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Toward the Healing Mountain Spring of Garessio in Piemonte, Italy

We decided to try the mountains next. Enough of the seaside, the Riviera seaside, as lovely as it could be. Though it did prove to be very crowded on the French side, back west. We would now head for Garessio, up in Piemonte.

The map showed it, but the numbering on the map was not very distinct, especially as to the mileage/kilometerage, and the road/route numeros. We’d ask the woman at the reception desk as we checked out of the di Malta hotel.

The lovely Manuela, with her name painted in silver, on a brown rock, this sitting on the counter to identify her, whips out the orange Imperia map, draws a line to the Oneglia side of town to the east, and draws some lines around: Via Garessio. There actually is a street named Via Garessio, via which you would get going to Garessio, way up in the hills about an hour distant was what Manuela constantly predicted. That looked pretty easy. So we drove over the Torrente Imperio, which is a bit of a dried up river bed in late March 2006, found Via Alfredo Nobel, and took that to Via Garessio. And after turning north, stop-and-going through the crowded beginning of the street by the Museum of Olive Oil, eventually we passed out of town.

Climbing up the hills, and all the terraced land, and the greenhouses thereon, houses became less concentrated, hill towns could be seen perched atop more isolated pieces of topography, the road began to twist and turn.

The thing that attracted us toward Garessio was the description of the place as a health resort, with a thermal spring that might have “miraculous powers and that’s what brings some tourists to this pretty little town….the cure.” A castle, the Castello di Casotto, was the summer palazzo of the royal House of Savoy. So it was worded on a page we printed off the internet before we zoomed on our jet to pernts east [actually the website is].

With Brenda having health issues, this was a divertissimo we hoped would be extremely beneficial and worthwhile. By the time we reached Ponte di Nava, it was cold. Snow back on the taller peaks behind the ones we were driving through. People putting tires on some of their roofs; why, we still have not figured out. Some old men hung out at the bar, restaurant, store where the road curved right through town, probably longing to talk to someone from elsewhere, we expected. It was about midday, the rest of the town was quite empty. The river was parallel to the road that apparently followed it by design. We zipped through Ormea. Bicyclists in groups, all dressed in their nylon colorful gear were struggling up momentous hills – – and where were they going anyway? Would they keep going one way, and fly or take a train back from their goal locale? Or would they return down these dangerous narrow roads where sometimes there was room for but one vehicle, no white or yellow line in the middle of the asphalt?

Before we knew it, there we were in Garessio. A lovely town in full midday sunlight. But not much going on. Ski season was finished. The only snow visible was in the shade, in gulleys, down by the icy running waters that coursed down from higher elevations. We saw a sign for information, so went to a building by one of the older churches in town. Three young women tried to help us, not speaking much English, and not much more French. But we did all right communicating. Finding out it was in between times for the town. Most of the hotels were closed. The “spring” had its water being bottled in a plant where tour buses brought tourists to parade through it. Twerent much up here, in other words. The ladies did recommend a few places to go, including one restaurant called “Da Beppe,” which we should call to see if they would serve us, or be opened for service. And then there was the Castello, but it was over 20 kilometers away actually – – I didn’t feel like doing that driving, hungry, still unsettled as where to stay.

We drove toward a hotel, and Brenda saw a black face scrunched against a window pane in the lobby. But the establishment was closed. The woman within was all alone, and was somehow from Nigeria. She spoke English, and probably Yoruba. But it was over before we realized it. Brenda did get a free visit to the loo in a cold empty hotel, and advice to try another hotel up the road.

That one showed us a tiny freezing room with the two beds pushed together. But, it had little appeal. We decided to get some lunch, and the female host/owner said OK. This did not please the waitress, who Brenda got the vibe did not want to serve us, and especially a black person. Racism detected, even in mountain Italy. Marinaraed fettuchini and a supersized iceberg lettuce salad did quench the appetite. The waitress continued to be huffy, we were the only customers in the dining room for a late lunch at about 2:30 or so. I did leave her a few euros tip. And then we decided to see the borgo medieval of Garessio. We drove there and walked around, perceiving a neighborhood in deep retreat.

It seems much of Italy, and Europe in general, are out to preserve every last building, if possible. But Garessio’s old section is crumbling terribly. Too many houses are just rotting into themselves. And this hurts the ones that are being renovated, and stuck right next to them, walls being shared. I walked as far as I could to the top of the borgo, but then I heard the dogs out back of the protective wall and I decided to run on down to the flats and the Porto Royal where one enters. The wind was whistling, the light was just getting blocked by the mountains as the sun sank lower in the west. It was time to find someplace to stay.

We remembered a place toward Ormea, or was it Ponte di Nava? that was a ristorante and hotel, and eventually we found it. After visiting a store in Ponte di Nava that had the biggest baskets of packaged dried mushrooms we have ever seen, buying only some water, we drove further south along the river, parked our car, looked at a couple of rooms, and said OK. The woman/proprietor of the San Carlo was the name of the place, it turned out, told us she had good food.

Off season. We told her we’d think about it. After lugging our suitcases up to our room, checking out the wind on the balcony, and the snowy mountaintops from another perspective, we seriously considered Da Beppe. Recommended in the Michelin – Gambero Rosso guide, this probably WAS the best restaurant up here in these mountains.

But when we called all we got was a busy signal, which we figured meant our room’s phone was not turned on to make calls to the world outside the San Carlo establishment. So, we dialed the desk and asked our gracious hostess to call the number we gave her for Da Beppe: 0174 – 399924. But, nope, nobody there. It must be closed tonight, she tells us, manning the operator’s garb. I give in, and say, OK, dinner here. How about 8:15. She expects us then.

When we go down, just one other person is present eating. We order a few things, especially the fish, which the proprietor and family are supposedly very proud of. They stock fish right there, using the river water, and holding tanks. The daughter served us, very nicely. But the food stunk. Apparently the mother was the chef, and made homemade pasta, but the mushroom ting she concocted as a sort of accompanying sauce was sooooooooooo salty it was hard to eat. The soup was pretty good, but also overly salty. And the fish. Had to be refused. A huge piece filleted open. But it smelled of ammonia, and you know what that means. Plus, it was served a la nothing, or, rien. The best thing was the fruity tarty pie au chantilly. That was terrific. [“Au chantilly” means with whipped cream, which in Europe is not to be worried about, as the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone injected into their milk cows is outlawed, as it is in all the industrialized world – except for Mexico, USA and Brazil.]

Anyway, not eating the fish upset the family mui baddo. Alas, did mama really ring up Da Beppe? How was she such a mallo mondo cook? How cold would the room be tonight??

Sleep and love cure many ills.

When we awakened in the morning, we were ready to get back to the seaside. On the way down, we stopped in Ponte di Nava, and there was Da Beppe, open at 9:30 in the morning!!! Disappointment. Though they COULD have been closed the night before. . . . We bought some pears from an older woman in a small shop, and wheeled outta town. We decided to try a different way down to see more of Liguria’s charm, arriving further along the coast to the northeast. Albenga was our target town.

On the way, we stopped in a patisserie that had some nice breads and pastries. And a tray of what turned out to be pineapple and raisin and olive kine stuff atop pizza sorta base. Pretty good, actually. Ever eat that kind of pizza?? No cheese to jam up yer arteries either.

Eventually we terminated our descent in Albenga, but the town was jammed, and quite dusty and crowded – – the operative word, too often, we were finding, when you blopped down closer to the Mediterranean. We parked in front of a hospital, and wandered into Albenga’s borgo medieval. But it was tore up. Streets were being re-layed with new stone. It was better than Garessio’s borgo, but flat and not very enticing, located in the middle of town with its back to the river. We stayed maybe 45 minutes, walking through it, checking out the church, and some stores. But it was definitely no Saint Paul da Vence, or Imperia.

Winding around some points and capes, and towns like Diano Marina, we decided to finally stop our vehicle in Cervo. Maybe we would stay there. Or, if not, there was the hotel on the water with the waves out the window, about 10 kilometers down the road further in good old Imperia.

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