The view from on high at the Doria Park Hotel in Lerici, Italy, was simply stunning. This ancient town sits on the Gulf of La Spezia, also known as the “Gulf of Poets,” thanks to writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, who spent time here being inspired. Below, the plaza’s shops and restaurants bustled with activity as the late-afternoon sun gave the placid sea a trance-inducing golden hue. Gazing down at the horseshoe-shaped bay overlooking the boat-filled mooring field, I could see an armada of mostly locally built, rugged craft bobbing in rhythm. An admittedly certifiable boat nut, I needed to take a closer look.
I strolled down a winding walkway and onto the plaza, where the scent of salt air wafted across the promenade, leaving me invigorated and relaxed all at once. Several wooden sailing rigs were sleeping comfortably in a sea dotted with mooring balls. A few modern fiberglass runabouts stood out with shiny four-stroke outboards strapped to their transoms. Sailors who’d spent a sun-drenched day cruising around La Spezia had tied up and taken their dinghies ashore for a refreshing beverage and focaccia at one of the nearby cafes.
While I’d spent a great day on shipyard tours of some impressive Italian yachts expected to hit U.S. shores at this fall’s boats shows (stay tuned for more on that), I was still a little envious of those who’d spent their day at sea (note to self: next time, build in a day cruise around La Spezia). After walking about a mile and taking note of dozens of interesting vessels, I heard the sound of an engine. A traditionally styled, rounded-stern, mustard-colored wooden fishing boat was easing into the bay, barely wrinkling the sea’s surface.
The captain, sporting a well-worn cap with fringed brim, headed aft and dropped his nets. They slid off the stern as if trained to do so — traditionally, fish-boat sterns were rounded so as not to snag nets — and he deftly maneuvered his vessel in wide circles. Several others stopped to watch. Soon, he hauled his nets. Silver shimmered inside them. They were filled. His passion for being on the water beamed like a spotlight in his ear-to-ear grin.
I smiled. Everyone around me smiled. There’s something about being around the water that just makes life a little better.