You’ve heard of the French Riviera. But have you heard of the Italian Riviera?
I recommend it. I had seen pictures of the Cinque Terre (“the Five Lands”), but pictures alone are just that. They can create a false image, a mirage. But in this case, pictures were just the beginning. Cinque Terre is much more beautiful than I had imagined.
The five villages of the Cinque Terre are scattered along a coastline approximately eleven miles long. Each village is separated from the others by high cliffs that once impeded travel by anything but boat. Last year, a freak rainstorm hit the Cinque Terre, flooding the towns with upwards of twenty-two inches of rain. Two of the five towns, Monterosso and Vernazza, were virtually buried, and the townspeople were stranded, without water or electricity. Today, you can barely tell anything happened—in fact, I did not learn of the flooding until after the fact.
We started in Manarola and walked to Corniglia in the suffocating heat. But at least there was an ocean breeze as we climbed the 382 steps to arrive in Corniglia.
Along the way, we had some great views
In Corniglia, we meandered through the streets, stopping to glance over the local products, prodotti tipici.
After pausing just long enough to realize we were hungry, we set off for the restaurant, where we had been promised a delicious local lunch—octopus was on the menu, much to Mario’s chagrin! The restaurant was perched on a cliff with a perfect view of the blue Mediterranean. Indeed, there was much seafood. I tried it all, even though I tend to stick to shrimp for my seafood choices. I actually enjoyed one of the octopus dishes, but was unpleasantly surprised by a dead bee on my plate, which effectively took away any appetite I had. I settled for the second course, a simple but elegant combination of fresh pasta and pesto. I can’t say no to pesto!
After our carbo-loading session, it was time for the big hike to Vernazza. The hike took us along a steep path, and we climbed up high through terraced olive groves toward Vernazza, stopping periodically to take pictures and exclaim, “¡Dios mío! ¡Qué calor!” like all good Spaniards do.
In Vernazza, we sat along the pier (which you can see to the right of the village) and watched the waves crash against the rocks. We weren’t exactly cool, but close enough.
After a brief rest, we hopped on a train to Monterosso, where Mario took a dip in the sea, and I sampled the local white wine in a café nearby. Different strokes for different folks.
After our relaxation sessions, we boarded a boat to Riomaggiore, where the famous Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) begins. According to Smithsonian Magazine, until the twentieth century, the villagers in the Cinque Terre were quite isolated and very rarely married outside their own village. When a trail was made between Riomaggiore and Manarola, villagers saw an opportunity, even though there were frequent landslides that closed down the trail. “
After World War II, the trail was reopened, and became established as a lovers’ meeting point for boys and girls from the two towns.
As you travel along the pathway, you’ll see many padlocks, which lovers would close together, thus symbolizing their eternal nature of their love. Or so they say. I just think it’s a lovely spot to dar un paseo, if you will.
And it doesn’t hurt to have your favorite person with you either.