Idyllic Lerici – but a long hike down from the hotel to the action.

This was going to be the beach resort part of our trip. We took a car from Modena for a two-hour country drive to Lerici, supposedly a charming, quiet part of the Italian Riviera. Our hotel was advertised as close to the beach where, for a modest amount, we could hire umbrellas and sunbeds for some seaside indulgence. We understood the hotel had its own pool if we didn’t feel like getting sandy and salty.

Not.

The car dropped us at a pool-free hotel perched on a hillside with a wonderful view of distant harbour and beaches best accessed by hang glider. Before guests get angry about having to become mountain goats they are reassured that there is a shuttlebus on demand – as long as it is not in demand elsewhere. It will take us down a selection of beaches where, for up to $300 a day, we may recline shaded at a beach club. The alternative is to bake on the sand, or rocks, at no charge.

While Michelle unpacked I took the long goat trail down to the main square – which I have to say was delightful. But the return trip provided me with a cardiac workout I don’t look forward to repeating without oxygen.

Apart from many restaurants, which we will explore, there is a grey castle on the harbour headland and a main street spa that offers, among other services, the removal of hair from your buttocks or a total chocolate body massage. I wonder who eats the chocolate. I’m fearful but also curious.

One advantage this hotel has over all others I’ve stayed at is that it has a free mini bar. It is conservatively stocked with basic hard and soft drinks and is replenished every day. Thus, we won’t face that inevitable question at checkout time when the cashier leans across the marble reception desk, suddenly injects you with sodium pentothal, switches on the lie detector, looks you in the eye, and asks “anything from the mini-bar?”

Hotel toaster review

The hand clamp persists. It must be an Italian trait. In any case, here in our Lerici hotel I found a Clampa Minora with two basket clamps which do not like to give up their slice of bread when toasted. This is why there is an additional long handle set of tongs to make the separation. It takes some concentration, working all these metal tools in unison, which is why a part-time toast captain is on hand for assistance. Derek Breadchamber points out in one of his books that the Clampa Minora bakes the bread rather than toasts it and is not highly regarded for this reason.

Thursday 7 June

There is a ferry service which took us along the Cinque Terre coast today, calling in at five little towns where most of the commercial buildings huddle down near the water while the houses that are built further up on the impossibly steep hillsides defy logic. How do they get their groceries? There are thousands of steps just to get to a road. Also, how to they make a living? They can’t all be retired poets. These little towns seem to attract tourists and offer beaches for swimming in the Brunswick green waters of the Mediterranean. By our standards, the beaches are awful. If there is sand, it is putty coloured and coarse, but many of them have only stones or rocks to lie on, hence a thriving business in sun beds and umbrellas that cost more to hire than they do to buy. The catch is that you’d need to lug them to and from a ‘free’ beach and then probably be fined for clogging it up. We’ve been spoiled for beaches in Australia.

Pick a rock, lay out your towel and go for a swim. You’re at the beach!

We went down to the city square for pizzas tonight. I was pleased with mine, but Michelle hit a pizza low when she ordered a seafood, mitout cheese. The pizza looked okay on approach but when it was set down it was revealed as a collection of still-in-the-shell seafood strewn across the crust. The prawns, mussels and clams all sat there defying release from their baked-on, brittle shells. After long and unsuccessful surgery, in which the seafood odour began to hint at decomposition, we sent it back and chose something else. To the restaurant’s credit, a bottle limoncello was offered as a peace offering – which we accepted.

While waiting to return via the climbing bus to our hillside retreat, we witnessed the Lerici ambulance service at work. Somebody had taken ill in the bus shelter. The ambulance arrived with dramatic signage, sirens and blue flashing lights and loaded the stricken one into the back. But before driving away to hospital, the ambulance crew, done up in their orange flouros hung liberally with lifesaving equipment, proceeded to have an argument with bystanders and then with each other. It got louder and louder and lasted for about twenty minutes. The patient, who we could see lying inside, was ignored while the opposing teams waved arms and yelled at one another. The fluro team got into the ambulance, slammed the doors, turned on the siren, then all got out again to put the finishing touches to their summing up.