A few years ago my good friend Mara from high school (Winston Churchill H.S. in MD) called me up in Amsterdam to tell me she was coming to Europe for a wedding, and wouldn't I like to meet up somewhere for a long weekend? "Mais Oui!" I replied. After some debate, we decided to go to Cinque Terre by the Italian Riviera. Both Mara and I had studied in Italy, but never visited this spectacular region.
Cinque Terre, translated as "The 5 Lands (or villages)" is a string of beautiful small towns hugging the rugged coast of the Ligurian Sea connected by about 5 miles of hiking trails. The five towns are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Here is a map of the area:
We stayed in a simple but friendly pensione in Monterosso, one of the bigger of the 5 towns, and the town with the best beaches. These villages were not accessible by road or train until the 1960s, so development of the area has been very limited, unlike more accessible areas of this region. Here are some pictures of my very memorable trip:
Vernazza seen from the hiking trail
These towns are spectacular for many reasons, but for me it was all about the colors that assault you at once. The blue of the sea; the green orchards passed along the trails; the brilliant painted reds, yellows and oranges of the house facades; the blue fishing and leisure boats parked in the piazza waiting to be deployed; the purple flowers climbing up the balconies.
blue boats waiting to be deployed
Beyond the hiking, there is still a lot more to see and do in the region. Mara and I took a kayaking tour around the coast and stopped to do some snorkeling in some of the inlets along the way. Sadly I just learned that our guide, Sean Risatti, no longer has his guide business up and running. He was excellent!
We went in early summer, before the tourists had really descended upon the area. I wouldn't want to visit in the peak of summer, but I bet late September would also be a great time to visit.
lots of empty chairs on the beach = not too many tourists!
I flew into Milan from Amsterdam and then took a train to Monterosso. The train station is in the middle of town and you can walk to wherever you might be staying from there. Easy! There are tons of cafe`s and restaurants too... most of which serve seafood caught that day by the local fishermen. Yumm!
flowers in full-bloom
The picture below was taken from the trail between Monterosso and Vernazza. I recommend stopping at one of the local fruit stands or grocers before heading up the trail so you can have a little picnic along the way. That's what Mara and I did and it was the best lunch ever (and easy on the wallet too).
orchards and gardens along the way
The hikes sometimes take you right through the center of the villages you are passing. I passed these kids heading into Vernazza and couldn't help but laugh at the stereotypes being acted out at such a young age. The little girl was sweeping and cleaning the patio. The little boy ignored her and played his gameboy. I was thrilled to be able to catch it on film so discreetly.
Gender roles are learned early
As you would guess, the area attracts all kinds of artists and travelers. There were people paintings and taking "real" pictures all over the place. Check out this guy:
Four days really weren't enough to get a full appreciation of the area, so I guess I will just have to go back someday!
Here are some helpful links if you'd like to visit Cinque Terre yourself:
This guy Adrian has a great collection of information and online resources.
Fishnet: Kate Little, a Texan expat now married and living in Monterosso, used to have a friendly little internet cafe which was a gold mine for tourists. She has now closed the shop, but still has a very informative website online.
Monterrosonet is also a great site with a ton of info.
Many people think that Rick Steves more or less ruined Vernazza and the Cinque Terre region by letting the cat out of the bag. I guess it would be hyprocritical of me to get on that bandwagon being that I am blogging about the proverbial cat myself.
I think that Fodors online is a great travel source in general. Their message boards are a rich source of information. Anytime I am planning a trip I consult the experienced travelers who post regularly on their site. My other general travel source is Tripadvisor; I also frequently write reviews on their site of the different places I have traveled to.