The wild boar wanted us gone, out of its territory, snorting and huffing aggressively. It had been stalking us for some time now, and we were uncomfortable with his attentions to say the least.
We had come across a herd about 20 minutes earlier. Walking along the secluded forest path on the side of a small valley, we were chatting about the ruins of the water mills which had once lined this steep little valley, and appreciating the downward slope.
We suddenly heard a noise in the bushes. They were black, their coats glistened and their backs humped and ugly, as if they had walked fresh from the pages of an Asterix book, in a forest that had no doubt stood since Roman times. Most of them ran off, but some of the adults had stayed, watching us. We realised why when we saw the two piglets scamper up the opposite slope, away to safety. The piglets’ coats were still light brown and spotted, well camouflaged in the autumn forest colours, and they soon disappeared into the undergrowth. The adults followed them, but one waited, largely hidden in the dense bush, though we could see his eyes and make out his black shape. We were on the other side of the valley, but it was very narrow, and we were only 5-6 metres away. My friend was prepared to walk on happily, but I recalled all the news reports I’d heard about hunters being gored by cornered boar. This one wasn’t cornered, but our path went past him, and he was protecting young. I had grown up around animals, and knew that they could be dangerous. I remembered my father’s advice. Make a lot of noise around most wild animals and they will run. We made some noise, and he backed off, watching us pass. (Later, relating the story to the owner of our pensione, he asked “were you scared?” My friend declared, “she was” and pointed at me. Friends!)
We breathed a sigh of relief, and continued walking. But a while later we heard him again. He was tracking us, closer now, he was only metres away, although on the opposite slope. Snorting loudly. Telling us to go. Our path wound down to the bottom of the narrow valley, crossing the tiny stream onto the boar’s side of the hill. That wasn’t good. We picked up some pointy sticks. They wouldn’t protect us if a large boar charged, but they gave us some degree of comfort.
But finally, for the first time, we saw him clearly. Aggressive, but the lack of any obvious, large tusks meant we could relax. This little piggy wasn’t going to gore us. We walked onwards, reaching the end of the track only a hundred yards or so from the road and the Mediterranean.
Our encounter with the wild boar occurred on one of the many walks to be taken on the Portofino peninsula. After exploring this beautiful and famous little harbour and the nearby Castle Brown and lighthouse, shopping for Christmas presents in one of the charming boutiques, and enjoying a cappuccino in a waterfront bar, we set off on a walk for a couple of hours.
It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. We frequently had to open and close garden gates, to keep out the wild boar or cinghale, as the notices said. We only realised the significance of these after meeting our wild friends. At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives which had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.
The walk back to Santa Margherita di Liguria, where we were staying, followed the coast, or for those with sore feet (like me), there was a bus for only one euro. But the best view of the coast was from the ferry which ran to and from Portofino. Only five euros one way, we had stunning views of the towns and stunning villas perched on the rocky hills rising out of the blue Mediterranean. It was easy to picture James Bond or some glamorous actor from the ‘60s (or more latterly perhaps, Richard Hammond of Top Gear) racing their Ferraris around the narrow, winding road.
Santa Margherita is a small but very beautiful town on the coast, with a small marina. The buildings are exquisite, decorated in detail.
In late October, tourist season is largely over, and we felt as if we had the town and the locals to ourselves. Our hosts at the pensione recommended some of their favourite restaurants, and each night we enjoyed a new favourite; delicious seafood risotto, Mediterranean grilled vegetables, or the most memorable spicy fish ravioli, which Romeo at the guesthouse had practically drooled over as he rang for our reservation.
On our first evening we discovered by chance a local wine bar, filled with locals sipping on local wines and snacks. It looked so inviting that we looked at each other, and went in. We ordered one of the specials off their blackboard. A large glass of Sardinian Vermontino, crisp and delicious, was accompanied by some warm bruschetta, olives and local, crumbly cheese, for the grand total of 6 euros each. Here we encountered an Italian bore of a different variety, also with a long black coat of hair. But this one, attracted perhaps by the fact that we were two women travelling alone, appeared to think it was still the 1970s and could have passed for Elvis, though he was called Roberto. However he was less threatening and better able to take a hint than the boars we met earlier that day, and after a pleasant conversation left us alone.
Santa Margherita is about midway between Genova and the Cinque Terre, five minutes drive from Portofino, and a perfect base for exploring Liguria for just a few days if time is limited or as long as a week, especially if you enjoy walking. We headed to the Cinque Terre the day after our boar/bore encounters, and the following day made a trip to Genova (Genoa). Both train trips take only about an hour, leave regularly, and cost about seven euros per person for a return trip, and both destinations are worthy of a visit. Much has already been written about walking between the five villages of the Cinque Terre, and we too are now among the many converts.
We left Liguria convinced that one day we would return with our respective families, knowing there was much more exploration to do in this region. October would be an ideal time to visit, as the weather was mild (welcome after climbing countless steps either on the Portofino peninsula or on the Cinque Terre trails) but still pleasant enough to eat lunch or enjoy a drink outside, whilst recovering your energy for the next two-hour-or-more hike. Next time though I would take better footwear for walking, and we would watch out for Italian boars or bores, whatever the spelling.