Today, my husband and I celebrate a ridiculous number of years in each other’s lives. So it seemed appropriate that I opine on our special place. But I’m not telling you where it is. Because I don’t want more people to go there. Think of it as a Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego-type mystery. That would be fun, right?
We first went there together in 1999, though Jim had been there with his family as a child. It was an impromptu addition to our 10-week trip through Europe (see, a hint) and we only had four days. four jam-packed days. But four days was enough for us to fall in love. Hard. Maybe more with the place than with each other at that point in time.
We returned the following year for nine days.
And again in 2005 for another nine days.
And again in 2011 for another nine days.
Sadly, we are currently experiencing the longest drought between visits, but that diminishes our ardor not one bit. We are not frequent returners to places (so many places, so few vacation days), but this is a place to which we will return for the rest of our lives. We got fake married here. (By way of explanation, we originally wanted to have a very small wedding here, just immediate family and a couple of friends, but no one seemed really enthused by this idea – something I am trying not to be bitter about as I prepare to go to my brother’s destination wedding in Tuscany. In July.)
As of the 2011 trip, we reached a milestone: we have driven down every major road (not individual streets) in the place. Every. One.
So what keeps us coming back. As I sat down to write this, I realized many of the reasons may be ineffable, personal, sentimental. So I’ll start with the things that may make sense to other people:
1. Driving excitement. We’ve done it in a car without power steering. On one-lane roads on cliffs without guardrails and with buses approaching in the other direction. This is a place where you honk well before a turn. It’s exhilarating and beautiful. It’s also pretty much the only way to get around. You could hike or bike, but don’t think about public transport. And apparently the hiking could be better. We sent Jim’s sister there for a long hike and she said it was overcrowded and people were not being excellent stewards of the environment. Which is kind of a shame. Do better, hikers.
2. Hiking. And biking. And caving. And sailing. And diving. And surfing. And. Do you like being outdoors? We’ve got your outdoors right here. While not a sportsman’s paradise, there are so many options of outdoor things to do that you would be hard pressed to do all of them in a single trip. And if you like lower-case-o outdoors instead of OUTDOORS, how about a 4 mile walk to a deserted beach that is only accessible via this trail or by boat?
3. Water. There’s a lot of water and pretty much all of it is stunning. While there are big, popular beaches, we’ve never really enjoyed them (sadly one of our rundown fun beaches transformed between 2005 and 2011 and is now a popular beach. Sad.), but that’s ok because down nearly every sea-pointing road, there’s a beach. Often with 2 other people on it.
Yes, there’s no one to bring you a drink with an umbrella in it, but there’s also no one trying to sell you trinkets and no one blasting music and it’s just you and these several other people enjoying the hell out of a gorgeous beach. It’s pretty much what we want out of our beaches full stop.
4. Shit that’s just pretty and pretty in different ways. Have you noticed the diversity of landscape you’ve seen thus far? This place is a microclimate haven. You can get from the highest mountain (elevation is 2700 meters) in the alpine region, to the beach in less than an hour. It’s temperate enough to grow wine, foresty enough to support hunters, and Californian enough to grow citrus and stone fruit. Its cliffs are dramatic and it supports several different kinds: limestone, red porphyry, granite. Semi-wild pigs hang out on the road. They enjoy pastry. I enjoy them braised.
5. It’s wild, but not so wild that you feel stranded. There is not a ton of development, but there’s enough of an infrastructure that you’ll always find a restaurant, a gas station, a place to sleep. It’s main economy runs on tourism, but it’s the kind of tourism you wish more places would adopt: responsible tourism. While we haven’t been there in 8 years, we witnessed, in the preceding 12 years, very little in the way of irresponsible expansion. Many of the same restaurants we ate in managed to survive throughout the years, and while some luxury properties cropped up, they either chose to, or were zoned to, blend into the landscape, not dominate it.
6. The food isn’t mind-blowing, but you learn to enjoy the simple pleasures. Like local salami, bread, and some fruit (and some wine). This is not a culinary destination and, to be honest, the majority of restaurants we’ve tried over the years have been decidedly average. On the plus side, we’ve found several that are excellent and that seem to stay in business. And for the rest – well nothing says goopy romance more than a picnic on top of a cliff.
7. The people are charmingly spiky. We’ve met awesome people here, but they’re awesome in the peeling an onion kind of way: you have to make the effort. We’ve saved the bottle of champagne we were gifted by the couple we hitchhiked with to get to our fake marriage location (only authorized vehicles allowed); we think of the group of 4 strangers who stood us drinks just because every time we nip into the rum they introduced us to which has become a house staple; I fondly remember the gruff winemaker who became suddenly animated when I asked if I could take his picture and then proceeded to ham it up. If you don’t want to interact, the locals will happily ignore you, but if you show interest in what they do and where they live, you’ll be rewarded with kindness and, quite often, a drink.
But for the rest, it’s something I feel inside of myself. I want my ashes scattered from this point, high atop a cliff, where we pledged ourselves to one another. And I’m not that kind of person. When I close my eyes and think of being transported somewhere, it’s here that my thoughts take me.
And that’s why I’m sorry, but I don’t want you to go there and muck it all up.