Two Gates outstripped by a Deal of Broad Stairs

Clever that, don’t you think? You’ll see how clever as I go through the main towns on this part of the Kent coast. Walmer, with its Tudor house & castle, doesn’t even get a mention. It is its big brother, Deal Castle, that gets all the plaudits. Built by Henry VIII to protect the naval dockyards from the French, it can best be seen from the air with its battlement circles interlocked around each other. This view from the beach does not do it justice although it is in pristine condition still.

Deal also has a pier. A simple pier made of concrete and steal. None of your arcades or bingo or rides. Just a wide stubby structure with a few cubby holes acting as windbreaks ending with an exposed fishing platform and the warmth of Janice’s tearooms. The view back to shore and the town and beach is quite elegant.

I love this old cinema. It sums up the appeal of the place.

Ramsgate has a certain Victorian charm about it. The crescents of tall, elegant, white-painted terraces curve around the cliff tops like a crown perched above the harbour and docks and glitzy tourist hotspots. But somehow it is outdone by its neighbours on each side.

Just up the coast lies Broadstairs. Now I liked Broadstairs. The bay is small with a lovely, neat crescent of soft sand, lined, almost completely, with a variety of beach huts following the line of the cliffs around the bay. Along the top another crescent of classy eateries, ice-creameries & drinkeries overlook the sands. Small cracks of alleys lead through to a more ordinary part of town which provide for all the needs of visitors and locals alike.

And then there is Margate. Hmmm. Sorry Margate, Broadstairs and Deal just shine out, even though you do have the Turner Gallery with its free admission.

 

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Whitstable’s oyster beds make the place a real pearl

I saw a few sunny days were forecast and I have this small gap on my coastal tour, between Sheerness and Deal. So I thought I would get it covered. I start south of the Thames estuary in the marsh lands of the Isle of Grain and its flat wet neighbour. There is one road, over a magnificent bridge, to get you onto the Isle of Sheppey, and one road to get you off.

Down the North Sea coast, Whitstable awaits, the brightest pearl on the east coast, full of history, oysters, seafood, boats, masts, mud, nets, trawlers, pubs, visitors in a lovely, bustly cacophony of clinking masts and laughing children and shouted orders and slurping ripples on far away waters. Oysters have been collected from beds since Roman times. That’s them in the distance.

Here is my visual symphony for Whitstable. I hope you can touch its atmosphere with all your senses.

Herne Bay is just down the coast. Whilst a bit more down to earth compared to its classy neighbour, it has a certain charm with its tea rooms and ABBA entertainment, it’s truncated pier with its far end abandoned in the off shore distance, just giving a suggestion of its former glory and all framed by a line of very fine beach huts.

These twin towers are all that remain of a medieval church at the village of Reculver, on the cliffs just a bit further down the coast.

More tomorrow, weather permitting.

Ferrara, where the bicycle rules and not the tourist

So that is it. Home tomorrow. I leave you with images of Ferrara. There could be a lot worse places to leave you, and no, this is not where they make very flashy sports cars. This place is like a mini, fabulous Florence without a coach party in sight. In fact there are no cars in the centre to disrupt the seemingly endless flow of the bicycle. Many of the riders are particularly pleasing on the eye.

We hit gold with the hotel, for a start. A little bijou place on a central piazza, opposite the castle. Then the upgrade to a room with a small balcony looking directly onto the ancient Continue reading

Padua in the heat

OMG. What a shock to the senses. The last time I spoke to you I was in the peaceful tranquility of La Marche, alone with the farmland, the soaring buzzards, the pool and mama Anita’s cooking. I have come 250+ km north to Padua, a university city in the same mold as Oxford, established yonks ago but in comparison to the past two weeks so hot and busy and full of people and noise and bikes and trams and shops and gelatos. It is wonderful but such a shock to the system. Welcome back to reality and back-home normality. Oxford in a 34° heatwave. Enjoy the churches, the piazzas, the shade, when you can find it.

 

 

 

Eating out at Trattoria Anita

Eating out in Cupramontana gives you Gina’s, a pizza restaurant, Rosina’s a few miles out of town with a glorious terrace overlooking the surrounding hills & Ristorante La Orietta within the medieval, walled core of the town.

But I must spend some time telling you about the special delights of eating in Trattoria Anita. This can be found down a narrow, dark, cobbled street beside the butchers, under a totally inappropriate sign showing a golywog drinking a cup of coffee.

The first doorway is into the kitchen of open charcoal grills and steaming, aluminium pots & pans where three elderly, hunched mamas pirouette around each other in the space in the middle.


The second door is the entrance to a time capsule taking you back 70 years when it was OK to have signs like that hanging above your door. Four tables, covered in white tablecloths, covering red gingham, are positioned on each side of the narrow space, a counter, behind which are shelves of ancient, crusty bottles containing different coloured spirits, faces the entrance, a doorway that leads into the kitchen and a fridge unit holding two types of wine-white in loosely corked bottles and red in those old Corona clasped 1litre jobbies, about 20 of each.


Yes, we can eat. Papa, aged about 75, appears and shows us to a table. A bottle of gassed water and a bottle of white is dumped on the table. There follows 5 minutes of sign language with papa grumbling away in discontent, where we exchange these for still water(we get a bottle of tap, so we keep the fizzy) and a litre bottle of home-produced red, which is surprisingly good and has gone by the end of the evening.

No menu is immediately obvious. A 4th, younger lady, by that I mean later 40’s, who also speaks only Italian, appears at the table and gabbles through the premier platas. Recognising tortellini and ravioli we choose the former. Papa comes out of the kitchen with a tray of small curled pasta, covered in cream and parmesan and filled with cheese and bacon pieces, he serves us and retires, mumbling about something or other. The food is absolutely delicious.

Meanwhile the room is starting to fill up. Local Italian families take the tables in the room and get the same food as us. But hey, they keep coming. Two police officers, with guns, mother and child, pairs, threes, larger groups know their way to the hidden door which leads, via a single pointing finger to ‘upstairs’.

Papa has a problem. He appears with a piece of cotton wool protruding from a nostril, which doesn’t look good. As he returns from the door and showing some people upstairs, he gestures and the plug falls, to land, much to the surprise of the customers, on the table in front of him. They accept this invasion of their space and carry on eating as papa returns to the kitchen, never to be seen again.

His serving duties are taken over by mama. Mama is stooped with age yet skips around the joint, involved with everything. She explains, in a high, fluttery voice, the meats that are available for the secondi. Acorn Antiques comes to mind. She is lovely, breaking into a huge smile when ever a dish is complemented.

We spot the only menu, a hand written poster on the inside of the door, which helps us choose the rabbit (and that is what you get, cooked in oil, garlic & tomato-delicious) from the 4 available, all served with pots or tom gratin.


Dessert is the only slightly disappointing element of this wonderful, home-cooking experience so I’ll gloss over that as I don’t want to leave on a sour note. Coffee was great and the bill ever greater. This was a true family meal, cooked by the family, served by the family and prepared by the family, for locals. If you are ever nearby this is so worth the effort. Thank you mama.

 

 

 

A day at the Adriatic seaside

Having seen, over the past days, the turquoise strip lining the horizon in the far distance, it was time to leave the peace and tranquility of the Marche countryside and have a day at the seaside. On reflection, a mistake.

An hour down the motorway to Ancona and then, a few miles out of town, the map suggested a narrow, picturesque lane down to a bay. Clues to what we would find lay in our approach. Firstly, stopping off on the cliff-top to see, in the distant haze, the waters of the Adriatic and a shimmering beach covered with row after row of different coloured sunbeds lined up like regiments preparing an attack. The battalion stand like small-scale, model soldiers, on station, firm and erect, facing the appealing waters, stretching away as far as the eye can see. Preparing to attack or defend what? The sea? Hmmmm.


With trepidation we follow the tarmac down. Like an evacuation, cars are parked, nee abandoned, on every spare bit of road, every field. We get down the bottom. Both beach car parks are full. ‘Park your car up on the field a km away with the other thousand motors and get the shuttle bus down’. OMG. What must the beach be like!!

So we cut our losses and abandon that plan. We take the cliff road to Soroli. A picturesque town high on the cliffs above the coast and, yes, the car parks and rocky beaches way, way below.

The place is almost empty. I suppose everyone has booked their sunbeds for the day and is roasting down on the rocks. Here we find our one nugget, our small piece of calm and class. In the shade of a fig tree, outside a small boutique hotel we have a simple lunch- canelloni stuffed with assorted seafood, a couple of glasses of the local white and apricot tart to finish up with. Heaven. The high spot of the day.


Then back in the car, down to Sunbed Strip and Umbrella City and the angled, wooden beds of browning, burning bodies on one side of the road and the parked heat-locked cars parked on the other, before giving up, hot and exasperated, and heading for the the cool breezes of the hills, back to our peaceful base. Why did we go out in the first place?

 

Even further along the back roads

Today is a drive over to Pergola to pick up the trail again. The countryside remains the same but the further west, the higher the land gets and the more alpine the scenery and the architecture becomes.

Pergola is another ordinary but charming, warm place on the route. Narrow streets lead through from one sunny side to another creating shady patches for the locals at play. Animated chatter and card schools seem to be the order of the day.

The castle at Frontone can be seen from miles away standing erect over the hills and low mountains of its immediate neighbourhood.

Close up it stretches up high into the sky whilst the rest of this cobbled medieval village shudders in its shadow. The views from the walls show how much the landscape is changing.

The last place on this mini tour is Cagli. Again a huge fortress guards the entrance to the town. Once negotiated it is a downhill walk through the streets to the central plaza where wonderful faded buildings create a perimeter of flaky plaster and ancient, muted whitewash. The locals, as everywhere, collect in groups to chatter the evening away.

So that’s it. You could drive on a few km to see the view from the top of Mt. Catria. Or you could have dinner in Cagli and call it a day. I decided on the latter.