Monday, 15 July 2013

North to Spezia and Cinque Terre - Italy

June 14 -23, 2013

 It was good to be back on Alcheringa again after our foray around Tuscany and Friday was spent getting a few jobs done and on the ever painful bag drag around the supermarket to provision the boat for the next stage of our Italian adventure.

We got underway on Saturday morning to sail north to the Golfo di La Spezia but instead of taking the direct, offshore route we elected to sail closer in along the coast for the more scenic route It added about five miles to our course but we could afford the extra hour.  We found there were many beaches along this stretch of coast. We have never seen so many beach umbrellas and deck chairs in our lives.

Someone at the Moby ferry company has a sense of adventure when it comes
 to paint schemes. There all different and all wild.

Between the ferries and cruise ships we bounced around with a fair bit of
wake in the marina at Livorno.
We ran along the coast as far as Carrara, where we’d hoped to get a good view of the monstrous marble quarries that are located in the ranges just inland a little. This is the home of reputedly the world’s best marble. It’s been quarried here for centuries and is what Michelangelo and all the great masters used for their sculptures. It also adorns the facades of most of the big Cathedrals of Italy. Over 10,000 tons a month are exported these days for use worldwide. It’s said the vertical white cliff faces of the quarries sparkle in the afternoon sun when viewed from the sea but we’ll have to take their word for it as low cloud blanketed much of the ranges as we sailed past. We could see however that the whole mountain range appears to be white marble with massive quarries stretching right up the valley.

Heading north along the coast of Tuscany towards Spezia. The writer Shelly
died sailing this coast when caught in a sudden storm.

We had hoped to see the sun sparkle off the Carrara marble quarries but
low cloud killed that. The quarries are huge and stretch well up the valley.
The Golfo di La Spezia is a very large gulf stretching about five and a half nautical miles from the entrance to the Italy’s principal naval base, a large harbour and the town of La Spezia in the north west corner. The gulf is surrounded by mountains and is extremely picturesque in every direction.  We’d chosen the bay at Le Grazie on the western side of the gulf as our destination and were surprised to find only a few yachts laying at anchor when we arrived at about four in the afternoon.

Spezia has obviously been a major naval base for a looonnnggg time.
The town wall was full with a number of beautiful classic yachts in residence.
Not all the classics were sailboats. This old motor launch was magnificent.

Alcheringa sits quietly at anchor in Le Grazie while the Disneyworld cruise
liner passes by out in the Golfo di La Spezia.

Le Grazie was quite a nice spot to base ourselves for a few days. The church was
 fun watching a succession of weddings on the Saturday.
Livorno to Le Grazie - 40.1 nautical miles - 6 hours 55 minutes
Average speed 5.8 knots Max 6.9 knots
We anchored in reasonably near the head of the bay not far from a delightful old church on the southern edge. We then discovered Saturdays in June must be very popular for weddings as the loud church bells rang out for a full five minute performance every half hour as the next happy couple walked out the door as husband and wife. In the last hour before sunset we realised how wise we’d been to arrive earlier in the afternoon as literally scores of yachts and largish motorboats raced each other into the bay, jockeying for a slice of the ever diminishing available anchoring space. They were all gone again by Sunday afternoon and for the rest of our stay things were fairly quiet.

Le Grazie is a peaceful spot with just enough old buildings and pleasant eateries along the quayside to provide more than enough charm. We spent five days at anchor here, with Rob catching up on some blogging while Karen had the watercolours out again. We also used it as a base from which to explore the surrounding areas of Le Spezia and Porto Venere making use of its extensive bus service.

Although Le Spezia had a very attractive waterfront area, we were fairly underwhelmed by the rest of the town. As a major naval base, it was heavily bombed during the Second World War with the loss of most of its old buildings and, unfortunately, its character.  
The waterfront was definitely the most attractive area of Le Spezia we saw.
Porto Venere, on the other hand, we fell in love with as soon as the bus crested the headland that separated it from our temporary home in Le Grazie. From its 13th Century white and dark marble church on the point, beautiful harbour side, old fortress, narrow lanes packed with quaint little shops all surrounded by crystal clear, azure blue waters,  Porto Venere is postcard perfect. We had a very enjoyable day ambling around seeing all there was to see punctuated by a very nice, yet quite affordable lunch by the harbour.
Every view of Porto Venere screams postcard. The place is absolutely gorgeous.
The small 13th Century church dominates the entrance to the channel
between Porto Venere and Isola Palmaria.
Rob at Porto Venere.
The harbour side cafes were quite reasonably priced considering Port Venere
 is such a popular tourist stop.
It was all so beautiful we considered moving Alcheringa around from Le Grazie to berth against the quay. That was until Karen visited the harbourmaster’s office and found out that, with the 20% discount for shoulder season, the mooring fee was 135 Euro ($190 Aus) per night.  At zero Euro Le Grazie was looking extremely attractive. However, a couple of days later, we did the next best thing and cruised down the narrow channel between Porto Venere and the Isola Palmaria opposite and had great views of the town from the water before turning further north to run along one of the most spectacular sections of the entire Italian coast.
Karen taking in the sights as we approach Porto Venere from the Golfo di La Spezia.
Porto Venere from the water.

The Cinque Terre (The Five Villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso) that are perched along this short stretch of coastline are truly spectacular. Ever changing seascapes provide the foreground while pinewoods, vineyards, ancient olive groves and old ruins left by history cling to the rocky landscape of impossibly steep slopes and high cliff faces. Once, quite isolated, these small communities were known for the excellence of the wine they produced. Nowadays there is a road from le Spezia and they can also be reached on the Turin-Genoa-Rome rail line so these idyllic hamlets with their unique beauty have been discovered by the world of tourism and many thousands flock to their steep, narrow streets each summer.
Stunning Riomaggiore was the first of the five villages we passed.

It is easy to see how popular villages of the Cinque Terre like Manarola are
by the number of tourists we could see from Alcheringa’s decks.

Marc marvelling at the vineyards carved into the steep hillsides at Manarola.
However, only from the sea is it possible to fully enjoy the rocky beauty of these five villages that were known in the past as ‘the Sanctuaries’ and that’s exactly what we did. In extremely calm conditions, we motored close to shore and edged right in near the waterfronts of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and  Vernazza before anchoring off the beach at Monterosso for lunch in the sun. We then retraced our route doing it all again, but this time with the different perspective of the afternoon sun lighting up the brightly coloured buildings of the villages and steep contours of the cliff sides.
Corniglia is said to be the most unspoilt of the Cirque Terre villages and
considering how hard it is to get to we can understand why.

Behind that rock wall lays a tiny harbour and the village of Vernazza. We had
hoped to moor against the small town wall here but the harbour was very
crowded with small boats so there was no room for us. We were a bit busy
manoeuvring to get any photos at the time so you’ll have to take our word
 for how beautiful it was.

Monterosso is the northernmost, largest, most modernised and least appealing
of the five villages but was still a fine spot to anchor off the beach for lunch.
Karen enjoyed watching the spectacular coastline glide past from the bow.

It was late afternoon when we rounded the church again at Porto Venere and entered the channel. With a continuation of the currently windless conditions forecast for overnight, we anchored just off the mussel beds that line much of the shore just to the east of Porto Venere. We had the outboard on the dingy fairly smartly and headed ashore to enjoy a few more of the delights of this incredible town.
What better place to anchor for the night than off Porto Venere.

Le Grazie to Porto Venere via Cinque Terra
23.0 nautical miles - 4 hours 27 minutes + our lunch stop
Average speed 5.2 knots Max 6.7 knots

Next morning it was time to turn our bows back to the south. The good news was we had quite a good North Westerly blowing us on our way. The bad news was that it was also building quite a reasonably sized swell that made the anchorages we’d shortlisted to stay in unviable. In fact there are very few anchorages on the Italian coast that provide any shelter from wind blowing from this direction. So it was back into the Marina at Livorno for us. This turned out to be a good decision as overnight the North Westerly strengthened up into the high 20 to mid 30 knot range and kept us pinned at the dock for another two days. Such is life. 

Porto Venere to Livorno - 37.3 nautical miles - 6 hours 37 minutes
Average Speed 5.6 knots Max 7.5 knots

MARINA REVIEW: Yacht Club Livorno -Italy  ***

Cost per night for our 43 foot (13.2m) yacht – 50 Euro (including VAT, water, power and WiFi)

Note: Most Italian marinas lift their prices considerably in July-August for high season in mid-summer)

The marina is located well inside a large commercial harbour. Livorno is also a major cruise ship destination as a stepping off point to Pisa and Florence and a very busy ferry terminal. The marina is well protected from all weather but expect a high degree of wake inside the harbour to keep you rocking. Its position is a considerable walk to shops, supermarkets etc. Shower and toilet is located in an adjoining boat yard and while clean and serviceable it is inconvenient having to obtain a key from the mariners in the office whenever you want to use them.

Access to the pontoons is by security code. WiFi is free and quite good quality. The mariners are friendly and very helpful although their English is limited.

Livorno is a major boatbuilding centre right up to mega-yachts so we were surprised to find great difficulty obtaining the most basic chandlery items. No camping gaz was available, neither of the two chandlers stocked any stainless steel screws, nuts or bolts or even engine oil let alone filters etc.

For more about our travels and lots more photos check out and 'like' our Dreamtime Sail facebook page at Dreamtime Sail on Facebook

If you only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, click the link to go back to our first blog entry.Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.






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