Italy’s magnificent Cinque terre · 2014. 6. 24. · Cinque Terre. The region, located on ....
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Story and photos by Sarah Wesley Lemire
n The road winds and increasingly steepens with each pass through the mountains.
Surrounded by forest and greenery, you aren’t quite prepared when, upon making one last turn, the land literally drops away in front of you, revealing a wide expanse of indigo and Alps. Unfolding like a scene from a Spielberg film, you can almost hear the music swell as you behold the open vista of sea, sky and mountains that comprise the Italian
Riviera’s breathtaking Cinque Terre.
The region, located on Italy’s west coast, occu-pies a stretch of the Mediterranean known as the Ligurian Sea. The name “Cinque Terre” translates literally into “five lands” and repre-sents five small fishing villages that are colorful-ly melded into moun-tains overlooking the sea.
Founded sometime during the Dark Ages, the villages of Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Riomaggiore and
Monterosso al Mare were supposedly established by locals seeking a place to hide from plundering pirates. They have remained relatively untouched ever since and centuries later, stand like bright pastel sentries nestled precariously on the Italian coastline.
Because of their secluded and difficult to reach location, the Cinque Terre have only recently been accessible to tourists and local visi-tors alike, who now flock there regularly to soak in
the scenery and bask on sunlit beaches, especially during the summer months. Beyond their magnificent setting amongst the ends of the French Alps and Italy’s Apennine Mountains, there is a deep sense of Old World within the vil-lages, and each has its own distinctive charac-ter and personality.
The restriction on automobiles only fur-thers the feeling that you’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a place where modern conve-
nience and technology stand out like uninvited guests at a dinner party.
Strolling among resi-dents carrying their mar-ket bags and fishermen tying their lines, check-ing your smartphone feels like an affront; per-haps it’s best left in your pocket. The pace and atmosphere are better set by two local boys who pass the time playing a leisurely game of cards on a stairwell as hikers and visitors meander by.
It is the locals who define the picturesque
region and give it its character. Many fish or farm the land, as evi-denced by the terraced vineyards that yawn upward in an impressive, almost daunting display of rows.
Based on sheer height alone, it’s hard to imag-ine that the rugged ter-rain is capable of produc-ing anything, but grapes, olives and basil are grown in abundance throughout the area. Local farmers are able to reach the steep terrain by using an ingenious
wine train that trans-ports them to the highest regions.
And though tourists stream in and out of the small towns, day-to-day life continues for local residents who hang their laundry to dry on lines strung from metal patios; shop the small markets bearing fruit on the cor-ners; and fill the street cafes during their after-noon siesta to enjoy a cool drink or glass of locally made wine.
The combination of breathtaking views and
Italy’s magnificent Cinque terre The Cinque Terre Trek walkaboutflorence.com
Tourist information cinqueterre.it or liguriaguide.com
Ferry information navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it
1 At a street café, a dog slumbers while his owner enjoys an afternoon drink.
2 To pass the time on a hot summer day, two young boys in Corniglia play a game of cards.
3 Grapes are grown in abundance in terraced vineyards that stretch up into the mountains.
4 old-world charm makes the “five lands” a special place to visit.
local flavor make the Cinque Terre a uniquely special world destina-tion. Recognizing that, the Italian government designated the region as a national park in 1999 and its seashore was declared a protected marine park.
Thousands of visitors come each year to hike the footpaths carved into the craggy mountain-sides that connect the villages. However, prior to the 1920s, the ability to traverse between the towns was virtually non-existent due to their loca-tion and difficult terrain.
Inhabitants of each town remained isolated and only married and socialized within their own towns. In fact, they were so secluded that they had different dia-lects within the villages – and still do today.
But upon the con-struction of a train line designed to haul gun-powder from a nearby warehouse, a trail was fashioned between Riomaggiore and Manarola, allowing the
villagers to finally visit neighboring towns.
It wasn’t long before the young men and women of the two villag-es began to meet clan-destinely on the trail and leave evidence of their affection. The lover’s graffiti eventually led the trail to be coined the “Via dell’Amore,” or Lover’s Lane.
Today the Via dell’Amore is a popular walk for many visiting the area. Its significance is not lost on modern-day lovers, who come with initial-inscribed padlocks and leave them attached to metal railings and bridges. Once the padlock is secured, the key is thrown into the sea, for-ever ensuring their love and union.
While the Via dell’Amore is a fairly easy and paved trail to walk, many of the other trails between the villag-es are far more uneven and demanding. Thus, visitors who plan to spend the day hiking them should come well prepared.
Hiking shoes, a hat, cool clothing and several bottles of drinking water are highly recommended, depending on the time of year you visit. In the summer, the heat can be stifling and top out at well over 100 degrees, making any portion of the trails – and towns – uncomfortably hot.
One of the most chal-lenging hikes runs between Corniglia and Vernazza. A little less than two miles, it boasts nearly 1,000 steps (both up and down). As you weave in and out of the trees along the steep side of the mountain, cactus fruit plants offer up their colorful bounty for pass-ersby. Occasional hikers pick them off, peel them and enjoy their sweet fla-vor, despite the rules pro-hibiting it.
Though the hike is challenging and even grueling at times, the views make it worth-while. In one direction, the sea stretches into the horizon and in another, the mountains and vine-yards meet the sky.
Below, sailboats bob gently in the water and striped umbrellas line the beaches for miles.
A swim in the warm Mediterranean water is the perfect way to cool off after hiking through the mountains. Locals and tourists alike find solace among the waves, and children can often be found jumping off the small cliffs into the water. Others simply lie basking in the sun on any of the many rocks jutting out from the beaches into the sea.
After a swim, it’s time to relax and enjoy lunch or dinner at one of the many outdoor restaurants. Brightly colored umbrellas offer a wel-come respite from the blazing sun and, like most places in Italy, no one is in a hurry to do anything more than just savor the moment. Seafood and pesto dishes are often the spe-cialties since they are both native to the area, along with white wine made from local grapes.
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For those not particu-larly inclined to hike or swim, the Cinque Terre is also accessible by the La Spezia - Levanto rail, which connects all the towns by train. Travel time between the towns is roughly two or three minutes and with the exception of Corniglia, the stations are located in the center of each village.
To use the train sys-tem, visitors must pur-chase a “Cinque Terre Card” sold at the train stations and information kiosks. The price depends on the duration of your stay, and the card offers unlimited rides.
But perhaps the best way to see the towns is from the water. Two local ferry companies shuttle tourists from one village to the next, and the view of the towns from the sea borders on indescribable.
It’s only from the sea that the architectural genius and ingenuity of those first residents of the Cinque Terre is truly apparent. Rising out of the steep jagged rocks
and mountainous cliffs, the buildings seem almost like fake, Disneyesque cutouts, as though someone purposefully placed them there just to enhance the already astonishing scenery.
On a sunny, summer afternoon, the ferry ride transcends its role as simply a shuttle service and instead becomes part of the experience. The blue Mediterranean, the lush, breathtaking mountains and the warm breeze all serve to make just about any-one lose themselves in
what feels like a movie-magic moment.
Almost too good to be true, the Cinque Terre along the Ligurian coast-line is not to be missed while in Italy. To get to the region, visitors can take a train from many of the larger Italian cities to La Spezia, which is the largest city outside of the Cinque Terre. From there, the local train services the villages.
Another option is to take an organized tour. Walkabout, a tour com-pany out of Florence, offers the “Cinque Terre Trek,” a one-day tour that
departs from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence and brings visitors directly to the Cinque Terre. The tour takes guests along many of the popular hik-ing paths, including the famous Via dell’Amore and the challenging 90-minute crossing between Corniglia and Vernazza.
Whichever way you take, put visiting the extraordinary Cinque Terre at the top of your Bucket List. Its beauty and Old World charm will stay with you for a lifetime. HM
FAr leFT The village of Vernazza is perched high atop a cliff and boasts a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean.
leFT Along the Via dell’Amore, lovers leave padlocks and then toss the keys into the ocean symbolizing their everlasting love.