June 11, 2010
Cinque Terre, Italy
The five villages along the Ligurian coastline make up the Cinque Terre National Park that is designated an UNESCO Heritage Site for man's adaptation of the steep and uneven landscape into habitable towns and the farming of the micro-climate to produce a microcosm where man has lived for the past 1000 years.
The five villages are connected by train (approximately 4 minutes apart), by boat (when the weather cooperates) and by overland hiking trails (when not washed out).
From north to south, the villages are:
Monterosso al Mare - the flattest of the five, with an old and new town. The largest beach area which is enjoyed by all five villages.
Vernazza - the only one with a natural harbour.
Corniglia - the only one with no ocean access. Narrow streets and the reward for climbing to the top of the hill - gelato!
Manarola - the hills above each town are terraced and covered with the villagers' crops. These include olive trees, grape vines, citrus (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit) trees, vegetable gardens, herbs, fruit trees, and much more.
From Riomaggiore to Manarola was the famed "walk of love" or Via Dell' Amore, the gentlest of the connecting village walks that is wide enough for strollers. The entrance gate is marked by intertwined hearts and initials are carved into any available surfaces (stone, cactus, cement wall). One shelter area was covered in graffiti. And the definitive symbol for this walk is the two figures, with the wires around them covered with hundreds and hundreds of locks. These symbolize loving couples with their initials etched or written onto them before being locked onto any wire along the way.
The next walk from Manarola to Corniglia was a little more strenuous and narrower. Notice the metal netting on the cliff sides to prevent boulders falling. Unfortunately the other two trails connecting the next towns were closed for maintenance because of earlier landslides.
This area of Italy had been recommended to me for years and we were glad we included it into our itinerary. We had three relaxing days to wander between towns and savour the seaside life. Amazing seafood on the menus and pesto is famous here, with each family having a secret recipe!