The trip

You may have realized that you didn't receive a newsletter last month; this wasn't an oversight on our part, but we thought to highlight events when Fulvio and I caught up with and joined our good friend Morten Lie (and fellow explorers) in his 1930 Ford model A for a trip from Portofino to Vagli.

Where possible we have maintained the regular sections but added a twist. (Meet Your Owners, Photo Competition, Dina's Recipe and Tip of The Month)

You may remember Morton in the Meet Your Owner section in last June's Newsletter (click here) and again in the Tip of The Month section in January's Newsletter (click here) when Fulvio and I, accompanied by our wives, met up in Oslo and we later visited them in Harahorn before leaving to meet our dear friends Harald and Else in Bergen on the west coast of Norway.

In the short time that we've known Morten and Marit, they have visited Vagli several times with friends and family and over that time we have enjoyed hikes, winetasting events, evenings out in Cortona and many dinners in the Hamlet's Trattoria and as one would expect during that time genuine friendships have been formed.

The first time we met Morten he said he dreamed of bringing his beloved 1930 Ford from Norway to Tuscany and to find a home in this beautiful region, where he could use it when he was here.

Morten reminded Fulvio and I of this dream, when we were leaving Portofino for Vagli under sunny clear blue skies.

But first a little about our other Norwegian travelling companions:

Jon Gangdal: is a Norwegian journalist, communications consultant, writer and mountaineer. He has worked as a journalist and as Chief of The Communication Department at Oslo Police for three years and has published numerous books and biographies and has been with many climbing expeditions, including several of the world's highest mountains, summiting Mount Everest in 2005.

Johan Varnø: works for IBM and lived for 10 years in San Francisco with his wife and two children. They returned to Norway several years ago.

We hope you enjoy our time in a lifetime trip.

Fulvio and I drove to Portofino in preparation to meet our fellow explorers the following day; lunch and dinner reservations were made and we strolled to Portofino's lighthouse, walking past Giorgio Armani and Dolce and Gabbana's humble Ligurian retreats.

We returned to meet Marit and some of her girlfriends, who had been hiking in the Cinque Terre for few days, in Portofino's piazza enjoying prosecco in preparation for the "Arrival".

Marit had kept Morten's arrival as a surprise and in this vein we pretended to bump into Marit as a coincidence. Fulvio received a call from Morten and we all left for the surprise. We cannot put into words the emotions we all felt as we saw Morten, Jon and Johan with soft top down, drive around the final tight corner leading to Portofino and park his trusted Ford. The memory of the many smiles looking on will live with us for years to come.

Once Morten, Jon and Johan had check in at the beautiful boutique Eight Hotels (click here) we all made our way to the Taverna del Marinaio right on the port for a beautifully prepared lunch of various antipasti (marinated sardines, fish salad, marinated scampi, hot tomato mussels, fried fish dishes and, as a main dish, a large orata cooked in the oven with capers, olives and white wine on a bed of finely sliced potatoes - Ligurian style. Everything accompanied by a glass or two …or three or four…of chilled Cinque terre white wine.

After this leisurely lunch, we suggested a boat excursion to the bay that houses the San Fruttuoso Abbey.
This was another fun and memorable part of the day and offered us all numerous photo opportunities.

The Abbey of San Fruttuoso of Capodimonte faces this luminous sea. Built by Greek monks in the 10th century, it was rebuilt after one hundred years and renovated over and over until the 16th century. Many famous families from Doria are buried in the Abbey. During the summer, the Abbey hosts a very interesting Music Festival, whose concerts take place in the medieval cloister.

The Abbey and the village are part of Portofino's Regional Nature Park, and can be reached by descending a steep track from the mountain above (two hours from Portofino) or arriving from the sea. The profile of the Abbey, discovered from the open water, recalls once more Montale's verses: "Here was the dreamed-of homeland rising from the waves. / Emerging from confusion, here was clarity. / The exile was re-entering his uncorrupted country."

All too soon we were being called to return to the ferry for our 15 minute trip back to Portofino.

The days visitors had left in the meantime and we virtually had the place to ourselves, where we enjoyed an aperitivo at the Jolly bar.

We made our way to Gian's restaurant Concordia, where Fulvio had asked Stefano, the chef, to prepare a very particular fish and vegetable dish of Ligurian cuisine, for us: Il cappon magro (for which we include recipe below).

Cappon Magro - Typical ancient Ligurian seafood dish


Vegetables: Salsify, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, beetroot, artichoke, green beans, celery etc... depending on the season.
Fish: every variety of fish (i.e. cod, hake, red fish, gurnards etc), lobster and shrimps cooked over coals.
Green Sauce: 5 anchovies in salt. 100 gr of capers, 2 boiled egg yolks. 200 gr of parsley, 2 slices of bread (no crusts) slightly soaked in red wine vinegar. 5 - 6 large Galletti a type of Ligurian cruton.  


1 Boil the vegetables separately apart from the beetroot and dress with olive oil and salt.
2 Simmer the fish (except the shrimps) separately until cooked and dress with olive oil and salt.
3 Chop the raw beetroot and dress it with olive oil and salt.
4 Soak the galletti in water and vinegar to soften them.
5 Take an oven dish and start placing the ingredients in layers:
- Base: the galletti
- 1st layer: the potatoes and the beetroot. Cover with green sauce.
- 2nd layer: fish (apart from lobster and shrimps). Cover the second layer with green sauce.
- 3rd layer: vegetables again. Continue placing the ingredients in layers alternating vegetables and fish and covering every layer with the green sauce.
- The final layer is to be topped with boiled lobster and shrimps cooked on a spit. If you want you can add some oysters, anchovies in salt and boiled eggs.

We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast in Portofino's piazza marveled as the town prepared for another busy day of visitors and just before 10 o'clock Morten and Johan arrived in Morten's 1930 Ford, to be greeted by the curious and many smiles. After a number of photos from various points in the port, we packed and strapped our overnight items on our trusty steed and left for Levanto and lunch in Vernazza.

Fulvio and I were overwhelmed by the amount of friendly waves and big smiles we received as we drove past pedestrians and drivers blowing their horns and waving out of their windows as they overtook us.

From comfortable positions on our 90 year old leather seats and with the soft top down we marveled at the classic architecture as we drove along the Ligurian coast, including the famous track of the Bracco pass, which witnessed, for so many times, the crossings of the Giro d'Italia riders. We were continually pointing at the beautiful villas with their pastel colored facades. We enjoyed the unexpectedly warm sunshine and before we knew it we had arrived at Levanto train station for our next excursion and lunch in Vernazza.

Just a 10 minute train ride and the second stop that connects the Cinque Terre to Lenanto, the first being Monterosso, you arrive at, or perhaps I should say, in Vernazza. A dozen steps from the train station and we walk along the small cobbled street to the port with its clothes shops, bars, café's and too many souvenir shops on either side. Vernazza recovered almost completely from the terrible storm and subsequent series of earth slides that almost submerged the small village two years ago. The pictures that are displayed around to remind of those days, are really scary and it's amazing the amount of work that has been done to make it come back to normal life.

Table reservations were made in advance at Gianni Franci and before you could reply to frizzante or naturale, another scrumptious meal was being served. We were served sardines prepared in various ways, large juicy prawns and mouthwatering stuffed mussels, the traditional recipe of Vernazza, together with other freshly prepared fish dishes, accompanied with chilled white wine and we couldn't leave without trying the sweet desert wine Sciacchetrá from Cinque Terre accompanied with warm homemade almond biscuits.

After the most splendid lunch and with a little time to on our hands before our train back to Levanto, we visited the Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia. The church was constructed in 1318 in Ligurian gothic style by the Maestri Antelami; Santa Margherita d'Antiochia was built on a pre-existing XI century building. It was built on a rock in front of a marvelous sea, with an impressive 40 meter belfry adorned by a pointed shape dome. It has three aisles and was widened in the XVI and XVII century.

The next stage was to be a memorable drive to Lucca via Carrara, home of the famous Carrara marble. The drive "up" from Levanto was phenomenal thanks to the ever changing scenery, steepness of the climb and just how much Morten had to navigate a 1930 car, and obviously with no power steering, with 5 men and luggage around hairpin bends whilst being vigilant of oncoming "Italian" traffic! We drove up to Montale the birthplace of Eugenio Montale one of Italy's most famous modern day poets. All around, the dense, dark and steep woods are dotted by an endless number of small, colorful villages and hamlets. Just amazing.

Our aim was to drive through the Magra valley

to Carrara and the through the mountains to Lucca via Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, but the mountain road was closed so we opted for an alternative route. The day's trip and on board camaraderie were something dreams are made of; at one point it got quite windy and we had to stop more than once for Fulvio to recover his hat…

We arrived in Lucca just after dusk and drove through the city to our hotel, unpacked, parked the car and enjoyed a hearty meal in an almost deserted Piazza San Martino, being overlooked by a very serious (and conscious of his talent) Giacomo Puccini. The following morning we enjoyed a light breakfast overlooking the Duomo (cathedral). The original structure, the great apse with its tall columnar arcades and the fine campanile remain. The nave and transepts of the cathedral were rebuilt in the Gothic style in the 14th century, while the west front was begun in 1204 by Guido Bigarelli of Como, and consists of a vast portico of three magnificent arches, and above them three ranges of open galleries adorned with sculptures.

We checked out and walked through quiet streets of Lucca to the car and after we found a local garage where the car could be lifted in order for Morten to tightened the brakes (gulp) and check liquids, we left for San Gimignano.

The scenery was to die for and we couldn't help but stop along the way for several photo opportunities.

San Gimignano was so busy and there were no parking spaces so we decided to lunch nearby where we had stunning views of San Gimignano and its numerous towers.

Now Vagli was beconing us or was it Dina's pizza… We headed towards Casole d'Elsa, past Royal Golf La Bagnaia and "up" and along the unpaved road past Grotti, through Radi and then on to Monteroni D'Arbia.

The 1930 Ford, our friend Morten and all of us were really feeling in "our" environment… nothing could have been more perfect than what we were experiencing. Once passed Monteroni, we were again on unpaved roads through and over the most spectacular lunar landscape of Crete Senesi to Rapolano Terme, stopping every so often to witness those moments with lots of photos.

And, finally, on to Vagli, the goal of our expedition, in time for a hero's welcome, lots of hugs and kisses and, obviously….aperitivo and pizza.

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