Posted by: Debra Kolkka | May 2, 2016

Riviera dei Cedri, Calabria

On our way to Sicily we drove along the coast of Calabria. Praia a Mare is the first resort on the coast known as Riviera dei Cedri, named for the citron that grow so well in the area.

The best view of Praia a Mare is from above, looking towards Dino Island, a rocky outcrop just off the beach. In the season you can hire paddle boats to make your way around the island and explore sea caves and grottoes.

 

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

 

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

The 2 kilometre sandy beach nearby has 50 lidos in the summer. They were just being set up when we were there, so it was difficult to get a true idea of how it looks in the summer season.

Praia a Mare

Praia a Mare

The sand is a dirty brown colour, which didn’t really appeal to me. I like the idea of the Dino Island bit, but the beach was not for me. The boardwalk area is very nice and well cared for. I think a lot of people visit in summer.

Praia a Mare

There is an old castle in the distance.

Praia a Mare

There is a church with an interesting grotto quite a long way up the hill behind the town.

Praia a Mare

In the park was this fabulous tree. I’m not sure what it was.

Praia a Mare

The town was quite pleasant, with a lovely pedestrian street, which drew a reasonable crowd for passeggiata.

Praia a Mare

I think Praia a Mare is very popular with Italians in the summer time…I could feel the expectation.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 30, 2016

Progress at Casa Debbio

We were very happy to return from Sicily to find spring has been doing good things at Casa Debbio. Our plants are growing well and the garden is really taking shape.

Casa Debbio

The Italian lavender is growing like mad and I expect it to start producing flowers soon.

Casa Debbio

Some of the other types already have their flowers.

Casa Debbio

My tree peony that grew one magnificent flower last year has 7 blooms this year, and its neighbour grew 2 beautiful flowers.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

The one that produced 22 flowers has more than 30 buds so far.

Casa Debbio

Hydrangeas are doing well and a couple already have small flowers.

Casa Debbio

Our wisteria is thriving. Some plants have already had their flowers and are now growing leaves.

Casa Debbio

One has unusual flowers.

Casa Debbio

This pretty bush (I can’t remember the name) has creamy white flowers.

Casa Debbio

The 2 lilacs have flowers.

Casa Debbio

The ginestre has gone nuts, and smells delicious.

Casa Debbio

Wild daisies have appeared everywhere.

Casa Debbio

There are violets and irises.

Casa Debbio

Casa Debbio

We will have lots of raspberries, strawberries and figs this year.

The cherry tree is covered in tiny fruit.

Casa Debbio

Our frog fountain is delivering water from the spring.

Casa Debbio

Best of all, we have a new pergola! Filippo and Vittorio finished it while we were away. It looks a bit stark right now, and we will have to put a bamboo cover on top this year to provide shade, because the wisteria won’t cover it for a while.

Casa Debbio

I found some 100 year old concrete tiles to mix with the terra cotta for the floor. I think they look great.

Casa Debbio

Filippo did a great job while we were away, taking care of everything. He has also planted tomatoes, which will ready in a couple of months and has mowed all the grass.

Soon the terra cotta table will be in place…and we can get on with the weeding, fertilising and a bit more planting…what fun.

Casa Debbio is available for rent this summer. We still have a few weeks free in July and August…tell your friends

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 28, 2016

Sicily

We are now back in Bagni di Lucca after our trip to Sicily. We drove down, stopping in a few places along the way. We covered most of the things we wanted to see in Sicily. We didn’t spend a lot of time in each place, but the idea was to find the places we liked best and we will return to spend more time in our favourite spots.

I wanted to post more while we were travelling, but we were on the go most of the time and the Internet wasn’t always reliable.

I didn’t know what to expect of Sicily and for the most part was delighted by what we saw. Taormina and Ortigia were fabulous. Of the baroque towns we visited, Scicli was my favourite. We love the Greek temples at Agrigento and Segesta. Corleone did not impress at all. The Norman church in Monreale was incredible. Cefalu was a charming place to visit and a great jumping off destination for the nearby islands of Stromboli and Lipari…we are definitely going back there. There will be posts on these places and more in the coming weeks.

The thing that we really didn’t expect was the stunning beauty of the countryside. Our lady of the GPS took us across the country, even when we didn’t want to. We were amazed by the green fields, the rugged mountains and the car high wild flowers we encountered.

Some of these photos were taken from a moving car…with very dirty windows. (Thanks to the Sirocco and the accompanying dust)

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

 

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

Sicily

All over Sicily were hot houses…that’s where all those delicious tomatoes, strawberries and other good things come from.

Sicily

A big surprise was the number of eucalyptus trees we saw. After a bit of research I discovered they were planted at the time of Mussolini to help drain wet areas to control malaria. We also saw Moreton Bay figs and Norfolk pines…a little bit of home in Sicily.

Sicily

 

We were very lucky to be there in spring. I doubt the flowers will last into the hot summer. I was most impressed with the wild fennel, some more than a metre high, with bright yellow heads.

Sicily

Sicily

The often appalling roads, that had huge pot holes, were made enchanting with their edges of purple, yellow and red flowers.

Sicily

There were purple thistles and amazing yellow ones.

Sicily

Sicily

We will definitely return to Sicily to see some of the things we missed and to return to the places we loved…the wild flowers alone would take me back.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 24, 2016

Ortigia, historic centre of Siracusa

We loved Ortigia the moment we crossed the bridge from Siracusa into the historical centre.

We found our B&B, Porta Marina, which was near the bridge and beside the water. Delightful Simona got us organised, showing us what to see in Ortigia. She suggested we start at the Maniace Castle as it is only open until 1.30pm. It was an easy walk around the edge of the island to the point.

Ortigia

The castle, as you can imagine, has had an interesting history. It was built by Emperor Frederick II between 1232 and 1240. The name comes from George Maniakis, the Byzantine General who besieged and took the city in 1038. He built the first fort on the site.

From 1305 – 1536 it was used as a residence by several queens of Sicily. It was a prison in the 15th century and after being damaged in 1704 it was remodelled for the use of guns.

It is quite big and we were free to wander.

Part of the castle was closed for renovation, but a photo showed us some of what we were missing.

Ortigia

There was an exhibition showing plans and drawings of how it might have looked.

 

The other exhibition is where I found the hand grenades. (previous post) As well as the grenades there were other found objects.

Outside the exhibition was a collection of cannon balls. They must have tried to use those sparingly, it can’t have been much fun making them.

Ortigia

There were great views from the castle of the island, it is a fabulous vantage point.

Ortigia

Ortigia

We walked along the sea front. There are some gorgeous old buildings to admire.

Ortigia

We turned into Via Roma and found a beautiful street with lovely balconies and building decoration.

The aroma of frying fish wafting along the street drew us in for lunch.

We walked into the Piazza Duomo. The columns of an older Greek temple are embedded in the side of the cathedral.

Ortigia

The piazza is huge and considered one of the most beautiful baroque piazzas in Sicily.

Ortigia

We found another lovely church…Chiesa San Giovanni, from the 13th – 14th centuries…unfortunately the roof is missing.

Ortigia

Nearby we vistited the underground Jewish ritual baths which were buried for centuries.  The owner of the hotel discovered the mikveh when she was renovating. It lies 90 metres below the hotel and is reached by 56 damp steps.

There has been a Jewish presence in Ortigia for at least 1,400 years, possibly 2,000. The mikveh was filled with rubble and the door was concealed when the Jews were forced to flee the city.

I can’t show you the baths, because photos were not allowed. The staff from the hotel take you underground and explain what you see. It is an excellent thing to do. (The hotel is gorgeous, look for Residenza Alla Giudea) It is in Via Alagona.

Ortigia

We have become addicted to granita, and had to stop for one mid afternoon.

The Temple of Apollo was built in the 6th century BC, making it the oldest Doric Temple in Sicily. It once had 42 monolithic columns, which must have made it spectacular. Today only 2 remain intact (almost). It still looks impressive, these columns are huge.

Temple of Apollo Ortigia

We set off the watch the sunset along the tree covered walk way beside the sea.

Ortigia

There is a tiny beach beside the garden…a good sunset viewing spot. (Another suggestion by Simona) The garden had what looked like Moreton Bay Fig trees, but surely not.

Ortigia

image

A walk through town in the evening was delightful…there are dozens of restaurants and shops in the narrow streets and grand piazzas.

The shops had lots of marzipan fruits and ceramics…as you would expect in Sicily.

We were very happy with the restaurant suggested by Simona, L’Osteria da Seby in Via Mirabella 21…all her other ideas were great.

I just may have discovered proof that people from outer space may have once visited Ortigia…I spotted this figure on a building by the sea.

Ortigia

Ortigia is fabulous…we will be back for a longer visit.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 22, 2016

Hand grenades

I found some wonderfully interesting information for you. When we were exploring the Castello Maniace on the point at Ortigia, Siracusa, we came across an exhibition of things discovered while excavating the ruins.

In the 16th century, with the discovery of gun powder, the first arms were invented. Hand bombs, or grenades, that were thrown manually after a fuse had been lit, were also developed. In order for the grenade to explode next to its target, it was given a triggering mechanism that provoked the explosion when it hit an object.

Now here is the interesting bit…originally these bombs were called grenades because they looked like pomegranates. (granata)

Hand granades Ortigia

They were made out of metal or ceramic. They were circular with a hole where the gunpowder could be loaded.

It would be much safer just to throw pomegranates.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 20, 2016

Taormina

Taormina is probably the most visited town in Sicily. The town is delightful. The lively streets are lined with interesting shops and inviting restaurants and cafes, making for a delightful stroll from Porta Messina to Porta Catania. Music comes from all directions and flowers spill from balconies…just what you expect of a southern Italian town by the sea.

Taormina

Taormina

Taormina

Taormina

The clock tower is the gateway to the medieval part of town. The streets become narrower, but no less interesting.

Taormina

Taormina has a huge Greek/Roman theatre carved out of the hillside. The Greeks designed the theatre in the 3rd century BC, but the Romans redesigned it in the 1st century AD. They sacrificed some of the seats and part of the stage to accommodate gladiator games.

Taormina

Wandering through the ancient structure is mind boggling. Those people knew a thing or two about building big things.

For the best views in town go to the top of the theatre and stand in the middle.

Taormina

It was a bit hazy, but we could see Etna in the distance.

Taormina

There is a beautiful garden created by English woman, Florence Trevelyan. It is well maintained and offers a cool green oasis, in the town. I’m sure it would be lovely to stroll here on a warm summer evening.

There are gorgeous shops in Taormina, especially for sweets.

Taormina

…wine.

Taormina

…and ceramics.

Taormina

Taormina

We had a granita (one of many) in a great spot called Bam Bar in Via Giovanni di Giovanni.

Taormina

There was another wonderful looking place just around the corner…spoiled for choice.

Taormina

Isola Bella would have to be one of the most photographed beaches in the world. A little rocky island sits just off the curved beach. At low tide a walkway appears and you can cross to the island.

Isola Bella Taormina

 

Isola Bella Taormina

I can see that the beach would be very popular in the warmer months. Even in April a few sun seekers were out and about. A couple of boats offer excursions around the coast, but it was windy and the water was choppy the day we were there so we declined.

…a note of caution. The steps to the beach are long and steep. The beach is a pebble beach, so you will need your best plastic sea slippers to enjoy a stroll or a swim. Most people seemed happy to be lying on a beach bed in the sun.

We made the mistake of taking the Hop on Hop off bus tour of Taormina. This has to be the worst bus tour I have ever taken. It cost €40 for the 2 of us. We were dragged for almost 2 hours through some of the ugliest suburbs I have ever seen. Mazzaro and Giardini-Naxos are supposed to be 2 of the best beaches in Sicily, but I must have blinked and missed something, because I didn’t find them attractive at all. If you want to see a good beach Google  Noosa, Bondi or Coogee. ( I know I sound like a cranky old tourist right now, and yes, I know the beaches in Australia are different, but I didn’t like these beaches.)

The tourist bus also takes you up to the village above Taormini, called Castelmolo. The ruins of a castle sit right at the top of town offering some spectacular views. A sign along the way says it is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy…it isn’t.

Castelmolo

Castelmolo

The local bus goes to Isola Bella for €1 a head, a much better prospect. There is a funicular to Isola Bella, but it isn’t operating right now. The local bus takes you to Castelmolo for €1.90. Do not take the tourist bus!

Taormina is beautiful!

Taormina

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 19, 2016

Take the ferry to Sicily

After driving down the coast of Calabria it was time to take the ferry to Sicily.

I had tried, without success to book our passage, only to find out from the helpful person at the hotel in Pizzo that you can’t book. You just line up, buy a ticket just before the ferry and drive on…which is what we did.

Ferry to Sicily

Ferry to Sicily

There was lots of room inside, but I suppose it is much busier in high season.

Ferry to Sicily

In 20 minutes we were in Sicily.

Ferry to Sicily

The ferry company is called Caronte &Tourist…carontetourist.it. The two way ticket was €78 and is valid for 3 months.

The whole process was very easy and uncomplicated. The ferry leaves from Villa San Giorgio, just north of Reggio Calabria. The directions through the town and to the wharf were easy to follow…not what we expected at all.

We are now in Taormina. Internet access is patchy and we have already been to several great places, so the posts may not come in order, but they will come eventually.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 17, 2016

Pizzo by the sea

Pizzo is a Calabrian seaside town in the Gulf of Sant’Eufemia. The houses perch on terraces sloping down to the sea.

Pizzo

Cicero lived here for a while and his name lives on in his favourite beach, called La Seggiola, which means “armchair of Cicero”.

On a clear day you can see Stromboli. It wasn’t clear enough when we visited, but we did see it later as we drove along the coast.

The centre of the town is Piazza Republica, watched over by Umberto I. There is cute little Murat Castle nearby.

Pizzo

Pizzo

Pizzo

Pizzo

There is a pretty little beach, with white sand, the first we saw in Calabria.

Pizzo

Come for a little walk through Pizzo.

Pizzo

The Piedigrotto church is something to see. It is carved into the magmatic rock cliff. Legend has it that a ship with a Neapolitan crew was surprised by a violent storm. The captain assembled the crew in his cabin where they prayed before a painting of the Madonna of Piedgrotta. They made a vow that if they were saved they would build a chapel dedicated to her.

The ship sank, but the sailors swam ashore, saving the Madonna and the ship’s bell. They kept their vow and dug a small chapel out of the rock and placed the sacred image. Around 1880 a local artist, Angelo Barone, dedicated his life to decorating the chapel, now filled with his carvings. I’ll show you some more of this later when internet access is a bit more reliable.

Pizzo

Tourism is the main focus of Pizzo today. Visitors come for the sea and the delicious food. The local flavours include cinnamon, oregano, wild fennel, mint, paprika and, as was translated in the brochure, nails of carnation…that’s cloves.

We had a very good meal at this seafood restaurant, called La Lampara.

Pizzo

The local wine is Zibibbo, a white wine from the grapes of the same name.

A speciality of Pizzo is gelato, especially tartufo, so we felt we needed to try some. I had pistachio, and Jim forced down a chocolate one.

The piazza was lively at night, with everyone out for a wander.

Pizzo

Pizzo

The little castle is lit up at night.

Pizzo

We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, Piccolo Grand Hotel.

Pizzo

There is a delightful terrace on the top floor where we went for a cool drink in the evening to watch the beautiful sunset.

Pizzo

It was also the perfect spot for breakfast the next morning.

Pizzo

Pizzo

When it was time to go the charming girl at reception drove us to our car in their tiny electric car which is kept in the cutest garage ever.

Pizzo

The hotel was heavenly. It was tempting to scrap the rest of our trip and stay on. The rooms were excellent and the staff friendly and very helpful. If you go to Pizzo you must stay there.

Pizzo is lovely, but be warned, the roads in and out are awful. We visited in mid April, well before the season. It must be hell in summer…go by train.

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 15, 2016

Ischia impressions

We have been in Ischia, staying with some lovely friends from Peak Island USA. One of the joys of writing a blog is the people you meet along the way.

Ischia is a volcanic island about 30 kilometres off the coast from Naples. It is 10 kilometres long, east to west and 7 kilometres north to south. It is almost entirely mountainous, with Mount Epomeo the highest peak at 788 metres.

It is densely populated. There are over 60,000 residents and the population swells enormously in the summer when tourists flock to the island to enjoy the thermal springs. The volcanic activity provides hot springs and volcanic mud.

I can’t show you the hot springs, we were a day too early, but I can show you some of the rest of the island. We stayed at Ponte, named for the bridge that crosses to the Aragon Castle. The castle is fabulous and will get a post of its own soon.

It was hazy when we arrived.

Castle Aragon

The next morning was much brighter.

Castle Aragon

Ponte is a great little area with cute shops and restaurants and it is where fishing boats come to in the morning to sell their catch.

Ischia

Ischia

We took one of the local buses to see the island. You can get a day pass, which is great value. Don’t forget to validate your ticket. The inspectors are vicious.

First stop, Porto, where many of the ferries from the mainland come in. It has everything, great shopping, lots of inviting restaurants and much more.

Ischia

Ceramics are very popular in the area. We bought some ceramic letters to spell out Casa Debbio…I have just the place for them.

Then it was back on the bus. These rickety buses hurtle around the narrow, steep roads flinging people off into villages that stick like limpets into the hillsides. In some places an extra coat of paint could pose a problem. Passing another bus is an experience that will stay with you.

We stopped at Forrio for a wander.

Ischia

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Soccorso sits out on a point, just waiting to be admired.

Ischia

There were great views back into the village from the church. Clouds were sitting low over the mountain.

Ischia

Gorgeous St Angelo provided the perfect setting for lunch.

Ischia

Ischia

The beach/boat themed restaurant was great. The food was excellent and the service friendly and efficient.

Ischia

We spent the rest of the day exploring the castle, but I will show you that another day.

Thank you Stephanie and Paul for a wonderful introduction to Ischia…we will return to try the thermal springs.

We took the ferry to Ischia from Pozzuoli, near Naples. To say that it is a dump would be to flatter the place. We found our way to the port and what we thought was the long term car park. A semi official looking chap assured us that it was, and sold us a ticket for 2 days.

We thought he was a bit dodgy, and he was. We returned to the car to find a parking ticket for €25. We were actually quite pleased to find our car still there and the contents untouched. Next time we go to Ischia we will go by public transport.

Next stop Calabria.

 

 

Posted by: Debra Kolkka | April 11, 2016

The first peony at Casa Debbio

My first peony of the season has appeared at Casa Debbio.

Peony 2016

Each plant is at a different stage, some have buds and some are just poking their heads through the dirt.

Casa Debbio

A couple of the rhododendrons are in bloom.

rhododendron

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Some lavender is flowering and some is beginning to grow new leaves.

Lavender

Lavender

The weeping cherry is growing leaves and the flowers are falling off.

Casa DebbioCasa Debbio

We have pear blossoms.

Pear blossoms

…and the first wisteria flowers have appeared.

wisteria

…and violets.

Casa Debbio

We have planted lots of geraniums, they are small, but they will grow.

Casa Debbio

…2 days later another peony has appeared.

Casa Debbio peony

Our ginestre is looking great.

Casa Debbio

We are going to Sicily for a couple of weeks and lovely Filippo will be taking care of the garden. I hate to leave when things are starting to look great, but it needs to be done.

There will be posts from Ischia, Calabria and  lots of different places in Sicily. I hope you will all come along for the ride, it should be fun.

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