We have stayed twice at Camogli in the past – but only for a night each time and in the off season. We stumbled across the hotel Cenobi Dei Dogi on Booking.com when we were travelling from England to Italy in 2011. The reason we picked it was two fold – free parking and dog friendly – two things that were important to us at the time.
We always said we’d come back and stay longer in the high season – and that’s what we’ve done. We have a week here to relax, swim, lie in the sun and explore the local area.
Camogli is on the coast about 40 kms south of Genoa. It is a favourite Italian summer holiday destination for people from Genoa, Milano and Bologna so this week it is very busy in that laid back Italian way – no rush, no fuss, just people getting on with the hard task of enjoying themselves.
The one thing we haven’t done before is try out Trenitalia’s premium class. This is half a carriage of luxury seating – 8 seats in all – right at the front of the train. It costs a bit more but comes with a meal service, a cabin crew member to look after you and your luggage and more legroom than you could want. There is even a conference room in the carriage if a quick meeting is needed en route.
On this leg of our journey from Rome to Florence we treated ourselves and booked seats 2A and 2B.
Every single flight had been cancelled. Gradually we (and about 2,000 of our travelling companions) pieced together what had happened. There had been protests at the airport during the day and a decision was made by the Airport Authority to cancel all flights as a result.
This posed a bit of a problem for us – partly because of the travel disruption and partly because none of the airport staff seemed to have any clue about what was going on.
So we did what we normally do when our travel doesn’t go to plan – we called our wonderful travel agent Petra from House of Travel. We woke her at 3am (sorry, sorry, sorry) but as usual she was on the case immediately.
When we rang her we were in the queue from hell – one that snaked around the airport, doubled back on itself and disappeared into the distance. This was the re-ticketing queue. We were in this queue for about 4 hours.
That was more than enough time for Petra – working with Cathay Pacific to change our original flight to Rome for a flight that went to London and then a connecting flight to Rome, the long flight having the extra leg room we like and a better than average chance of our bags making it to Rome as well. She also had back-up bookings in place just in case things got worse for us.
So that’s two lessons I’ve learned today – using a travel agent makes excellent sense particularly if the unexpected occurs, and travel insurance is a sound investment as they will be paying for all the costs incurred in re-booking our first day or so in Italy – hotels, trains, rental cars, the list goes on.
So here we are, sitting in Hong Kong airport waiting to catch our flight to London tomorrow morning. We have set up camp in one of the pay-as-you-go airport lounges for a day which has made things slightly brighter, cleaner and more bearable for us both.
If there are a few typos in this post I apologise. Let’s blame it on the many hours we’ve both been awake since leaving Wellington.
Who says the romance of travel is dead?
This afternoon we dropped the girls at their home for the next 4 weeks – Waglands Dogs’ Holiday Retreat. I kid you not, that’s what it’s called. When we left there were tears, a lot of barking and a very quiet drive home.
Tomorrow starts early at the airport at 7am and then we spend the next 34 hours travelling to Rome.
Spring is definitely in the air – not the 30 degree temperatures we have become used to, but certainly temperatures warmer than those we left behind at the start of August.
The grape vine that runs the length of our boundary fence is showing signs of life with green shoots growing on a daily basis.
Poppie and Bella were pleased to see us although Vicki did a great job of pampering them in our absence. They are both asleep on the floor beside the desk as I write, recovering from a day barking at the front gate.
The holiday memories are still close and there are stories to tell.
It was peak season and our options turned out to be limited.
We ended up at one of our less favourite places – Buca di Bacco. We have eaten there before and the food is excellent but the service can be less than friendly and has always felt rushed.
This time, however, we discovered their terrazzo – the roof of the restaurant where we had our own private balcony – and enjoyed a leisurely meal, excellent food and wine (we must talk about Sicilian Chardonnay at some point) and service that couldn’t have been better.
Grazie Buca di Bacco. Delizioso.
The task of finding a simple Peroni or a Nastro Azzurro at our hotel was impossible – but they could supply three types of wheat beer and a gaggle of obscure IPAs.
One beer that we were surprised to find was “New Zealand” IPA from Motueka. Who would have thought you could find a kiwi beer in, of all places, Matera. And of course, once we spotted it, we had to try it.
That night we drank Matera’s entire supply of New Zealand IPA dry – both bottles. So, gentle travellers, if you are looking for a taste of home in Matera – you’re too late. Cheers.
We drove from the Amalfi Coast to Matera and back in a rental car. We picked the smallest and cheapest class of car Avis offered so it came as no surprise when we were presented with a bright red Fiat Panda at the rental car office in Sorrento.
The gentleman from Avis joked with us that it was a “red Ferrari” as he helped us shoe-horn our two large suitcases and various other bags into the car.
But our little Ferrari did us proud on the roads to and from Matera – far surpassing the Ford Focus we had earlier in the trip in Chianti – for both power and comfort. It was only when you saw other Panda’s on the road that you realised you were effectively driving an oversized roller skate.
The Fiat was full of useful and thoughtful features to make the trip easier. For example, it came with a holder for a phone on the dashboard which made it easy to follow the GPS directions to Matera and back to Sorrento.
Three days later we returned the car intact to Avis in Sorrento – to what must be the most attractive rental car depot in the world.
A recent visitor to Positano was the super yacht commissioned by Steve Jobs prior to his death and designed by Philippe Starck. The yacht Venus is rumoured to have cost around $120 million to design and build and is now owned by his widow Laurene Powell Jobs.
It is quite a statement when you see it moored alongside other super yachts. There are very few, if any, pictures of the interior but word is it continues Apple’s minimalist approach throughout.
Matera known for its cave houses called “sassi”. The sassi are carved into the cliffs of a rocky ravine created by what was once a big river but is now a small stream. These cave dwellings are believed to be among the first human settlements in Italy dating back to the Paleolithic era, some 9,000 years ago.
Since then, until as recently as the 1950s, the caves were continuously inhabited.
Until the late 20th century, the Matera region was one of the poorest in Italy. There was no electricity or running water or sewage disposal facility. The extreme poverty of these people during Benito Mussolini’s fascist rule was exposed in the book “Christ stopped at Eboli” by an Italian doctor Carlo Levi.
After the Second World War, the new government tried to move the city’s cave residents into modern dwellings but many people were reluctant to move. Eventually, the government had to forcibly relocate the inhabitants to the new town on top of the cliff.
Matera’s fortune changed after 1993 when UNESCO declared Matera’s sassi and cave churches a world heritage site, bringing a wave of curious tourists. Since then, many of Matera’s crumbling caves has been restored and transformed into homes, stylish hotels and restaurants.
Matera surprised us. It is a tourist mecca, bustling now in late August, but almost all the visitors are Italian. We have seen one other English speaking couple in two days – who happen to be staying at the same hotel as us. All the menus and signs are exclusively in Italian and the majority of the locals speak little English, if any. This is truly a taste of authentic Italy.
We are spoilt staying at The Palazzo Gattini Hotel in the Piazza Duomo. It is built in an old residence which has been extensively renovated and modernised – all within the constraints of the original building as there are strict laws about making changes to significant buildings in the town.
Our room has a small outdoor pool which is has seen much use of the last few days as the temperature is currently hovering around 30 to 33 degrees during the day.
The town comes alive in the evening – after siesta and when the temperature drops. Locals come out for dinner and deserted streets and filled by outdoor bars and restaurants – and the inevitable flow of locals out for an evening stroll.
Note: Thanks to amusingplanet.com for some of the information contained in this post.
We found the broadcast on Sky Italia with the only downside being a choice of Italian or Australian commentary. Sadly no Justin Marshall for us, just Aussie commentators who became more depressed as the first half developed. Even they were struggling to find anything good to say about their local team until after the 50 minute mark. In the end of the game the best they could do was talk up the second half which, apparently, the Australian team won.
Aussies, no surprises there.
One of the reasons we came to Positano in mid August is because of the festival of Ferragosto on August 15. It is a public holiday and is celebrated in Positano by, among other things, fireworks at midnight.
We attended the festival dinner on the terrace at Eden Roc and had a perfect position to view the fireworks. The bay was full of boats of all sizes, all there to view the spectacular display.
After the display there were the usual traffic problems as people tried to leave and go home – but unlike the traffic jams we experience at home after events, this was more of a “Vespa jam”.
Everywhere there are people, people and more people.
Last week when we went to restock our groceries we ran into this midday crush of people trying to negotiate the narrow pathway to the beach.
Our advice – visit in late August and September. The weather is still warm and settled but the number of visitors drops quite dramatically as August comes to an end. Even now – 23 August – the village feels calmer, emptier and more inviting.