What comes to your mind when someone says Italy? Rome, Venice and Pisa, of course. You might not have heard about this place called Cinque Terre, unless you are an ardent traveller. A quaint little village located to the north-west of Italy, it's a place of many specialities starting with its name. The word Cinque in Italian denotes the number ‘five’, and Terre refers to ‘Village’. Like the name suggests it is a federation of five, very captivating villages. These coastal villages are situated above rocky plains facing the Mediterranean Sea packed with differences and similarities alike.
The people of Cinque Terre refer to it as a territory that lies between the vast oceans and the blue sky. In brief, the journey through Cinque Terre felt like living a folktale. La Spezia is the city that lies very close to Cinque Terre. It caters to the daily travel needs of tourists by providing the Trenopass which permits them to travel from La Spezia to these villages any number of times a day. A pass costs 16 Euros. The train route starting from La Spezia passes through five stations namely, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The train services are available back and forth every 10 minutes. The journey from La Spezia to Monterosso takes around 20 minutes. This train journey takes us through numerous tunnels carved through the rocky hills.
It also offers a very stunning view of the blue oceans from one end to the other end of Cinque Terre. The place also offers a hiking trail above the five villages, which takes about three to four hours one way. This trail directly takes us through the viewpoints from where we could walk down to the villages. The place also offers the leisure of taking your car out for a spin through the mountains and also a lavish boat ride from La Spezia to Levanto.
Of the five villages, Riomaggiore remains the favourite of tourists. We were starving by the time we reached there and chose to dine in a cafe named Latteria Delvigo near Riomaggiore station. Once we entered the cafe, we came across a funny looking man with a long beard and a tattoo on his arm named Niccolo. When prompted to tell more about Riomaggiore, he said that the population of the place was only less than 200, most of them being the elderly. The employees of majority of the shops were originally from La Spezia, says Niccolo who is a native of La Spezia. Riomaggiore was built in two parts — the low-lying coastal area of the fishermen and the mountain and hilly regions of the farmers.
But now, such a differentiation is almost non-existent. Niccolo mentions that Riomaggiore got its name from Rivus major, a river that used to flow through this region.
It required a huge effort to reach our hostel. But, the troublesome climb to the top was totally worth the amazing view. The view of the village from the balcony comprised a church beyond which there were many homes painted in vibrant colours, perfect on the never-ending canvas of the deep blue oceans and the skies lying at a stretch. The ideal place to witness the elegant sunrise and the alluring sunset is right here.
We set out for exploring the village in the evening. Not so long after our walking expeditions, we were surprised to notice that every building in Riomaggiore has windows painted in a vibrant shade of green. Rows and rows of houses with green windows. The street was packed with the natives and the tourists alike. I can definitely say that Cinque Terre is an extremely beautiful and fulfilling tourist destination, with the biggest part of the tourists being Europeans.
Either sides of the footpath are adorned with restaurants, cafeterias and traveller's hostels. A wide range of sea food is also served. Different kinds of fishes, crabs and even octopuses fill the wild palate of food. A region filled with rocky stones and less sandy texture adjoining the harbour, ideal just to lie down and enjoy the scenic beach views. The beach also has various restaurants and bars facing the ocean. The place also offers boat rentals letting us row individually and in small groups, and we even saw people rowing the boats far by the sea alone and basking in the sun and disappearing slowly into a dot. The waters here are generally very calm, just like its people-friendly and safe.
The next day we set out to explore Manarola, which is also a coastal village. The colourful architecture atop the rocky plains, the vast light blue sea, and the array of mountains behind the rocks all reminded me of the pictures we see in the calendars. We were curious to see whether the colour of the windows is just what we expected to see. They were. Green! We came across people climbing large rocks lying adjacent to the sea and diving straight into the waters.
Corniglia is the most ancient and the smallest village of Cinque Terre. There are no beaches here. The only view of the beach is possible from high up the mountains; hence there are no boat pathways to reach here. So the people rely on the train or the hiking trails. It takes about a 400-step steep climb from the station to reach the village, and these lengthy steps are called lardarina. The village has very narrow paths. When the train pulled to a halt in the station, we didn’t forget to check the colour of the window panes of the buildings and again, green. Corniglia is essentially placed on the top of a massive rock surrounded by grapevine yards. In order to experience the real beauty of the village, one has to walk and reach the high San Bernardino point. The tired lot who reach the top are welcomed by various bars and restaurants to loosen up and relax. Corniglia is also voted as the ideal place for trekkers and hikers. The village located in the north-west part of Cinque Terre is Monterosso. This is the
largest one. Monterosso is also the only village which has been granted the permission for driving, unlike the other villages which can be explored only by foot.
Monterosso is divided into two parts: The old village Bordo and the new village Fejina. Unlike the rock-filled narrow beaches of Cinque Terre, the beach of Monterosso is vast and sandy, with many umbrellas put out for shade.
A large number of restaurants and wine parlors could be seen in Monterosso. We noticed the name ‘Antipasti Misti’ written almost in every restaurant’s menu boards – as the name itself demanded a certain amount of curiosity, we were tempted to ask about it. We found out that it means ‘the mixed fruit of the sea’, usually an appetizer. The irony was that our stomachs were full right after having the famous appetizer. Anchovy is a favourite dish of the people in Monterosso.
The newest among the villages is Vernazza. This village completely drowned in a flood in 2011. The drastic soil erosion that followed forced a total renovation and the complete rebuilding of the place from scratch. Due to this unfortunate incident, there are not many hotels in Vernazza and the cost of living is a little pricey when compared to the other villages. But there is no lack of beautiful and coloured churches and buildings in Vernazza, accompanied by its small harbour. A great number of handicrafts are available here. We went into a shop named ‘Stories in Italy’ adorned with many drawings of Cinque Terre.
On our walk back to the railway station, I noticed a copper platter with a woman’s portrait beautifully carved on the wall, with some Italian writing underneath it and the year 2012 inscribed on it. The artefact signifies the revival of the splendid village, after the flood of 2011. Regardless of the destruction caused by the floods and soil erosion, people’s hard work played a great role in the return of Cinque Terre much stronger and more charming than ever before. If this beautiful village was wiped out by the roaring ocean, will a journey like this would have been ever possible?
The writer and her husband Goutham Rajan are travel bloggers...