Cinque Terre: 3.30-4.1
Last weekend three classmates and I (the same group that went to Viterbo), traveled north to Cinque Terre. The name Cinque Terre translates to “five lands”, referring to the stretch of five towns along the Mediterranean coast.
We left on Friday afternoon after our mid-term reviews for studio. We took a 4 hour train ride from Roma Termini to La Spezia, the largest inland town close to Cinque Terre, and from there a short regional train which took us to our home base in the Cinque Terre, Monterosso al Mare. We easily found our “bed & breakfast” (which included beds, but no breakfast), checked in, and left to explore Monterosso.
Monterosso is the northern most town in the Cinque Terre and according to internet reviews, was the most “resorty” town, complete with a long, fairly new, man made beach. As we made our way through the town, however, we noticed an abundance of construction. We had talked to some Italian students a few weeks earlier, and upon mentioning that we were planning to visit the Cinque Terre, they alerted us that it was now the “Quattro Terre”, as one of the towns had recently been destroyed by flooding. After awhile, we noticed a sign in a window, apologizing for the clean-up efforts taking place after major flooding had caused extensive damage in October of last year. The town seemed to be rebounding well, however, and being a place that relies on tourism to support its economy, was doing everything it could to show its resolve. We would find out later, however, that this town was not in the worst shape of them all.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Monterosso. The town is split by a large hill which juts out into the sea, and climbing it provided panoramic views of both the tourist, beach area, and the local, harbor area. We retreated to our tourist side, and spent some time sitting on the sand/gravel beach before heading out for dinner.
Our bed &
breakfast owner’s sons ran a few restaurants in town and she told us that we could eat at any of them and get a discount. We found one, a small trattoria, uncrowded but welcoming, and decided to eat there. As the Cinque Terre sit on the coast, seafood is generally the house specialty, and I ordered penne al salmone, which is becoming one of my favorite pasta dishes in Italy.
The next morning we got up with the intention of doing some hiking along what is known as the Sentiero Azzurro, the Blue Trail, which connects the five towns along the coast. Our bed owner had told us that a few sections might be closed, but to check at the tourist office to be sure. After grabbing a coffee in the morning, I went down to the office to see what the deal was. The woman alerted me that all of the trail was closed except the short, paved section (read: not really a trail) between Riomaggiore and Manarola, known as the Via dell’Amore. This was disappointing, but there was nothing we could do about it…yet.
We bought an all day combined train and trail pass and rode down to Riomaggiore, the southernmost town. This town was the largest, with steep streets leading up from the small harbor into the town. We walked around for awhile, and having arrived early enough, we had beaten most of the crowds that we would encounter later. We found a large, stone beach, with large, flat rocks perfect for stacking. The stacks there were nice, but obviously as architecture students, we could do better. We spent an unnecessary amount of time putting rocks on top of each other, but hey, that’s what vacation is about, right?
After successfully putting a large number of rocks on top of each other, we went back to the town to find the Via dell’Amore. The trail was basically a wide sidewalk from Riomaggiore to Manarola, the next town up the coast, and while it provided some nice views of the town, it was not the kind of hiking we had planned on doing.
Manarola was a smaller town, but very photogenic, and a section of trail led up around the hill across from it, providing a nice vantage spot for photos. We grabbed some lunch in town; I got a slice of focaccia with pesto, another local specialty. After exploring the town for awhile, we jumped on the train and traveled two towns north to Vernazza.
From photos, Vernazza looked like one of the most picturesque towns of the Cinque Terre, however, when we arrived we were greeted with the unexpected. Until that point, we thought that Monterosso was the town that had been “wiped out” by the flooding, but what we saw in Vernazza was much, much worse. A large display of photos right at the exit from the train station told the story of the devastation that had hit the town last fall. Flash flooding had caused landslides to tear through the town, peaking above the top of the ground floor in many cases. There were very few businesses open in town, the beach had been filled in with a large field of dirt, debris, and garbage bags, and almost all of the ground floor buildings were completely gutted. It had been months since the disaster, but there was still a long road to recovery. The town showed great resolve, however, and there were multiple efforts around town to raise money to help them rebuild. We spent some time on the rocky coastline, and learned from other tourists that the trail from Vernazza back to Monterosso was indeed walkable, even though we were told it was closed. That was all the convincing we needed, so we took off back to our home base.
The trail went straight up the hill for awhile, but leveled off at the top, providing spectacular views of the coast. This was more along the lines of the type of trail we were looking for. Rocky, dirty, narrow, and wooded, the trail was a great way to end our day of exploring. It crossed a few streams, passed through a few vineyards, and eventually brought us back into Monterosso.
We decided to go back to the town of Manarola for dinner that night since our train passes were still valid. We had a seen a lot of restaurants earlier in the day and figured we would find something good. The restaurant was a little larger than the one we had eaten at the night before, but equally as good. I ordered bruschetta and pesto lasagne, and both were delicious. After waiting about an hour for the sparsely running trains, we made our way back to Monterosso.
The next morning we decided to visit the towns by boat, instead of train. There was a ferry that ran between all of the towns so we bought a roundtrip ticket for the day and, after walking the swaying gangplank onto the boat, we set off. Seeing the Cinque Terre from the sea was a really unique perspective and made it much easier to get a sense of the connection between them. Dan and I got off in Riomaggiore while Lily and Marissa decided to continue on to Porto Venere, a town not technically in the Cinque Terre, but similar in style.
Dan and I returned to the rock beach to explore around the large boulders at the far end. There was a small tower which may have served as a lifeguard stand at some point that I climbed, somewhat inconsequentially. There was a trail that was boarded up at the trail head, but looked accessible by climbing up the steep hillside that dropped down to the beach. After scrambling to the top, a bit more precariously than it looked, I made it to the trail which overlooked the beach area. The trail wound around the side of the hill, hugging the cliffside with a fairly sheer drop on the other side, and led to a lookout area which served as base for the Cinque Terre marine protection area. The trail continued around the hill and connected with the road that led back into the town. I met back up with Dan and we grabbed some lunch before returning to the beach.
The weather was warm and sunny, and I decided it would be my last chance to go for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea this semester. According to weather reports, the water temperature was hovering around 60 F, and I thought I was going to be in and out in a matter of seconds. I began walking out into the water across the large rocks, and when I got about knee deep, I could feel the wavs starting to knock me over. As to not embarrass myself by falling in front of the large number of beachgoers who were clearly waiting for me to come shivering out of the water, I jumped forward to avoid falling and began swimming freestyle out into the sea. The current was fairly strong and I got pulled out into the deep water fairly easily. The water was surprisingly refreshing and I was in no hurry to get out. I treaded water about 75 yards off shore, taking in the view of the surrounding cliffs. The locals probably thought I was crazy, but it was one of the most unique experiences of my time abroad. I fought the current back in and dried off before catching the ferry back to Monterosso.
We spent a few hours on the beach back in Monterosso before we had to catch our train to return home. There was a train strike that day, a fairly common occurrence in Italy as the railway workers have strike days built into their contracts, but fortunately we were able to make our connections back, and after a delicious Euro menu dinner at the McDonald’s in the La Spezia train station, we were on the train back to Rome.
We’re in the midst of Easter weekend here in Rome, and the city is packed. I’ll have an update after Easter mass at St. Peter’s, then off to Munich next weekend for my last trip of the semester!