The use of an ‘a’, ‘the’ or the term ‘crowning glory’ usually indicate the most important part of something. I am having a devil of a time this afternoon trying to decide which of many wonderful experiences over the past four days in Milan and Liguria outshines the other.
I could well say the ‘crowning glory’ of this visit to Italy is my foresight in reserving the hotel room for late checkout for a midnight flight departure. Having access to a bidet of hot water to soak my seriously aching feet, after ‘walking Milan’, and visiting the extensive ‘Leonardo 1452-1519’ Exhibition of Da Vinci’s original works, is ‘up there’.
The genius of Leonardo da Vinci took centre stage yesterday also, in Vigevano, another town in Lombardy, not far from Milan. It was Leonardo who conceived the most unusual curved façade for the Cathedral to close off the square of painted buildings in Vigevano’s beautiful Renaissance “Piazza Ducale”. Leonardo’s vision to create canals using waters of the River Po to irrigate what is now this major rice-growing region on the sandy plains of Lombardy demonstrates another aspect of his genius, engineering.
Santa Margherita Ligure, with its fin de siècle promenade and old hotels, colourful houses, typical fishing boats and Ligurian traditions was our base for a couple of very busy days – with many a ‘crowning glory’ to talk about.
On our first afternoon, we go in search of the 13th century Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of S. Salvatore dei Fieschi, somewhere south of Rapallo. Finally, we ask a policeman in Cogorno who directs us to this impressive black church built of the local black slate, with a massive quadrangular Tower sitting on a hill amongst vineyards. It was founded by the son of an influential family of the period, Sinisbaldo Fieschi, who was to become Pope Innocent IV. It’s the stories that make these isolated historical places even more interesting.
Have I left the real ‘crowning glory’ till the last?
Sailing around the rugged coastline of the Marine Natural Reserve of Portofino, to the ancient Abbey of San Fruttuoso has to be a “crowning glory”. The Abbey, built by monks in the 10th century, sits in a secluded cove facing a luminous green sea – a wonderful fusion of nature and landscape happily overlapping what man has wrought. The Abbey was rebuilt after one hundred years and renovated over and over until the 16th century. It’s a story of a monastic existence interlaced with pirate battles and intervention of influential Genoese family Doria.
Ruined by waters rushing down the mountain for centuries, it was used only by fishermen – until the Italian FAI heritage organisation commenced sympathetically restoring the site twenty years ago for the appreciation of visitors.
After feeding the senses, man needs to feed the body. A walk up the mountain and down to an adjacent small cove finds us on La Coletta beach with the waves lapping at our feet. Bream, fresh from the sea, is grilled while we wait listening to the birds and sipping local white wine, in the Spring sunshine. There’s only two other people here. What a day!
To be edited.