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2023, Spring Northern Italy part 7


100+ Posts
April 11-25, 2023

As I mentioned, we knew little about our last minute stop in San Vincenzo and would appreciate any of your experiences in this area.

What would our day include? we considered catching a ferry to the island of Elba, but it was so early in the season we thought visiting there would be better in the warmer months? We did however visit Piombino where the ferry is located. The morning started with overcast skies, but cleared nicely during the day. Driving into the city was ok on narrow one way streets. First impressions of the "urban" surroundings had us wondering if this would be time well spent, I'm not a fan of abundant amateur graffiti! We found free parking at the base of the Castello di Piombino. We should have walked on the sidewalk along the water, but we chose to walk through some of the streets requiring a makeover. At some point we headed to the waterfront and onto the Piazza Bovio to catch a glimpse of Elba not far off the coast, impressions were improving!

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From there we went down to a small harbor to look at boats then up a long steep flight of stairs, this put us at the Citadella. There's a nice museum there but it was closed, so we opted for coffee at a small cafe, the ladies were especially nice at the cafe. Apparently, Napoleon created the Principality of Lucca/Piombino for his sister Elisa. Elisa had many titles, Princess of Lucca and Piombino, Dutchess of Tuscany and has a side street named after her that we followed down to the water's edge. An interesting piece of history is that Leonardo da Vinci designed the walls of this fortress town, cool.

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We walked all over and discovered an avenue that would take us back to Piazza Bovio, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, very charming street, nice shops/cafes and bustling with people. Decided to have a snack outdoors at Osteria Volturno, very nice atmosphere.

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Not knowing where we'd end up we took a left not far out of Piombino, heading west to get closer to Baratti Bay. The coastline is beautiful, surrounded by amazing pine trees! We are sure that if the weather was warmer we would see umbrellas and chairs lined up on the calm beach. Up the road we discovered the Etruscan settlement and Populonia. Once only a small part of a much larger port city, we were told the population is now 12 people and 2 dogs, ha! We recommend visiting here, it is small but it offers so much. There is a nice museum with ancient artifacts and an interesting short film. We were surprised to find so many shops and good restaurants. The food and outdoor atmosphere at La Taverna di Populonia was very good. The staff was very attentive, at one point it looked like it might rain and they moved us to a table under the large canopy of trees, nice! The views of the sea and bay are worth the admission to the fortress, outstanding. We didn't have time but there are hiking trails to Etruscan ruins spread out on the large hilltop property. Side note, the area was once a large iron and copper producing location, apparently the shoreline was full of slag from that activity. During 20th century war time the mountain of slag was recovered and processed using modern technology, claiming an additional 40% of the precious metals. Consider visiting this area, it is simply amazing!

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Wanting to relax and watch the sunset we headed back to San Vincenzo. We walked north up the marina's promenade enjoying the colorful sunset and cool coastal breeze. We got to the end where the street turns into a residential section, here we struck up conversation with a nice gentleman from Turin who was also watching the sun set. His English was very good, he said he spent 7 years in Kansas working in agriculture. He also said he was enjoying speaking English with us and invited us to his family home to have a drink...I've said this before, we would typically not follow strangers in our neck of the woods! His lovely home was just a block away. He offered drink choices and we chose his homemade Genepi, we enjoyed this very much. His label has a cabin on it and we learned it was his family cabin in Aosta Valley, we told him we had a cabin in West Virginia but no Genepi just "Moonshine" ha! Genepi seems to be a very popular "homebrew" in Northern Italy/France, not sure if I can get the ingredients to make it in Virginia? .

Long story short... Meeting people like Rene' is one of my favorite parts of travel! Majority of people engage in a minute of small talk and that's fine, people are busy and I can be that guy. I'm glad we were not pressed for time or rushing to get to dinner, meeting and talking with Renato, aka Rene', was a highlight! He is a very nice, generous and interesting man.

Walking to the apartment we grabbed an easy pizza so we could get our luggage in order, heading to Rapallo in the morning!...but would we choose to stop in a town that rhymes with pizza? to be continued!

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He offered drink choices and we chose his homemade Genepi, we enjoyed this very much. His label has a cabin on it and we learned it was his family cabin in Aosta Valley, we told him we had a cabin in West Virginia but no Genepi just "Moonshine" ha! Genepi seems to be a very popular "homebrew" in Northern Italy/France, not sure if I can get the ingredients to make it in Virginia?
Thanks for the lovely report and photos BEERMAN. I enjoyed reading about your encounter with Renato - another example of many of Italian hospitality to strangers.

A bit about Genepi :
It is my favorite digestivo when we are in Piemonte, and I never go back home without two bottles. The ingredient is one, or a mix of, species of the Artemisia plant, basically types of wormwood or mugwort in common English language. There are quite a few species of these in the mountains of northwest Italy that are suitable for the production of the genepi liqueur (of course Artemisia genepi is one of them), but there are some that are not considered suitable. Of these latter, Artemisia absinthium is the one that the famous absinthe drink is made of, for example.
Theoretically you could prepare the Genepi drink yourself, either by finding local varieties of Artemisia in North America that would give the same flavor, or by just bringing back a packet of dried genepi plants from Italy - I suppose they're sold there. The Genepi liquer produced in Piemonte is either sourced from Artemisia plants in the wild, or similar plants that are cultivated.
Another option for you would be to try a local American brand - a while ago I learned that there is a distiller in the States that has concocted a Genepi drink :

In the photo is one that I first got to know in 2008, from a distiller high in the mountains to the west of Cuneo. He grows the plants biodynamically, and I met him at the Slow Food Salone del Gusto event the same year.

Our first experience was in Annecy France, it was the restaurants own infused recipe, very good. Thanks for info, I'll put the feelers out to try to acquire some dried Artemesia plants to try myself!

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