Sarzana, Lerici, Fosdinovo, Carrara and places in between.

Thursday we headed across the mountains and down to Lerici on the coast of the Poet’s Gulf, returning once more to the mountains and eventually back to base on the autostrada. If you lived in the area you’d never use the mountain roads unless you needed to visit a mountain town or feel a need to admire the wonderful views, there’s such a vast difference in driving ease and speed.

Once again you marvel at the way almost every country in Europe, excpet Poland, allows you to make most journeys, even small local ones, with such ease. If paying tolls is the price of getting a highway system then I’m all for it. Price from Carrara to Aulla, about 30km, was €2.40, not much really.

Another side note of interest is the number of cyclists on the mountains – the hills are alive with the sight of Spandex! I don’t know whether this is a popular training ground for professional cyclists or just that the locals (who would need to have unlimited time off work) are seriously into the sport but they are everywhere most often wearing team colours and in groups. They are not mountain bikers by the way, these are road bikes, Tour De France type stuff. Just another obstacle to watch out for as you twist your way precariously from hilltop to hilltop.

The town of Sarzana has, every Thursday, the biggest and best market in the area. Generally the markets here last from around 08:30 to 12:30 but we noticed that Sarzana still had numerous stalls open much later than that. There is a mix of antiques and home furnishings alongside tatty clothing, general provisions and some nice looking foodstuff. It was good to look around but it’s more of a market for locals to buy goods rather than tourists so there was a lack of any arts and crafts or things we might have been interested by. The town itself was fine with many nice shops dotted around and what seemed like very reasonable prices for coffeee and sandwiches so worth a visit even without the market.

Lerici is a cute town by the sea. Hard to access by car so you need to park on the edge of town and walk or bus into the centre. I’d say this is worth a visit and you can get the ferry boats from here to Cinque Terre, La Spezia and Portovenere so could be included in a day-long boat tour to get it all out of the way at once. If you do go, we can recommend the “Ristorante Il Frantoio”, Via Cavour 21, tel: 0187 964 174. Some of the best tasting seafood we’ve had so far – gnocchi with lobster sauce, shrimp salad and tuna steaks – all delicious enough to realise the chef had chosen good ingredients and taken care cooking them. The bill was €61.00 for the three of us including soft drinks, water and the dreaded ‘coperto e pane’ (cover charge and bread).

From Lerici we headed back into the mountains to the village of Fosdinovo, a strip of a town precariously balanced on the top of a short mountain. We were there to check out the castle, which is where the whole town got started. The castle is pretty impressive and commands a great view of the surrounding area, which is good because that’s why it was built! It has a website and I realise you can stay there as well on a bed & breakfast basis. Would be a good place to include in any tour of the region so long as you don’t mind ghosts.

We arrived at the castle in time for the Italian language tour, which is worth doing even if you donna speeka the lingo. I photographed the weirdest things for you:

  1. The locked cage the Malaspina family kept their babies in. Not because they didn’t like them but because they were worried about kidnapping. I expect they lined it with soft things in real life.
  2. The bed on which some geezer died and now you can “feel his breath” if you gently rest your hand on the bedclothes.
  3. The mark in the ceiling made by the ectoplasm of another ghost. This one a woman who was a bit of a revolutionary and was killed and buried in the walls. The image shows her with a wild pig and a dog – if you have access to large amounts of hash that is.

Despite the weirdness, we’d definitely recommend a trip to this castle and village. A good way to spend 2-3 hours.

From Fosdinovo we headed down the valley into Carrara. The original intention was to get a view down into the marble quarries from Castelpoggio but this didn’t work. If there is a view you need to do more wandering about than we did. So we kept on down the hill into Carrara itself from where we did catch a glimpse of mountain disturbance and plenty of evidence of marble-working in the town itself. There are organised tours of the marble works and from our brief excursion I think that’s the best way to do it if it is of interest.

Sadly, even though one of the missions of the day was to find something Marta could buy and bring back to Warsaw, we failed to find anywhere that sold whatever it was we were looking for. We even tried hunting out a couple of shopping centres only to find they were either closed or rubbish. Fair to say that if shopping is high on your agenda for the holiday then this region is not the best, or at least you’d have to work very hard at it. Thankfully it was a minor part of our requirements and so no harm done.

One final general note on shopping. The Italians don’t like working for living. It seems they are all descended from the Medici family and therefore have inherited massive personal wealth meaning they can open and close their businesses whenever they like without worrying about customers. So, even if you do find somewhere good you’ll be very fortunate to find it open. Perhaps the most annoying part of this trait is that almost everything closes at the same time including restaurants, cafes and bars – the very places you might head for to while away the many hours you need to wait for things to open again!

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