01 September 2008 | Italy
Between La Spezia and Lavanga lie the five remote villages of Cinque Terre, recognized by the Unesco "Mankind's World Heritage" for their unique man-made landscape carved into the hills of the Ligurian coast. The villages, accessible only via foot or small boat, display the wares cultivated from the hills - olive oil, wine, pasta, pesto. Generations have worked to create this monument in the landscape where the stone terraces stretch from the hilltops to the sea held up with over 7000 stones unaided by cement or modern equipment. Until recently the paths between the five towns were the only communication routes; the rough coastline and harsh seas make it difficult to guarantee entry from the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. Today, the land falls under the protection of the National Park and Protected Marine Area and larger boats are discouraged from sailing, fishing and anchoring close to the coast.
On a gloriously hot day last Tuesday, August 26th we boarded the train in Lavagna with Maris Lyons, our fellow sailor from the ARC who had invited us to share time with her in this exquisite corner of Italy. In 45 minutes we were transported to the most southerly of the villages, Riomaggiore from where we began our day's adventures. The town itself was a tiny hamlet with narrow lanes and streets lined with small tourist shops, fruitteria, enotecha, cafes and pizzerias who beckoned to John like mermaids to a sailor. Unable to resist, we often ducked in to pick up fresh foccaccio with pomodoro (tomato and olive oil).
Each town boasts a harbour (a bit of a stretch of the definition) for here a few fishing boats moored and more lined the road sloping directly into the sea. We quickly set off for the next town, Manarola, a mere 20 minutes away along the Via dell'Amore (the road of love) where locals come to propose and surrounding a sculpture of man and woman, hundreds of padlocks representing their love can be found chained to the walls. Manarola was only slightly larger than the first town and we stopped only long enough to visit a local art gallery displaying originals capturing the light and colours of the local landscape.
From Manarola we walked the 2 km to the town of Corniglia, the highest of the five towns. The hike ended with a steep climb up winding steps where we rewarded ourselves with lunch and a trip to the gelateria. Corniglia is a bit bigger than the previous towns with boutiques and specialty stores of pasta, sauces and wines.
From Corniglia we trekked the hardest route that we thought would take us downhill to Vernazza resting on the sea, but we first had to traverse a steep uphill along rough paths and uneven steps carved into the hillside. Two kilometers took us 80 minutes and we arrived tired, dusty and thirsty. With a visit to the dentist awaiting, we stopped our visit at Vernazza and returned to Siestri Levanti via train. The 5 kilometers between the four villages took our breath away - figuratively and literally. Stopping along the paths to rest in the shade of olive trees we would glimpse back at the tiny towns nestled along the sea in the valley of the hills and feel a great sense of accomplishment to have walked the paths taken by many before us. It is with these images that we ended our day in Cinque Terre.