There is nothing quite like the feeling of booking a holiday, all the promise it holds, the rest and relaxation, good food, hopefully even a bit of sun. So when our friends told us they were off to Italy for a week and asked us to join, it took approximately 0.1 seconds to think it through and click ‘buy’ on our tickets.
This time we kept the mini firmly parked at home in London and instead took the more straight forward option of a flight with British Airways cause I mean who would drive for 15 hours to get to their holiday destination when you can fly with good old reliable BA, you’d have to be mad…
Over the snowy alps and into the sunny Ligurian Coast
We were greeted at Genoa airport by our friend who had picked up the rental car, which upon seeing how much luggage you need to travel with children promptly went back and picked up a car double the size. I’m hoping, given that our lovely friends are due their first child in the summer, that this was a wonderful insight into travelling with a child and not a stab to the heart at the changes that are about to ensue.
The joy of going to a country with someone that is from said country is a blessing as you get to see all the parts of the area that tourists don’t know about. Plus we got to stay at his family holiday house in Finale Ligure which is about a 40 minute drive from Genoa. Being a true Italian, our host decided we must head straight to lunch before driving on to Finale and man he didn’t disappoint, we drove up into the mountains surrounding Genoa city to this beautiful secluded family run restaurant just by a monastery called Ostaia Da U Santu. A hidden gem with breathtaking views and a magical garden perfect for children to frolic and pick the fava beans in the vegetable garden (to be eaten straight from their shells) – you can’t get fresher than that. The food is incredible, pesto to die for (pesto originates from Genoa so you can imagine).
Fava beans and fresh pasta and pesto (along with a host of other things)
Arriving at the old town (Finale Borgo) is like travelling into a different time, and from there we drove to the house (just beyond the town) which took us over two tiny bridges and up into the hills and there it was perched on the hill like a beautiful Baroque picture.
Oranges and Lemons in our garden
We decamped and decided that we needed to walk off our lunch so headed into the old town for a walk around
and a trek up to the Castel San Giovanni – the walk gets steeper and steeper as you go up and is almost entirely pebbled, so a word to the wise don’t wear flip flops (like brute did, and does everyday) and in the case of babies it will feel like a full work out on a power plate so if you can, try and slyly get your poor unsuspecting friends too take over the pushing of the pram (as we did). Oh and also maybe check to see the opening times so when you get to the top, the gates aren’t padlocked closed so you have to traipse down with your proverbial tail between your legs (yes that’s what happened to us). However, having admitted defeat we decided to set up camp on the benches half way down and take in the astonishing view while rex had the finest Italian supper of fresh sliced tomatoes and artichoke tart from the local grocery shop.
We always knew that taking Rex out for dinner with us was going to be a huge risk, gone are the days when he would fall asleep in his pram, instead we can expect him to scream, run off to other peoples tables, throw things on the floor and generally cause mayhem. But we decided that as it was night one, we would take that risk, whats the worst that would happen…? We were taken to this fantastic pizza restaurant out of town, somewhere you wouldn’t stumble across (as I said earlier is a huge treat to be with someone that knows the area and can speak the language) called L’agricola in Loano. It’s not fancy and it’s definitely not somewhere to go and whisper sweet nothings to your significant other, its loud and bustling and filled with old and young alike. the queues go out the door so if you want to be seated quickly get there early. They are famous for their Farinata which is a pancake made from chickpea flour and is simply delicious, so that and a load of delicious pizza is enough to send you into a food coma for the night. Thankfully Italians generally love children, cries of ‘ciao Bambino’ ‘Bellissimo Bambino’ would ring around the room to which Rex would coyly smile milking it all. Then as soon as he was brought back to our table, the kicking and screaming would begin again. so that was the one and only dinner out we had, but man was it good. a new tac would be taken moving forward.
I took zero photos that night to show off said pizza as we struggled to contain the small man acting like a caged animal at our table (aka Rex not Brute).
Every morning we started the day with a freshly baked Italian Brioche filled with a delicious apricot jam and while the others would fill their boots with strong Italian coffee I took the lemon tea route (coffee is the one vice I don’t allow myself). We would sit in the sun slowly waking up and people watching…there really is no better way of starting one’s morning!
The market down by the coast in Finale is a magical spot with stalls filled with artichokes, flowers, cheese, jams and everything good for the soul, we stocked up on artichokes and wandered along the beach front.
Lunchtime took us to yet another restaurant (you’re beginning to see a theme here) but this time we upped the ante and went old school glamour to Ristorante Doc, the restaurant has been there and run by the same family for twenty plus years and the menu changes daily according to what the daily markets are offering. We were given our own private room and they even put on soothing music so Rex could sleep. Given it was a Sunday and slightly out of season the only other people there enjoying lunch were a fabulous looking older couple who looked like screen sirens from years gone by, dressed to the nines, not a hair out of place, maybe they’d come straight from church or maybe they still see the joy in dressing for an occasion and I couldn’t be more onboard. The food as you can imagine was divine, fresh pasta and fresh fish straight from the market to the table. We whiled away the hours there sipping on Pigato wine retiring to the garden so the boys could smoke cigars and Rex could play.
Given that we were in an almost constant state of eating we decided that we needed to try and work off at least one of the several courses we had eaten that day. So off we went to Verezzi , another old hill top village further down the coast.
As we walked from the old church in the square to the terraced farming we stumbled across a tiny outdoor restaurant where sat about 8 men of varying age round a table filled with empty wine glasses and coffee cups having a casual band practise, though how much practising was happening is debatable as some instruments had been discarded on the tables to make way for more wine, while others casually played. It was like walking past a movie scene or an old painting. I wondered where they played, what was their next big performance? Or was it just a social gathering of musicians who enjoy both playing music and drinking wine…actually I may just dig out my clarinet and go back and join them.
Though I love going out for dinner on holiday, I actually also utterly love dining al fresco at home. If the weather is warm and you have wonderful food, wine and friends then its easy to while away the hours chatting, grazing on delicious food and of course playing a few card games. This time round it was the highly technical and hugely frustrating card game known as ‘shit head’ I think we played this just about every night on my gap year and so it was due a resurgence and though the weather wasn’t that warm past about 6pm we managed.
The one day that we had some serious down pouring of rain also happened to be the Bank holiday Monday, so just about everything is shut except for some restaurants so it took some thinking outside of the box to sort out the day. We were taken off to Grotte di Toirano or the Toirano caves. Brute decided on this most slippery of days (infact on every single day) that this was weather for flip flops, I don’t think the ‘jumping the summer gun’ only applies to brits as given the Aussie of the group decided that shorts and flip flops were right even though the rest of us and in fact everyone else at the caves were wrapped up for winter.
So upon trekking up to the beginning of the actual 1.5 hour walk through the caves, we realised that we were going to be late for our lunch booking, so duly called to explain and were promptly told that if we didn’t in fact arrive on time we would not be fed. Now if you don’t know where our priorities lie then you clearly haven’t been reading this blog closely enough. We immediately told the guide we would have to sadly abandon the tour, trekked off back down the the ticket office and asked for a refund giving the excuse of me being scared of bats?!?
Off we raced to Anasco (a tiny village about a 30 /40 minute drive away with a population of 580 people) to a restaurant called Da Bianca – it is a total locals restaurant, they had told us when we booked that they were fully booked, but as it happened when we arrived, their meaning for fully booked was infact ‘we are booked for as many people as we want to serve this Monday afternoon thank you very much and we will not wait around for you either.’ I loved it, the average age was about 80, long tables were filled with old men and women nattering away over bottle of frizante. There is no menu so you eat what is cooked by the family that day. Another case of whatever is fresh from the market. The courses kept rolling in ending with what was the best panacotta I have ever tasted and we were fit to burst, totally defeated by the sheer volume of food and it still tasted like you wanted another portion.
On the way back to Finale we stopped in at a family operated Olive Oil producers and although they were closed the gentleman happily showed us round the plant, explained the method, showed us all the machinery and let us taste some olive oil directly from the barrel. It was so delicious we had no choice but to take a bottle home.
Brute taking on the role of professional olive oil taster
After eating our way in and around Finale we spent our last day in Genoa, the sun was shining and our dining experience was here (a picture speaks a thousand words):
Set above the rocks of the mediterranean Bagni Santa Chiara couldn’t have better fit the phrase “just what the dr ordered’ fresh pesto linguine and giant gamberi (prawns) the sun beating down and a leisurely lunch stretching out ahead of us, that is until I was abruptly reminded that I have an extremely wilful little boy who eats like a horse and if he isn’t able to eat until he literally bursts then will scream the house down (having read this blog I cannot for the life of me understand where he gets it from).
Though we managed a relatively good session we had to admit defeat and retire from the restaurant first to our friends house to see if he might sleep, but after an hour of screaming we decided we would hit the shops instead before heading off to the airport with our bags packed full of pasta, pesto, focaccia and olive oil (the essentials).
Italy really never fails to disappoint and every different area you visit brings with it a special kind of magic. My trip was made all the more magical by being sat diagonally behind a man in his late 50’s on our flight home who spent the full 2 hours of the flight going though photos on his iPhone oblivious to the fact that his screen was on full display showing his rather large collection of porn.
Ciao Italy, until next time xx