Montale near Levanto
our cute little hill village at the gateway to the Cinque Terre
Italy- who knew?
Well, the thousands of tourists who go there every year, but the gob-smacking beauty of the place caught us by surprise.
We knew about the Alps of course, but there are huge craggy mountains everywhere and we drove through many on the way to our first stop, the Cinque Terre, through tunnel after tunnel and over viaduct after viaduct, with steep valleys plunging below, sprinkled with hill villages and clusters of towns on the coast.
We branched off the motorway and followed one of the steep valleys to within sight of the mountains plummeting into the Mediterranean.
Later in the week we took a walk round the headland from our town to the start of the Cinque Terre and witnessed first hand the steepness of the terrain and grandeur of the scenery. It was a four hour walk... we took the train back.
I hadn’t planned on such an ambitious walk – the Cinque Terre translates as five villages, which perch on rugged coastline a few kms apart and are only directly connected by train or coastal walkways which had become a big tourist drawcard.
The shortest walk was only 30mins and
The road to Italy
tunnels and viaducts - proving they can still make impressive roads, local roads however are full of potholes
the longest about 90 minutes so I was looking forward to some leisurely walking in stunning scenery. But, you will have noticed my use of the past tense.
One of the walks has been closed since a landslide in 2010, but we’d checked the website and the others looked to be open and the weather was clear for the week.
However a group of Australian women had been literally knocked off the smallest and easiest walk in the previous week (no fatalities) by a rock fall, so when we turned up at the railway station bright and early, walking poles jauntily in hand to buy our rail-walking pass we were greeted with a sign that said all the walks were closed as a precaution.
We bought the train pass anyway (relieved the car was in the station car park so we could put our walking poles back and not look like dick-heads all day) and explored four of the five villages. In the end we realised we’d walked as much as we possibly could in one day without actually doing ‘the walks’ as the cobbled village streets are mostly at a 45 degree angle.
Cinque Terre coastal path
the closed walking route at Riomaggiore
be part mountain goat.
The walks appear to be closed indefinitely, but that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of this glorious little enclave of medieval village life.
We stayed in a tiny hill top village, surrounded by others so you can hear children yelling and smell food cooking in the neighbouring village. We were recommended a restaurant in the village on the other side of the valley where mama cooked local dishes.
You could've seen mama hanging her tea towels out of the window from our place, but it took half an hour of white knuckle cliffhanging driving to get there. Also mama (chef, waitress and bottle washer) had not a word of English and there was no menu – just what she was cooking that night.
Fortunately tagliatele, ragout, pesto and ravioli were in our Italian vocabulary and I dragged up from my memory (thank you Winos) that coniglio means rabbit, so we could order 2 “primi” and two “secondi”.
Which of course was far too ambitious as one ravioli with ragou would have fed us both, but we stuffed ourselves in case mama wouldn’t let us order tiramisu until we’d cleared our plates.
A café con latte
looking out over the stunning Cinque Terre coast
It was the most alcoholic tiramisu I’ve ever had and we drove back through the dark valleys incredibly slowly, knowing we’d pop if we fell over a cliff.
There is much more to tell – taking an Italian cooking class with Roberto in our timeshare hotel in Soriano… turning up at the hotel to find the town is in the middle of the biggest event of their year – the Chestnut Festival (again – who knew?!) after trying to drive up narrow medieval hill village streets late in the afternoon through the street markets and festival preparations…the completely bonkers couple who owned the flat we were renting south of Rome for a week which had art works, flowers and a fridge full of chocolate but no hot water….but I’ll go way over my self-imposed word limit and bore you to tears – so quickly onto Rome.
Roma. A fascinating mix of pagan excess and Christian zeal, often at the same time, which kind of messes with your head when you’re trying to put things into historical context.
Cherubs epitomise this lack of conflict with such hugely conflicting ideologies. Cherubs always seem cheeky and a little bit naughty
gorgeous Cinque Terre village clinging to the cliff top
– like worldly babies, chubby Stewie’s if you will.
But they are everywhere in Roman Catholic Rome, flying all over the insides and outsides of churches and any place that was seen to need some decoration. Which is just about anywhere.
I developed Renaissance overload and all the churches started to look the same - excessive. I don’t see how having every single surface covered with a different kind of shiny, golden, carved, fluted, painted, mosaicked, flowered, stencilled, trompe l’oeil-ed stuff, can make it beautiful. Give me a simple timbered English church any day.
The Pantheon was beautiful though – because its proportions were so perfect and it didn’t seem claustrophobic or overdone. But it was a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods before it became a church.
And there was the amazing Capuchin crypt where burial chambers are decorated with the bones of deceased capuchin monks – rib bones and vertebrae make delicate scrolls on the ceiling like plaster reliefs, skulls are fringed with scapulas to look like wings and light fittings are fashioned from chunks of spine that look surprisingly like fleur de lies.
It was all rather beautiful but no photos
allowed sorry – Google Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini
No photos either of the Sistine Chapel, (“NO FOTO!!!!”
) – even after we queued for one and a half hours for the privilege of seeing it…but we can’t really complain as it was a free day – the last Sunday of the month.
Rhys was happy to queue when he knew that.
There is so much ‘stuff’ in the Vatican museums that it’s quite mind boggling. All I could think was if they sold off a fraction of it (like the wonderful 20th
century art tucked away in back rooms just before the Sistine Chapel so people are in a lathered frenzy that the holy grail is near and they just charge past without a glance) it could drag Greece out of debt.
I hope I don’t burn in art-history hell for these anti-renaissance comments!
Back to food. If you’d asked me before Italy what my favourite food was, I would have said Italian.
But a month in a country can prove too much of a good thing. Pizzas and pastas are perfect for travellers on a budget, so that’s mostly what we ate.
I succumbed to the shutter bug
Now it’s Bangkok next and I’m hanging out for a good green curry.
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