Spotorno has its place in literary history and was the home of the English writer D.H. Lawrence and his German born wife Frieda from 1925-26. Inspired by the scenery, Lawrence wrote, “The moon shines so brightly, that even the vineyards throw shadows and the Mediterranean Sea gleams so white in the darkness. On the beach the lights of old houses allure softly, above the wall of the promontory the headlights of a locomotive move on…”
Little remains of the Villa Bernarda. where he lived as it was gutted amidst a local scandal to make way for holiday flats in 2002, despite the fact that it was here he found the inspiration for his most famous novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The elm that Lawrence planted in the garden was also cut down.
While at Villa Bernarda, Lawrence wrote the short story Sun and the novella The Virgin andthe Gypsy. The earthy nature of the Italian way of life and the ferocity of the sun and its power to liberate the sexual inhibitions of the visiting American wife in Sun also had an increasingly liberating effect on Frieda. After a visit to Sicily, Lawrence returned to find his wife and the villa's owner, a wartime hero named Angelo Ravagli, were having an affair. Freida stripped naked and frolicked in the garden with Ravagli and the couple were discovered by Lawrence. Ravagli was the model for Mellors, the gamekeeper who has an affair with his employer's wife in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Lawrence, like Lady Chatterley’s crippled husband, was dogged by ill-health and had been recently diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Lawrence and Frieda had a stormy relationship and Frieda had frequent affairs. A visit by Lawrence’s sister Ada sparked a serious quarrel and Lawrence left Frieda, having a short affair himself, before a reconciliation after which the couple moved to the Villa Mirenda near Florence. The year after Lawrence's death in 1930, Ravagli left his wife and children, and joined Frieda in New Mexico. They lived off Lawrence's royalties and married in 1950. When Frieda died, Ravagli inherited her estate which included all of Lawrence’s royalties and returned to Spotorno a millionaire and was welcomed home by his first wife with open arms.
Don’t miss the Museo del Tresoro (€6; [open] 9.00-12.00 & 3.00-6.00 Mon-Sat) in the crypt of San Lorenzo catehdral. It’s a modern museum designed by Franco Albini in 1954 which holds some of the world’s most important holy relics.
Ships came back from the Crusades laden with treasure. In the Middle Ages Genoa ruled the waves. Among the treasures is the 9th century Sacro Catino, which was once believed to be the Holy Grail from which Jesus took his last sip of wine.
No wonder King Arthur and his knights missed it! Surprisingly, it isn’t a golden cup but a large green bowl which according to legend was sculpted from an emerald that dropped from the Devil’s head.
It’s in fact made of green glass and was broken when it was seized by Napoleon’s troops in 1806 and taken to Paris. Naughty boy. Luck old Genoese got it back which certainly wasn't the case with most of the loot he took back to Paris.
Up in the mountains above Sanremo is the the tiny principality of Seborga. By a quirk of history it was never incorporated in the treaty drawn up at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that handed the territories controlled by Genoa to the House of Savoy.
On paper it's an independent principality. They briefly minted their own currency and have their own number plates. Although in reality it functions like any other part of Italy. Seborga’s 350 residents have even their own elected Prince, Giorgio I.
A tiny sentry box meets you as you drive into town. That's where the kitsch stops. This is no San Marino. It a sunny summer's day and there is nobody around. It's just after lunch and the villagers are one assumes fast asleep.
We’ve missed lunch so we pop into the tiny local shop for supplies. While I am selecting some of the new season plums, a little boy of about five years old dashes in for some key ingredients that his granny has forgotten to buy. The lady behind the counter marks it up on the tab and he’s gone in a flash.
It's a hot day in Sanremo so I head up into the mountains with my youngest daughter Eve. We pass through some beautiful mountainous countryside that skirts Monte Bignone and drive deep into lush forests.
We stop for lunch at Bajardo. The village sits on a hilltop commanding the valley below. It’s a beautiful sight and is often above cloud level, which gives it a rather magical appearance.
There not many people about. A German couple are tucking into pasta at the next table. The Osteria in Piazza Sonnaz is famous for its prize winning shortbreads called bajoccolino. The waiter explains with enthusiam. His mum makes them.
After lunch we walk across the quare to see a little exhibition of photographs that an old man has taken of Bajardo in all weathers. I think they are so lovely that I ask him if we could have one to use to promote my guidebook. “A guide to Bajardo?” he asks. “No, Liguria as a whole,” I reply. “Pah!” he says, shaking his head, “Why, it’s all in Bajardo! No need to write about those places.”
It may be a sleepy little village but the ruined church of San Nicolò, where two hundred people were killed in the devastating earthquake of 1887, once splashed Bajardo across the pages of the world’s newspapers. Although it was the middle of the week, the church was full as it was Ash Wednesday. Many of the houses at the top of the village were also destroyed. The main inhabitants seem to be cats as ever in the Ligurian hinterland.
This is still a rather melancholy and moving place and, what is touching, is that no-one has exploited the tragedy to make money out of it. The church is an empty shell and sits at the top of the village and there are panoramic views from the terrace across to the Ligurian Alps, which are particularly lovely in winter and spring, when they are capped in snow.
Everyone in Liguria has an opinion on how to make a perfect pesto sauce. Purists use a traditional pestle made of olive wood and a stone mortar. A marble one is considered too cold, to pummel or pound, the ingredients. Pestare in Italian means “to pound”. I am afriad I don't have time for that. I whizz up the ingredients. As a result I have blown the motor of many a blender. Basil is a tough cookie.
Our local pasta shop has a notice in the window that proudly claims that the basil used in its sauce comes from Genova Pra. I once took a train to Genoa with my eldest son. As we pulled into Genova Pra station, he jumped to his feet. "What this is where they grow the best basil in the world! I don't believe it, it's an urban disaster." A tumbled down factory building with a rusty tower had greeted us as we pulled in. The basil grows in green houses about the docks with a view of the motorway. I have subsequently learnt to get the best taste basil needs to be stressed.
My basil farm in London has had a bad time of it recently as it never stops raining. It has however produced some rather natty sauces in the last few months.
This is how I make it:
Put in a pinch of sea salt, which protects the green colour of the basil, with two large bunches of basil, add two garlic cloves, a sprinkle of pepper, four tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of pine nuts.
Whizz it all up and then mix in a handful of grated Pecorino cheese. Here again the debate can get quite heated as in some parts of Liguria parmesan cheese is used but it lacks the cutting edge of a good sharp pecorino or sardo. Serve with trofie, which are traditionally cooked in water with potatoes and green beans, that can be served chilled in a salad.
In some parts of Liguria walnuts are added instead of pine nuts and ricotta is mixed in instead of pecorino.