I spent the first week of September in the Cinque Terre (literally, the “Five Lands”) region of Italy located south of Genoa in the Liguria region. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Cinque Terra National Park is composed of coastline, cliffs, terraced hillsides and five coastal villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) that are connected by trails, trains and boats.
Having read the Lonely Planet and Le Routard guide books about the Cinque Terre, I decided to follow their suggestion and book a hotel (which I found on the hotels.com site) in the city of La Spezia. From here, I could take day trips by train, boat and on foot into the five villages. This turned out to be a great solution because not only was my hotel more modestly priced than in one of the villages, but La Spezia was easy to get to from the Pisa Airport, where my Easy Jet plane from Paris landed. From La Spezia I could also travel further south to the lovely town of Portovenere and also further north to Levanto, Santa Marguerita and Portofino.
I arrived at my hotel in La Spezia in the early afternoon on Sunday,
and from there took a boat to Portovenere, which I think is my favorite spot in the whole region. It is a village that lies at the end of a peninsula on the beautiful Gulf of Spezia (sometimes called Gulf of the Poets). In addition to visiting the old town and the stone church at the top of a promontory, I went for a swim in the cove from which Lord Byron is said to have swum across the gulf of La Spezia in 1822 to San Terenzo
to visit Shelley
. Wearing my mask and snorkel as I swam, I was able to see lots of little fish in the clear turgoise water.
The next day, I started out early in the morning by buying a 2-day pass (for 23 euros) to the Cinque Terra National Park, which also included any and all rides on the local train or on local buses. Then I took the train from the La Spezia train station to Vernazza, which turned out to be my second favorite village. After visiting the village and its harbor and taking lots of photos, I set out on the coastal path to the northernmost
village of the Cinque Terra, Monterossa. The hike was rocky and steep, and I again took lots of great photos from the high cliffs. I arrived in the old part of Monterossa and its stone beach about an hour and a half later. After a swim, I walked around this part of town and bought myself a piece of focaccia with spinach and ham for lunch. I then set out on another walk through the new part of Monterossa and up another hill where I found a great stone bench in the shade. Sitting down to read for a moment, I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, I realized my camera was gone. I stupidly hadn’t put it in my knap sack, but rather had it next to me on the bench, and someone must have taken it.
I was upset by what happened and decided to relax a bit by going for another swim. Monterossa’s “new town” has a lovely sandy beach and the water is fantastic. But, just my luck, something else happened. I got bitten by a jelly fish and got a huge welt on my right leg! The lifeguard put a
combination of bicarbonate soda and water and a hot stone on it, and told me to sit quietly for awhile. I did all of that and it finally stopped hurting, but I still have a huge red mark 10 days later. That evening, wishing to forget my two bad incidents of the day, I treated myself to a delicious grilled fish dinner, wine and dessert at a fun, typical restaurant near my hotel called La Nueva Spezia (which I highly recommend).
Getting up early the next morning, I started out by returning to Monterroso to declare the theft. That was quite an adventure. I did so at three places: the national carribinieri, the municipal police, and the Cinque Terra National Park office. No one had turned it in, but I left my cell phone number just in case. The carribinieri, who are like our French gendarmes, gave me a copy of my declaration with an official stamp on it, which I showed at the two other places. Then I bought a throw-away camera and took the train to Levanto, where I had a great swim on their sandy beach. No jelly fish around
this time. From there I took the train back to the lovely town of Vernazza, where I re-took some of the same photos I’d taken the day before. By this time it was about 2:15--the heat of the day, unfortunately. I decided to still do the 1 1/2 hr. walk from Vernazza to Corniglia. It was pretty hard-going. Still, I was ready to continue on foot from Corniglia to the next town, Manarola, but the path was closed because of landslides, so I took the train there, visited the town for an hour or so, and then left by train again for Riomaggiore, the village closest to La Spezia, where I was staying. I’d have liked to walk along the famous Via del Amore path between Manorala and Riomaggiore, but this path was also closed. My day ended at a table in La Spezia for an evening meal of spaghetti and salad, accompanied by a cold beer.
The next day, having by then visited all five of the Cinqua Terra villages, plus Levanto, La Spezia and Portovenere, I decided to head north by train to Santa Margherita and then go on foot to Portofino. It turned out
to be a 6 km walk from the train station to Portofino! The walk was picturesque, though, so I didn’t mind. After visiting Portofino, I took a boat to the San Fruttuoso monastery, an ancient abbey built by the Benedictines and now the property of a national conservation fund. I was expecting a quiet “retreat” from civilization, but the small beach and the premises were very crowded, so I only stayed an hour and then returned to La Spezia by boat.
I spent my last day in the Cinque Terra area back at Portovenere, swimming at Byron’s Grotto and reading on the rocks. Then the next morning I took an early train to Bologna to see my Italian friend Rosa, whom I met at Trinity College, Dublin quite a few years ago! We had a good time reminiscing and bringing each other up on our more recent news. Rosa lives in the historical center, and I was able to admire the medieval towers, the piazzas, the arcades and the university, which is said to be the oldest university in the world. After a day and night there, I returned to Pisa by train to catch my Easy
Jet flight back to Paris.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week in this beautiful part of Italy, despite the unfortunate loss (theft?) of my camera the second day. In the Cinque Terra, I liked that there’s a bit of everything for everybody. You can travel on foot, boat, or train. You can visit churches and museums and/or go swimming, boating or snorkeling in clear, blue water. Or you can just sit and stare at the spectacular landscapes. And you can enjoy the delicious seafood, wine and gelato (I had one every day as my afternoon “treat”.) Shopkeepers, hotel managers, and the people you encounter on the trails are smiling and friendly. In La Spezia, I was surprised to notice that in Italy, unlike in France, Italian drivers actually stop for you when you’re in a crosswalk. And I’d forgotten what a lovely language Italian is! Okay, Italians smoke too much and sometimes speak too loudly. The trails of the Cinque Terra do get crowded, and prices in the villages can be high. But the beauty of the land and the “joie de vivre” of the people in this part of Italy are something I won’t forget.
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