold, next morning we did our obligatory Napolean visit after visiting the Guardia Costiera to arrange our constituto. Elba can be all about Napolean but for me it was about the rocks! The island has been a rich source of mineral deposits, particularly iron, since the beginning of time so at least three rock shops in Porto Azzuro and fossicking below Miniera del Vallone – the largest and oldest site of Capoliveri mines, dating back to the Etruscans and Romans, hills with the skeletons of processing plant, used up until 1981. David and I were in our respective elements (no pun intended) – collecting copper, pyrite, hematite and David figuring out how the old mining machinery worked. Bliss.
Elba felt very Corsican, similar landscape in parts and unspoilt. We always managed to find a quiet anchorage, well apart from the herring gull colonies – very noisy! Leaving Elba we were on a mission south; Pete and Nicky were arriving in five days and we wanted to spend some time in the Pontine Islands before picking them up in Napoli. So after a quick cruise past Isola Giglio, scene of Costa Concordia tragedy, and a deep rocky anchorage in the very isolated Isola Gionnutri we were up early and off. It was a long 17 hour, cold, rainy, windy, bumpy ride down the Tyrrhenian Sea, we did consider Italian mainland anchorages along the way but had been told the Pontine Islands and Arcipelago Napoletano were lovely so decided to make the extra push, it was worth it. Isolas Ponza, Ischia and Prochia – stunning geology, overwhelming Roman history, always a sheltered anchorage on the opposite side of the island from the busy ferry ports, high white tuff (volcanic ash) cliffs and cave dwellings, warm turquoise water, pastel coloured mosaic of houses, fishing boats, seafood markets, lush gardens, canopied lemon groves (limoncella) and the water temperature up to 27 degrees. We picked up our first guests of the season, Pete and Nicky in Napoli and headed across Golfo Napoli to Port Davide! It was an unappealing dilapidated industrial shore but good holding and easy train to Pompeii. Next day was eventful, started with a 0700 drama with local fishermen, nets and anchor chain don’t mix well, them Pompeii huge, hot, 44 hectare archaeological excavation and finished with offshore rescue of 4 delighted and out-of-their-depth Italian lads.
A busy, ferried, speed boat choppy hop down the coast took us past Sorrento and across to Capri for three nights then back across to Positano and Amalfi (Amalfi Coast) for four. I understand why they are popular places, they are lovely – villages nestled on and in steep ravines, golden domed churches, narrow hairpin roads, converted lookout towers, fresh seafood, and terraced gardens of lemon, olives, figs, plums, apricots and herbs tumbling into the crystal clear sea. We tend to mostly eat on board and I have the museli and bread making down to a fine art – it has been wonderful having another foodie on board – Nicky Harris, her ciabatta, seafood pasta and salads…mmm
And while on the subject of local fare – two new discovered drinks which I’m keen to try and make at some stage – a pre-dinner fire spritz – Calabrian chilli pepper liqueur (liquore pepperoncino), prosecco and soda and a post-dinner wild fennel digestive (liquore finocchietto).
We spent our last day in Amalfi visiting the hillside village of Ravello, tourists, ceramic shops, wisteria clad villas and two beautiful Italian English gardens which host many international music events. We bussed up to Ravello and then decided to walk down to Amalfi via Atrani – steep, steep paths, 1000+ steps, the old way, past abandoned gardens and abundant fruit, finally the coast and an underground tunnel to Amalfi coming out at the cathedral. Amalfi – its all about the donkeys, and having walked down the old way I can see why.
We left Amalfi 3 days ago to make our way down the Calabrian coast to Cetraro – it looked like a good place to pick up our next set of guests – Doug & Katy, and Greg & Maggie, off the train from Roma. Calabria – its all about the chillis and a pig! Halfway down the coast, three nautical miles from shore what should we come across but a pig, happily swimming along looking like he was heading to Sardegna – if that was the case then he had another 230 nautical miles to go ! I was a bit worried that he mightn’t make it so we decided to herd him back to shore – two hours and a little help from a local Italian speedboat and the Guardia Costiera later he clambered up the rocks and took off down the beach, we didn’t stay around to see what happened next…
On the way to Cetraro we anchored for the night at Diamante – a gem of a place, small town with walls covered in murals – clever, beautiful, a wide display of various artists – eat your heart out Katikati.
Cetraro was, as expected, a good pickup place, a five-minute walk from the train station to the beach and a five-minute tender to our anchorage – our train weary guests (five hours of broken aircon) were straight into the 29 degree sea. It was also a good setting off place for the volcanic and windy Aeolian Islands – Stromboli, Lipari, Vulcano and then down to Sicily – ….all to be revealed in the next exciting chapter.