Friday, July 11, 2014

The Cinque Terre (the Five Lands)

We arrived at our hotel in Levanto with the help of Sadie the sadistic SatNav. She was behaving herself and didn't try to direct us to turn right over any cliffs (she became more troublesome as time went on).
Our room in Levanto
We had chosen to stay in Levanto because I couldn't find anything nice at a reasonable price in the Cinque Terre. One guide book said it had nothing to recommend it and you should only stay in Levanto if desperate.  But we liked the town. It was very easy to get the train from there to the five towns making up the Cinque Terre, or if the weather was good, you could get a boat. We were staying in a 19th century Palazzo,  with painted ceilings and lots of character.
Ceiling of our room

Riomaggiore Harbour

We decided to look at one of the five towns that first day and leave the other four for the next day. Riomaggiore was the one we chose. It was (well, still is) a fishing village clustered around a few streets. I was thrown from the beginning, as our guide book told us to start by taking the lift to the top of the hill, but the lift was not working.  We then didn't know whether to go up or down hill. We went downhill first, to the harbour.

After that we headed up the hill.  We walked up one street, and then doubled back on ourselves, past the local church and children playing in the square, supervised by adults who all sat in the shade gossiping, and on up to the high point from where we could see the path to Manarola (the Via dell'Amore).

Via dell'Amore
We didn't intend to walk between all of the Cinque Terre, but thought we might do the easiest leg, which is between Riomaggiore and Manarola, but unfortunately it was closed.

The next morning the weather had changed. It was cold and very windy, but dry.  We were very glad we hadn't chosen to catch the boat to the Cinque Terre towns because they were cancelled as the weather was too rough.  We had already purchased our two day rail pass, so that was no drama.

Our first stop was Vernazza. This was not the next town north of Riomaggiore, but we chose to go here first as it was market day at that town. I love looking around the food markets when I am overseas to see what different food items they have for sale and how they present them.  But this was a rather disappointing market. Very small, in keeping with the size of the town's population.  
Market produce

We then wandered down to the harbour. The sea was incredibly rough, but that was an amazing sight. I find the sea fascinating, how it can change its moods so easily. They had actually roped off the access to the quay as waves were breaking over it and there was a danger people could been swept off into the harbour or the ocean.
Waves crashing over the breakwater

Vernazza Harbour
Street in Vernazza
Next stop was Manarola, which I think was my favourite of the five towns (though Vernazza was a close second). The sea was still being whipped up by the winds, so we got some incredible visions when we walked out a little way towards the headland and looked back to the town.
Sea still rough at Manarola
Local shop selling an assortment of dried pasta
One of Corniglia's narrow streets
Corniglia is the only one of the five towns not to be on the water. We got a bus from the train up to the town, rather than climb the hundreds of steps.  This was the least impressive of the towns. We had a very long wait for the train to the next town - at least one and possibly two timetabled trains never turned up. This was very unpleasant as by this time the wind had dropped and it was very hot.

Monterosso al Mare, the last of the five lands, was the place I had been primarily looking for accommodation before we decided to stay in Levanto instead. And I'm glad we did make that choice.  At least one of the places I was looking at, which looked ok in the photos, was in a location that was completely unappealing.  And I didn't think much of the beach. I guess I just have to face the fact that having grown up with the Australian beaches I have been spoiled.
Beach at Monterosso al Mare

In summary, I have to say I was very disappointed in the Cinque Terre.  I didn't think it was a patch on the Amalfi coast and Sorrento which we visited on our last trip to Italy. (see

Local speciality - anchovies

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