Allied bombs and rough seas have reduced the once mighty turn of the century giant into an armless ruin. Il Gigante continues to shoulder the weight of the terrace for the one time famous Villa Pastine.
Arriving in Monterosso after hiking the trail from Vernazza on the Cinque Terre, we walked out to the beach. Il Gigante caught my eye immediately with his huge hulking form riding the rocky outcrop. His leg and torso were knotted with muscle, looking like one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I stood amazed and intrigued by his existence.
Is he Hercules? Sampson? Gulliver? Neither. He is Neptune, God of the Sea, sitting 45 feet high and weighing in at 1700 tons. Designed and fashioned out of concrete and iron in 1910 by Arrigo Minerbi, a Jewish Italian sculptor, Neptune supports the one-time dancing terrace of Villa Pastine on his shoulders. He became the symbol of the town in postcards of the era, decorating the seaward edge of the villa while holding the waves at bay.
Minerbi, who is also known for creating the bronze doors on the duomo in Milan, was forced into hiding in 1937 because of his Jewish ancestry. He survived and completed the doors after the war.
The Villa Pastine and Il Gigante suffered from allied bombing runs as well as being battered by the sea. As a result, Neptune is missing both arms, his trident, and a conch shell he held high above his head.
Supposedly a climber discovered treasure at the heels of the giant in 1982. Maybe so. Who can say for sure? However, a tale like this one deserves a rainbow and a pot, or heel, of gold at the end.
Italy is surrounded by water with countless coves, beaches and inlets to charm any swimmer or sunbather. Take a day out from your busy travel itinerary and experience Italian beach life. Sun, surf, beauty and gentle breezes will refresh and relax you. Splash in the Mediterranean, then come up for a soothing sole massage. Stay and watch the sunset dip behind the horizon as you sip a cool and refreshing drink. This is one of my best memories.
To begin, it helps to know what to expect at an Italian beach. Most of the beaches require a small fee to lounge on, called stabilimenti. Included in the price is a reassurance of a clean beach, an outdoor shower for rinsing off, toilets and a dressing room where you can leave your things, a good swimming area, a bar and often a restaurant. You can rent a lounge chair and umbrella for a small added fee which is worth it. Keep in mind that stabilimenti usually close before sunset.
Free beaches do exist, however. They are usually found at the end of the private beach areas. Generally, I have found them very acceptable but not as well-kept as the pay area and restrooms can be difficult to find.
Blue Flag beaches mean that they have been certified for high environmental and quality standards. Liguria boasts 20 of the cleanest beaches in Italy.
Following are six areas in Italy that have some of the coolest beaches. Depending on where you are, you can pick and choose which beaches you want to visit.
Cinque Terre, the 5 small villages on the coastline of Liguria, have some great beaches and hiking. Vernazza is my favorite, with a small beach that is great for sunbathing, snorkeling and watching the little fishing boats come and go. Monterosso al Mare is another of the villages very popular for sunbathers and swimmers.
Rabbit Beach in Sicily is phenomenally popular with tourists and locals alike. It claims to be Italy’s number one beach for its obvious beauty; white beach, clear waters and natural environment.
Tuscany has white sandy beaches and whimsical seaside villages. Castiglione della Pescaia is a great affordable sea town with lots of water sports including wind surfing and sailing. For the largest beach town with a lively promenade nightlife, Viareggiooffers the most.
Positano has always been a popular beach hang-out, beginning with the ancient Greeks and continuing with the Roman nobility (If they thought it was the best, than it must be). The busiest stretch of beach is between Amalfi and Positano. Rugged from erosion, the cliffs above you offer beautiful wildflowers and gorgeous views.
There are two public beaches in Positano: the secludedFornillo beach and the mainstream Spiaggia Grande.
To the heel of the boot….
Porto Selvaggio, in Nardo, Salento is a wild cove of sea, rocks and salty ocean breezes that can be reached only on foot. Part of a nature reserve, it is sheltered by high cliffs and ancient watchtowers. The water is deep but crystalline and very clean. An added bonus….it is very close to prehistoric sites dating back 40,000 years ago. Worth a look-see in my book.
The Lido beach in Venice is convenient, has clean water and soft sand. Several vaporetto lines run from Venice to Lido for 7 euros.
Cinque Terre, five small fishing villages backed against the vine covered Ligurian hills on the Mediterranean, is famous for its hiking trails and quaint harbors. On vacation last September, my husband Carl and I discovered this coastline of fishing villages and exuberantly explored the abundance they have to offer. These villages were once only accessible by sea, and still no road connects them. Now they can be reached by train from La Spezia, which runs daily.
Our cuisine delight was at the Ristorante al Castello perched high above the village of Vernazza.
But first, a little history…
High atop the village of Vernazza sits the remains of an ancient castle tower. Like a beacon, this tower has stood guard over the little fishing village as early as the 12th century, when pirates plied the waters. The inhabitants tended their vineyards up in the hills, surrounded by fortified walls and hillside terracing, depending on their watchtower to keep them informed of pirate activity.
During World War II, the tower became a lookout for the Nazis. The British bombed them out, so the tower needed to be rebuilt. Today the remains have been converted into hilltop dining with sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
Climbing up a steep and winding pathway from the harbor, we set out to dine at the Castello. After we arrived, we were seated at a table with spacious views of the water. Soft ocean breezes swept through the restaurant, carrying with it hints of citrus which mingled well with the salty smell of the sea. Delicious Ligurian cuisine was listed on the menu, consisting of seafood with pasta dishes, herbed baked fish, lasagna with pesto, and my favorite- a seafood medley. I ordered it without hesitation.
Freshly caught fish, shrimps, scallops, calamari and mussels covered my plate with the bounty of the sea. The white fish proved flavorful and flaky, the shrimps crisp, and the scallops large, buttery and tender. It was a delectable feast.
Lingering over glasses of the local white wine, we observed other couples dining at outdoor tables on the terrace below that hugged the cliff walls overlooking the sea. Candles illuminated faces and wine sparkled and danced in goblets as the last remaining rays of the sun stretched out its arms over the twilight sky. Voices grew hushed and intimate. The warmth from the day gave way to cooling puffs of wind off the water.
Address: Via Guidoni 56, Vernazza, Italy
Have you ever dreamed of dining in a castle? Maybe you have…if so, where did you dine? I love to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment below.