Le Cinque Terre
Le Cinque Terre
In north-west Liguria a string of five villages lie suspended between the mountains and the sea on a rocky coastline..
Inaccessible, except by foot, train, a tortuous road route along the tops or by sea Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manorola, and Riomaggiore nestle on cliff tops, in ravines or behind small beaches. Terraced vineyards, silvery olive groves and the sparkling sea have provided a livelihood for the inhabitants for hundreds of years. Now the modern day descendants of these people also depend on tourism with pensiones, attacameres, restaurants and shops for those who visit these wondrous areas.
Eight hundred and fifty metre peaks drop steeply to the sea which is five hundred metres deep in some places. The sea has its treasures here with gorgonias and black coral which feature in a UNESCO World Heritage Maritime park. The magnificent vistas, dry stone walls, tiny houses with bougainvillea tumbling from them and doll-sized harbours create a charming environment. The early Ligurian occupation dates back before Roman times.
The villages are all different. Monterosso al Mare has two sweeping bays separated by a promontory with Cistercian Monastery and Church of St Francis. Inside is a painting of the saint attributed to Van Dyck and outside stands a huge bronze statue of St Francis and a wolf.
Vernazza has a tiny station where only two carriages can stand at the platform. The rest of the train is in tunnels at either end and the platform extends into them for access. We stayed in this village at Pensione Sorisso (smiling pensione) Signor Finelli welcomed us with many smiles. I had spoken to him by telephone to arrange our bookings some months before.
Vernazza is attractively quaint with only one street. The stream is concreted over to create this promenade. Four-storey apartments blocks with shuttered windows and bright geraniums on porches greet the eye. The elderly residents sit in the sun outside while the young are working or are at school.
The tower of the now ruined Castello Doria is well worth a visit as is the Church of Santa Marguerita of Antioch. It stands on the foreshore with foundations in the water which are of twelvth century origin. The piazza and harbour are beside the church. When one climbs a little whether it be up the tower or the hill there are wonderful views down the coast to Corniglia.
One can walk north to Monterosso in about 2 hours and the same to Corniglia to the south. This village is overlooked by La Torre an ancient watch tower on the promontory. There are three hundred and fifty steps down to the railway station and on the other side many high steep steps to a jetty where one can swim.
Manorola, purported to be the birth place of Pope Incenzo IV has its own tiny harbour and many pastel coloured apartment blocks, but with a different charm. Riomaggiore is the last of the five towns and can be reached by a short walk from Manorola. The Via del Amore was hacked out of the stone cliff only quite recently. A delightful way to arrive. Riomaggiore has such a tiny harbour that the fishing boats are stacked against the walls on hoists. Above the village to the south through chestnut and olive groves stands a church with a painting of the Virgin on a cloud with eleven disciples.
There is a timelessness about Cinque Terre. The food and wine are special. Anchovies and shrimps, swordfish and squid feature on menus. The fresh, crisp white wine of the region is delicious, as is the local liqueur, Sciacchetra. The local people are welcoming but there is a private side to them and boundaries not to be broached. If one wants to photograph them, they immediately say, “No tourista” in no uncertain terms.
A beautiful place to visit. I would go there again tomorrow.
Esplorando l’Italia acknowledges with thanks reflections of Le Cinque Terre by Virginia Clegg
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