We flew into Milan, rented a car and drove straight to our first destination, Santa Margherita. Located just east of Portofino, Santa Margherita is one of the most picturesque towns along the Golfo del Tigullio on the stretch of the Italian Riviera known as the Riviera di Levante.
We had been to Liguria once before to stay in Camogli, a smaller, less-traveled village west of Portofino. Santa Margherita is bigger than Camogli, with more business and tourists, fancier shopping, and the constant zip and buzz of cars and scooters along the coast road (Camogli has only a pedestrian road along the water, so it is much quieter).
Our plane arrived early in Milan in the wee hours of the morning, and by the time we hit the Autostrade with our rental car, I was bleary-eyed and dead tired. But, the incredible ride to Liguria, where the road drills westward tunnel by tunnel through the hilly landscape, requires alertness, and Italian drivers will not let up for any slow moving traffic. To get through the drive, we stopped off along the way at an Autogrill for some roadside refreshment. I am a huge fan of the Autogrill, which truly puts to shame those Roy Rogers-anchored rest stops (excuse me, "Travel Plazas") on the New York State Thruway. Not only can you find panini grilled to order and an espresso bar, but even liquor (not that I wanted any) and pitcher-size containers of Nutella (no joke).
Ordering an espresso and pastry was an early test of my barely functioning ability to order in Italian, and it was rough, but I awkwardly made my way through the custom of ordering at the counter, receiving a receipt, then heading to the stand-up bar with my brioche (turned out to be a croissant, or cornetto, actually), and ordering my caffe. With that small jolt of caffeine in me, we returned to the road.
Just as I began to fear that I was actually going to succumb to the fatigue and jet lag, we finally arrived at the coast. After driving in the shadows of so many dark tunnels, we finally emerged to see the stunning blue water before us. Immediately, the vision of sun-drenched days on the beach, ice cold caffe shakerato, insalata di mare, and trofie, lasagne, and trenette with pesto pushed us forward for the final leg towards our destination.