Probably you think I am going to speak about a fictional universe alla Tolkien. It’s possible that you expect to read about the Middle-earth from “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Yes and no. I’m not going to touch this topic. I am not going to describe this mythological and imaginary human-inhabited world at all either. What I am going to do is to bring you to (almost fictional) paradise on Earth composed of five tiny fishing villages, cunningly constructed on high cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea. These five lands are better known by their Italian name, i.e. ….
C I N Q U E T E R R E
Monteresso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore were old antique settlements but their flourishment dates back to the early mediaeval ages. At that period of time fishing and agriculture were the main vocation which has been kept up to the present times. Nowadays the steeply terraced cliffs on which the five Ligurian beauties are situated are surrounded by green fields, gardens and vineyards while the pristine blue sea beneath turns this place into one of the most amazing tourist sites on the Italian Riviera.
To visit this Eden you have 3 “car-free” choices. You might take a train from Pisa to La Spezia and then catch the regional trains passing through each of the villages. Be sure that you will have much fun. In what sense? Firstly, the 19th century railway train passes through a great number of coastal tunnels and when you go out of each of them you will be amazed with unforgettable sceneries of the sea and the five lands and the surrounding green gardens and fields. Secondly, you must be sure that you will taste the real rhythm of the Italians and their “la dolce vita” when your train is late and nobody cares about it. 😀
Your next option is “to conquer” the five lands by the sea. This time you could have a nice sea journey which will leave you breathless. If you wanna be closer to nature, you should choose the third option, i.e. to walk along the eco paths and roads in the Natural Park of the Five Lands. This third option is quite exhausting, especially in summer, when you ought to walk under the Ligurian sun. Unfortunately, sometimes this near-the-nature choice is not possible due to the numerous landslides and floods there, for instance.
No matter how, you will have the best experience ever as I had some time ago. I chose the first travel option which was the laziest one but the most amusing one at the same time. Believe me, I had a very strict and tight schedule because I wanted to visit all of them five and when the train was late at the very first station in Monterosso al Mare all my plans went away.
M O N T E R O S S O A L M A R E
It is located in the centre of a natural gulf and it’s protected by a tiny artificial reef. The westernmost of the Cinque Terre is the oldest one of the five lands and was founded in 643 AD. The settlement was beleaguered by the barbarians and locals left the hill and moved down to the coast and settled down there. As a matter of fact, today Monterosso is somehow overlooked probably because it’s the farthest village when coming from La Spezia but it’s really famous for its great number of lemon trees spread out throughout the whole village as well as for its white wines, grapes and olives.
When you step out from the railway station you are welcomed by the sea in front and the Old and New Towns on the left and right, respectively. If you are a beach-goer, this is your terra as this is the only one of the five villages that has a sandy beach. Otherwise, the rest follow the ancient Roman fashion of beaches on the rock. I will open a bracket here. The ancient Romans preferred hilly places for enjoying the gentle touches of the sun and melodic “songs” of the sea. Obviously, this is already genetically determined and that is why the Italians of today still prefer to sunbathe on rocks, not on a sandy beach (the latter being considered a place for the mass). The bracket closed.
While you are sunbathing on the sandy beach in the New Town, you will enjoy la Statua del Gigante (the Statue of the Giant). And do you know who this giant is? This is Neptune, of course. The 14-metre statue was created by Jewish Italian sculptor Arrigo Minerbi and architect Francesco Levacher. The sculpture was made as a decoration of the luxurious Villa Pastine which was built in the 19th century.The two creators made the statue of Neptune who was holding a huge shell (some say he was holding the waves in the bay) above his head and actually, the latter served as the house terrace. Nice, a? 🙂 Unfortunately, that splendid statue was destroyed during the WW II as well as because of the rough sea. What happened, in fact? The elegant Villa Pastine was bombed and Il Gigante lost the arms and the trident while the seashell was devastated by sea waves later in 1966. Nowadays the once mighty giant is still there although armless but still so “ancient” and is the symbol of Monterosso al Mare.
When you go in the opposite direction, you will reach il centro storico (the Old Town). You should walk via the tunnel through the hillside and when you go out of it you will face the amazing Monterosso Clock Tower (once a watchtower which was part of the fortifications made for the Republic of Genoa) and the 13th century Basilica di San Giovanni Battista (the Church of Saint John Baptist).
When you dive into the maze of the small cobbled streets, you will enjoy the quietness of the village.
You will also find out numerous artisan shops of souvenirs and local ceramics, wine shops and cafés where you could take a short break in one extremely quiet world.
Our last stop in Montersso al Mare is on San Cristoforo hill and Il Convento dei Cappuccini (the Capuchin Monastery). This time we will choose la Salita dei Cappucccini from where you will be left breathless by the spectacular views of the village and sea. After a short walk up the hill we shall reach the Monastery of the Cappucccini and la Chiesa di San Francesco (the Church of St Francis) built in the 17th century. On the other hand, the hill also houses the Monument to San Francesco d’Assisi with a dog near his legs.
Last but not least, the hill has still been keeping the remains of an old city wall on the top of the hills in the graveyards as well as the other watchtower – the 16th century Torre Aurora (Dawn Tower) perched on the promontory overlooking the sea.
It’s high time we walked back to the railway station and our walk will be sul Lungomare (along the seafront promenade) which will give you the chance to enjoy the mixed wonderful views of the sea, beach and mountain once again.
V E R N A Z Z A
“Il treno regionale 30082 proviene da Levanto a la Spezia Centrale è in ritardo di 10 minuti. Ci scusiamo per il disagio.” (“The Regional train 30082 coming from Levanto to the Central Station of La Spezia is 10 minutes late. We are sorry for the inconvenience.” 😀 )
This is a common message at Italian railway stations that could be heard quite often everywhere in Italy. So, don’t get stressed or don’t get furious. You will catch the train when it comes finally and it takes only some minutes to go to the other village – Vernazza.
Most probably it’s one of the most picturesque of le Cinque Terre due to its amphitheatre shape. Going straight along the main street from the station, you will soon reach the main square. Once there, a flight of steps among old houses will definitely attract your attention. So, don’t hesitate, trust your intuition and take the adventure of climbing some thousands of steps to the top of the hill. Be sure you will be rewarded with the best views ever from the watch tower and the remains of il Castello (the Castle) which were of great importance in the age of the Maritime Republic of Genoa.
When you are already there, you will be surrounded by nature. You will see sea and the two stone beaches of Vernazza on one side, and the main town’s square and the Santa Margherita di Antiochia Church and the green fields and vineyards on the other side. When you go to the top of the watchtower, you will turn back into medieval times when this tower played a role of protecting the settlement from pirates and other invasions.
If you have time, you can get challenged with another flight of steps which will bring you to the other side, i.e. to the green fields from where you will see the village from another angle. But I suggest that you keep your strength because the third steep terra awaits you.
C O R N I G L I A
Corniglia is a challenge even for a well-trained walker like me. And do you know why? Simply because there’s a too long flight of steps (only 33 flights of 382 steps). After having climbed up there, surely you won’t need to go to the gym for one whole month ahead. 😀 But don’t be desperate. It’s not that bad because another reward will wait for you on the promontory.
After refreshing with a seafood pizza or salad, gelato (ice-cream) and coffee, you should take one of the tiny steep streets leading to the numerous terraces with Belvedere. So, guys, take a bottle of water (dehydration is not good for our health), switch on your cameras and mobile phones, and take the most splendid postcards pictures of this beautiful paradise.
M A N A R O L A
I am pretty sure that your way back along the flights of steps to the railway station will not be that tiresome for you. If you need a short rest, sit somewhere while you are waiting for the train to come in Corniglia before your walk starts in Manarola.
The fourth terra is exclusively surrounded by vines and its wine is very famous. The latter could be tasted in one of the numerous restaurants, trattorie and osterie on the main square. On the other hand, you will see crowds of people on the beach. Become one of these spectators and enjoy the amusing show of young (and not that young) enthusiasts who jump from nearby rocks into the sea.
If you are asking yourselves what else to do, the simple answer is to take la Via dell’Amore (the Way of Love). This is an easy to walk paved path and road which connects Manarola to Riomaggiore. If you’re quite lucky you will walk the 2-kilometre distance between the last two terre and nature will be your companion. But if there’re landslides when you’re there, you will have to catch the train to the fifth land ….
R I O M A G G I O R E
The name of the last village comes from the crossing stream. The upper town is amazing while the seashore is just awesome. The Sanctuary of Moaddona di Montenero is situated on the promontory of the same name and the latter is the last one of the Gulf of le Cinque Terre. The most pleasant activities in Riomaggiore are the same as the ones in the other five lands – indulging in food and drinking coffee, swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Ligurian Sea, people-watching, wandering here and there along the steep cobbled streets and the unforgettable views from the high terraces.
In the end, I would only say that it’s worth visiting all of the five lands without any exception because each of them has its own charm and will attract you in its own way. For sure, I will turn back there again one day but I will also include Portovenere in my plans. 🙂