Liguria and the Provence 2012



Liguria & the Provence May 2012

Cinque Terre

Pisa & Luca

Genua & Portofino

Ste Remy de Provence & Glanum Orange & Vaison La Romaine Arles
Saintes Maries de la Mer Nimes Avignon



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Day Activity
Saturday Drive and arrive around  8 in the evening
Sunday Visit Lucca
Monday Cinque Terre - slow walking
Tuesday Visit Pisa
Wednesday Visit Portofino
Thursday Visit Genova
Friday Visit Portovenere
Saturday Drive to San Remo
Sunday Drive to Arles
Monday Tarascon  visit + Glanum visit
Tuesday Orange + Vaison La Romaine
Wednesday Arles visit
Thursday Sainte Marie Gipsy festival
Friday Sainte Marie Gipsy festival
Saturday Nimes - ferias Pentecote
Sunday Pont du Gard + Avignon + Villeneuve lez Avignon
Monday drive home


Liguria and the Provence


 I always try to summon the trip in 1 phrase. This time the topic is “the Celtic-Ligurian road”.
The first part of our trip, to the province Liguria in Italia, is obvious with the selected title, but the second part of the road trip takes us to the Provence in France. In the Bronze Age (1800 – 800 BC), the Provence was already inhabited by the Ligurians, a Celtic tribe, living at the Mediterranean area of the Celtic nation. They came in contact with the Greeks who had their trading post Marseille and when this caused some frictions the Greeks asked the Romans for help.
The Romans were quick to liberate these Celts from their gold and in 118 BC the area became a Provincia Romana, hence the name Provence.

Saturday, 12 May


We get up at a real unchristian hour. At 3 am I get up, drink a cup of coffee and 30 minutes later we are on our way to La Spezia, 1.146 kilometer away from us.

As a coincidence we will travel 5 countries today to reach Cinque Terre. Leaving Belgium and passing through Luxembourg is no challenge at all. France goes fast enough, but I am careful as I have been warned that  there are a lot of radar camera’s on the Strasbourg – Metz road. It is only the Swiss that slow us down. I have absolutely no love for this country and while we spend more than 2 hours caught in a highly inefficient traffic Jam that I realize that if you leave the “w” out of Schweiz you are left with the shit. In nomen est omen the Romans already knew.

After slowing us down in Luzern, we are again bottlenecked at the Gothard tunnel. All this time the rain is pouring down in buckets. It is only when we exit the 17 km long tunnel that we are greeted with a lovely sunshine and Italian language billboards.


From now on it seems to go down all the way and by 5.30 pm we have reached our holiday cottage at Ceparana. It is a small, but very nice little cottage with a huge garden full of olive trees. We drive to La Spezia for some groceries and stock up on wine, and by the time we have finished our dinner I am already falling asleep.



Prone to sea raids, the Ligurian area has been run over by the Greeks, Saracens, Romans, Venetians, Lombards, French and nowadays well-heeled tourists from all over the world.
The Ligurian coast is a chain of small and larger coastal cities with familiar sounding names. After leaving the French Riviera, passing Monaco you arrive at the border town of Ventimiglia and continue San Remo.

Sunday, 13 May

We get up with a lovely sun and cannot understand why the weatherman is saying that it is going to rain. We decide to drive to Lucca by car as the train involves some changing over and it is just a one hour drive away. By the time we arrive in Lucca the weather is already overcast. Less than an hour later a tremendous amount of rain falls and the weather remains bad for the rest of the day. Oh well, this is a city we do not mind revisiting.


Many people find Lucca the prettiest town in Tuscany. It is still surrounded my thick fortified walls dating back to the 16th century, lies in a fertile plain and is surrounded by hills and mountains.
Lucca was the only city in Tuscany that, until 1847, kept its independence against the Florentine state. The name is thought to come from the Etruscan word “luk” which means swamp. Already in 89 BC they became a municipium, have been a colonia from 180 BC.
When the Longobards conquered Tuscany they selected Lucca as capital rather than Firenze and it was, until the 11th century , the only city in central Italy with its own minting. Lucca went into decline in the early 14th century and was severely hit by the Guelph’s and Guidelines feuds.
The most interesting places to visit we found were the San Giovanni church with its Roman excavations of a 1st century Roman villa, finding the labyrinth at the entrance of the Dom San Martino, the Piazza Mercato which still has the outlines of the Roman amphitheater that stood here  and the Torre Guilia for its views.

  1. Dom San Martino

The Dom San Martino lies at the edge of town, as is often the case in Italy.  The church was built around the 12th century in a Roman style. In the 14th  century the interior was changed with gothic features.
The pillar on the right hand side shows a labyrinth (see Chartres, Amiens & others).

1 2
The inscription says:  ”this is the labyrinth that the Cretan Daedalus built, where no one exits except Thesus, who was guided by the thread of Ariadne”. So it is different from the labyrinths in Amiens and Chartres which symbolizes the road to Jerusalem. (Photo on the right taken in Amien, France)

Arianism: On the tympanum you can see the beheading of St. Regulus by the king of the Goths, Totila. Totila is in company of his worriers and both hold a book in their hands showing their beliefs.


The middle gate has a tympanum with Jesus in an archaic mandorla, The symbols of the Evangelist are shown.

2.San Michele in foro

San Michele in foro, a 13th century building, can be recognized by the enormous statue of the archangel Michel on the top of the building.


3. San Frediano

The mosaics on the outside of San Frediano are simply stunnig and only the San Miniato al Monte in Firenze has a similar front. The mosaic shows Jesus in a mandorla, taken to heaven by two angels. The figure of Marie got lost when they later added the window between the apostles.


Monday, 14 May

Info: Cinque Terre

Download map of Cinque Terre


We get up with a bright sunny sky, but it still feels a bit chilly. Weatherman says it is going to be 19C°, so we leave the cottage with a sweater and head for the train station of La Spezia. From there it is a 2 euro and 10 minutes train ride to Riomaggiore where we learn that the road between Manarola and Vernazza is closed. That means that half the trail is closed!!! Still they extort 10 euro a person to be allowed on the trail for 1 day. Still these prices do not seem to deter anyone and the people poor from the station onto the trail. And this isn't even high season!
The five lands, or better said the five villages make up a beautiful 12 km long coastal walk along the  Ligurian coast.




1. Riomaggiore


Arriving at the train station from La Spezia this is the eastern most city of cinqueterre. After a visit of the city we walk towards Manarola  via the famous Via dell’amore. (20 minutes)





This is kitsch alley, people carve their name all over, and typically for Italy, they seal their love pact with a Yale lock. You can buy them at the store with the emblem of the via dell amore for a not so lovely price of 9 euros. Ah, you cannot put a price on love, so they happily carve their name in the agave plants. And so we arrive at the next village.



2. Manarola
This city has a picturesque waterfront and a tiny harbor and we decide to stop here for a sandwich lunch.
We walk a bit around the town and are struck by the beautiful location of the graveyard. It comes with stunning sea views. I remember the words on cahteaubriands tombstone: “rien que le vent et la mer”, and decide this is a much better place than Grand- Bé near St. malo.


3. Vernazza

We then take the train directly to Vernazza and decide to skip Corniglia.
Vernazza is the most authentic of the 5 villages, it is still under heavy restoration, but you can get a feel of how it was before the whole thing will be turned into a museum. The city is dominated by the tower of the castello Belforte and colorful boats are moored in the small harbor.

From here the walk is along steeply terraced cliffs bisected by a complicated system of fields and gardens and has some amazing views. The one hour and half walk to Monterosso is very tiring for us, but then we are not trained hikers like most others seem over here doing their thing with a backpack and Nordic walking sticks.


4. Monterosso al Mare
Arriving at the village we sit down at the first pub we see to have a large pint of beer to cool us off a bit. I feel very tired of the walk.
Monterosso al Mare has a secluded beach from where boatservices are departing, but we head very quickly to the train station where we take the first train back to La spezia. It has been a very fun but tiring day!

Tuesday, 15 May





 In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman Roger I, took Palermo from the Saracen pirates. The gold treasure taken from the Saracens in Palermo allowed the Pisans to start the building of their cathedral and the other monuments which constitutes the famous Piazza del Duomo.


This Dome, together with the one at San Marco in Venice are the first monumental buildings of medieval Italy. Their examples lie in Byzantines Basilicas, but also in Islamic mosques. In its heydays Pisa was inhabited by Libyan’s, Turks, Parthians and Jews, a truly cosmopolitan city. Together with Amalfi, Genua and Venice it belonged to the most powerful seafaring nation on the peninsula.


In 1284 Genoa succeeded in destroying the Pisan fleet. 20.000 Pisans died on August the 6th in the battle of Meloria (outside Livorno). This was the end of a 2 centuries lasting prosperity that started with the defeat of the Saracens in 1063.












  1. Piazza dei Miracoli

Pisa is a very pretty city, but the Piazza dei  Miracoli is also very crowded. Mainly with American octogenarians and upper class Indians. The whole square is full of people trying to push the tower back straight again. For the photo that is. It is a weird sight seeing so many people posing with their hands in the air. Funny once, but when everybody starts doing it you start to wonder.
But this is apparently the only thing they do in Pisa, pose for a photo and move to the next city for another photo stop. This is great because it is remarkably calm insides the major buildings on the Piazza dei Miracoli.
10 Euro buys you an entry to the 5 main buildings, that is excluding il Torre, which cost a whopping 15 euro to mount.
The camposanto is a really nice building, the last one to be built on the Piazza. In 1202, Archbishop Ubaldo dei Lanfranchi, commander of the Pisan fleet at the 4th crusade, is believed to have dumped 53 shiploads of holy ground from the mountain Golgatha.
In the fresco room of the camposanto you can see “the triumph of the death” (il  trionfo della morte) is one of the major 14th century monumental painting.  Thought to be painted by Bonamico Buffalmaci around 1340-1345. The death appears right from the center in the shape of a longhaired blonde women with the wings of a devil. Below that are the victims of all ranks, while angels and demons fight over their soul. Left are beggars, crippled and sick, to whom dead is a medicine against all pain. But dead, with its scythe does not want them but is after the noble young men. He surprises them while they enjoy themselves with music. The left side of the painting shows a royal hunting party near three dead’s in an open coffin.



The monk Marcus reminds about the transience of life. “Quod fuimus, estis, quod sumus eritis( (what you are, we were, what we are, you will be).








The old graveyard still has nice frescos and a video shows how WWII incendiary bombings by the allied aircraft destroyed most of the beautiful frescos. My favorite is the theological map, which looks pretty much like a mandala.
In Italy you often find the baptistery as a separate building, usually as a round or octagonal building .The Baptistery has incredible acoustics. One of the guards walks to the altar and shows how his voice resonates throughout the building. It is an excellent way to keep everybody’s voice down.
The Pulpit, made by Pisano around 1360 is a fine example of Tuscan art. The resting Madonna resembles that of deceased on a Tuscan sarcophagus.
The Campanile (leaning tower) is ofcourse the best known building of Pisa. Construction started around 1173 and started to lean from the beginning. Construction stopped at the third floor. A century later, around 1275, Giovanni di Simone continued with the building. Today it is stil 4.46 meter out of plumb.
The Duomo, or the medieval cathedral has some beautiful mosaics and it was built by Buschetto in 1063.
The Tomb of Holy Roman Emperor Hendry VII was made  by Tino di Camaino in 1315. Dante calls this emperor in his divine comedy the alto arrigo or savior of Italy. (photo above)
The mosaics in the apsis show christ as the pantocrator (lord of the universe). He is flanked by Mary and John the evangelist. The book in his hands shows the words “Ego sum lux mundi” I am the light of the world. Cimabue completed the work in 1302, and although much was changed during restoratyions his style is still recognizable in the figure of John head, ears and hair.

2. Museo Nazionale

We missed this one. Couldn’t find the entrance or was it closed? We gave up looking for it.

3. Santa Maria della Spina

I particularly liked the clothes on display which were worn by noble men and ladies in the renaissance. They were exactly as can be seen on the frescoes. The wooly clothes do not seem very comfortable and it made me already itchy thinking I had to wear something like that.
As for the Sinopie, it was nice to see the sketches that were used before the real painting was done.

4. Piazza dei cavalieri

Away from all the hussle and bussle of the Piazza dei Micacoli, this piazza is almost completely restored. At the moment it houses a college. And indeed Pisa is just a small university town, maybe nice for university, but also a bit of a boring provincial town.


Wednesday, 16 May


When we get up it promises to be a warm and sunny day. Today we are going find out what all the fuss is about with this tiny village of Portofino. Is it a place for the rich and famous or for the bold & beautiful? We have been warned to stay away from the ice cream as the price would make us scream!
We drive to the nearby town of Santa Margherita where we park the car and continue on foot along the coastline. The 5 kilometer or so walking is nice and before we know it we have arrived in Portofino, which is a nice little fishing village with colorful houses around a natural creek, and 1 Piazza with restaurants. We are a bit disappointed. Is that all there is to it?
We decide to take the ferry back as this way we may feel the place better. Not bad, but still, what is all the fuss about?

Download Map of Portofino


Thursday, 17 May


Again a lovely day while we drive to the biggest town of Liguria. We park our car at the Piazza della vittoria and walk via the via Settembre XX to the city center, which is only a short and pleasant walk away.


  • Cattedrale di San Lorenzo: the cathedral, partially Roman and Gothic is from the 13th century, but was partially rebuilt in the 16th century. The highlight of this cathedral must be the façade, which is in Gothic Genovese style with black and white marble.


The grinder at the right-hand corner of the façade (13th century) is similar to the angel with the sundial in Chartres (left photo) and has the same function:


As for relics, this cathedral is well stocked.The Cappella di San Giovanni (end left aisle) has the bones of John the Baptist and the church treasure contains the “sacro cantino” a hexagonal, emerald colored drinking bowl of glass, which as legend has it, is the holy grail. (photo below)


  • La Galleria Mazzini has a nice glass ceiling and is full of artists selling their paintings
  • Panoramic view from Castelleto. The elevator (ascensore) leaves from the Piazza del Portello and costs just 40 cents.


  • Lunch at Da Maria – Cucina casalinga (Vico testadoro –near Piazza Fontana maroso: in this restaurant the banker and dock worker rub shoulder for lunch. Worth here just the experience alone9.









  • Many, many Palazzo’s which we will visit another time…


Friday, 18 May

Portovenere is another nice fishing village and it feels a lot more authentic than Portovenere.

Views from the terrace of the Chiesa di San Pietro (with 6th century features) over Cinqueterre and the Golfo dei Poeti (named like that after Lord Byron and Shelly stayed in the village).
In the evening we have a bottle of wine with the owner of the cottage, a wine cultivator and I have the opportunity to practice my Italian. He cannot speak English he says as it already took him a lifetime to learn Italian. He complaints about the quotas the EC is giving wine producers in Europe, he is not allowed to expand his vineyard but needs to if he wants to make a living, and in the meantime new world wine are flooding the EC.
When I tell him about German Ice wine that gets harvested after the grapes have been frozen while still on the vine he is really surprised as the wine harvest in Italy is done in warm weather.

Saturday, 19 May
San Remo
San Remo is the second biggest city in Liguria after Genova and is famous, amongst others, as the finishing line of the annual bicycle competition. Tourism started here already in the second half of the 19th century and the former grandeur can still be seen in the building of that period.
Walking around San Remo we found it very old world charm of bygone Belle époque times, with a real orthodox church to prove it.
The hotel we stay in much have had all the mod cons a century ago, including a piano in the lounge (still with the candles on it). Still we enjoyed the wifi and made contact with the home front. We dined in a fancy restaurant and are now ready to go to France.

Before entering France we stop at a road restaurant and order a latte. The barista gives us a strange look and ask if we want it warm or cold. Not paying much attention to his question I answer warm, and indeed that is what I get a warm glass of milk! Indeed that is exactly what a latte means, another lesson learned.


Continue to France, via the Corniche to the Provence