I had fallen in love with Cinque Terre the moment I saw pictures of the colorful villages cascading down craggy mountainsides onto the azure Ligurian Sea and had always wanted to visit it ever since. That chance came when we went on a Mediterranean cruise and the ship docked in Livorno where we signed up for the day trip to explore this beautiful slice of Italy.
The bus left the port early in the morning and we headed for La Spezia where we picked up our tour guide before disembarking in Riomaggiore, the first of the five villages. Here we walked down thru winding steps of the town to the harbor’s rocky and pebbly beach where we boarded the boat to the next stop: Manarola.
The view of the rocky mountainsides here is the stuff that ‘s featured in postcards with the pastel-colored houses dangerously teetering above the edge of the stony waterfront promenade lined with fishing boats.
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At sunset, with the deep blue waters contrasting against the orange-red sky hovering above the twinkling lights of the town, the stunning sight is otherworldy.
Corniglia sits atop a hundred-meter high rocky promontory and you need to walk across a mountain trail to reach it because there is no direct sea access. So we skipped it as the boat made its way to Vernazza. Here, the small crowded harbor was packed with tourists and you sort of have to fight your way to the main plaza which is lined with shops and restaurants that wind all the way to the center of town where you have, well, more of the same! In mid-summer, the cool interiors of the church of Sta. Margherital right by the calm waters of the bay was a welcome refuge from the heat outside and after some time we couldn’t resist the call of the ubiquitous gellato shops which were cheek-by-jowl everywhere.
After about an hour of tramping around, we all boarded the boat for the last leg which was Monterosso. Of the five villages, this is the only one with a proper beach which stretched quite a bit running through the length of the town. We visited the beautiful old church of St. John the Baptist, sampled some of the local wine for free at one of the wine shops and sat down for a late lunch of delicious seafood pasta with plates of thick local bread at a trattoria whose stone wall interiors made it look like an impregnable fortress. Then we sat down eating gellato (what else?) on one of the park benches watching the locals go about their business. Before we knew it, time was over and we had to take the short train ride to the waiting bus that ferried us back to Livorno.
Our guide Matteo told us that there were several hiking trails between the villages which used to be the only link between them – aside from the sea – ages ago and that they were a photographer’s paradise. But since our brief stay of six hours only sampled the sights, I vowed that one day I shall return.
There is something in the Cinque Terre that I can’t put my finger on but the place sure hooks you and it becomes an itch that has to be scratched. Again.
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