I realized I was in a good spot when my second best option for a weekend getaway was a trip to Le Cinque Terre. When Kevin found out that he would have two consecutive days off, we were overwhelmed with how we wanted to spend them. We threw around several ideas: Nice & Monte Carlo, the Valle D’Aosta mountains, Lake Como, Genoa, and the Cinque Terre. With winter approaching, we decided we should capitalize on the opportunity to hike in the Alps before an onslaught of snow prohibits us from doing so. Unfortunately, weather for the weekend was calling for rain and so we “settled” on the supposedly sunnier alternative of Le Cinque Terre. I cannot begin to tell you how happy we were with our decision!
Le Cinque Terre, or The Five Lands, is a part of the Italian Riviera consisting of five villages situated along the coastline. Tourists flock to this destination to savor the views along the 6 hour walk from between the towns. On Friday night, we booked a room at the last affordable and available hotel in nearby La Spezia. On Saturday morning, we programmed our Tom Tom for Monterrosso, the northernmost town, and headed on our way. (For anyone planning to travel outside of the country, I highly recommend purchasing and downloading relevant maps onto your GPS device. After just one trip, ours have already earned their $58 worth.)
Although we were aware that the sights would be gorgeous along the water, we did not anticipate that the sights along the drive would be so stunning. For three and a half hours, we drove south through rich green farmlands, past impressive mountain terrain and alongside old Italian villages in the foreground of extravagant blue ocean. After we parked our car in the Monterosso lot, we agreed that if we got back in the car and drove home at that moment, the trip would have been worth it.
Monterosso was an adorable town from which we embarked on the first leg of the hike. It was a challenging climb up the mountain and along narrow paths to get to Vernazza, but it was truly incredibly to see such steep, jagged mountains bursting abruptly from the foaming turquoise water. After three weeks in Luserna, I have grown accustomed to seeing the peaks of surrounding mountains in the distance. This was an entirely different experience as I have never seen them starting at sea level. It was absolutely breathtaking.
After a stop for gelato and a picnic lunch in Vernazza, we headed on to Corneglia. Tour books and travel websites claim that Corneglia is the least impressive of the five villages, but I cannot say that any of the towns are deserving of that distinction. Each had its own qualities. Although Corneglia had fewer shops and restaurants, I appreciated it for its being the only one of the five villages that is not at sea level. Instead, it rests above its neighbors, perched on the side of a cliff. And, of the various legs of the hike, the one stretching from Vernazza to Corneglia was my favorite. It had a slightly wider path bordered by exotic vegetation and it boasted an ocean view for the majority of its length.
After three plus hours of walking, and most of that on an uphill climb, Kevin and I hopped on a train in Corneglia to head back to our car. We drove back down the mountain and into La Spezia. Given the impromptu booking, we did not expect anything special from our hotel. But, it was perfect! The hotel manager was extremely friendly, and like most people we met on our weekend getaway, he spoke English very well. He pulled out a map of the town and drew us a path from the hotel to the waterfront to see the views and then to his favorite restaurant for dinner. We followed his directions, adding only a quick stop for appertivos before ending the night with dinner.
Had it not been for its convenient location and for the fact that the hotels in Levanto and the Cinque Terre were booked solid, we never would have visited La Spezia. I think this would have been an unfortunate overlook on our part. Coming from such a rural part of Italy, it was a pleasure to take in a city scene. The main section of the downtown was closed off to cars. The brick-lined streets were covered with immaculately dressed Italians on their way out for dinner and drinks. The piazzas were filled with shops and high-end retail boutiques. It was traditional Italian architecture with a modernized feel. Picture one of the larger villas in Luserna and turn it into a Lacoste store. That was La Spezia.
After a solid night’s twelve hour sleep and a fulfilling complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we ventured back to Le Cinque Terre to see the last two remaining villages. This time, we parked (for free!) just outside of Riomaggiore. We walked 2 miles down into town, admiring the ocean views along the way. The path connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola is the shortest and least difficult of the bunch. It is considered the Via Dell’Amore, or Path of Love. Many couples took this translation to heart, stopping along the way for an elaborate make out session and casual groping. But, then again, that is not unusual even for the less romantic stops around Italy. I think maybe PDA has a different connotation here…
When we arrived in Manarola, gray clouds appeared overhead and rainshowers herded tourists underneath balconies and bridges. What did Kevin and I do before finding our way to cover? No, we did not make out in the middle of the street under the rain. Our life is not a romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughy. We only take the “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” mantra so far. Instead of huddling underneath overhangs, we got gelato. Delicious and satisfying gelato.
When it started to seem like the rain was the product of more than just a passing storm, we decided to head back to Riomaggiore. The crazy thing is, we walked under one bridge in that direction, and came out on the other side to sunshine. I must not have been wearing my good Samaritan pants. If I was, I would have run back to the other side and informed all of the sullen, poncho-wearing tourists of the news. Instead, I relished in retracing our steps, this time without the company of a crowd. We took a different trail back up to the main road, and returned to our car completely fulfilled by our weekend adventure.
After proofreading the previous paragraphs, I’ve concluded that there is not much I have told you about Le Cinque Terre that you can’t read in another relevant tourism guide. But I can tell you that words really do not do a justice in describing the beauty of this Italian attraction. Hopefully these pictures will better portray the experience…
|Looking out from Monterosso|
|Near Manarola (We are up much higher than it looks!)|
|Cute little couple on the Via Dell'Amore|
|All along the Via Dell'Amore were locks of all shapes and sizes left from previous visitors.|
|Tourists waiting for the rain to pass in Manarola|
|On our way back to Riomaggiore looking at the cloud over Manarola|
|Again, I was much higher than it looks. This shot cost me a little bit of fingernail.|
|Another shot of some of the locks...|
|A bridge on the walk from Monterosso to Vernazza|
|Looking at Verazza from Monterosso path|
|About to head down into Vernazza|
|A Vernazza Street|
|Looking back on some of the cliffs|
|La Spezia Waterfront (If you look closely I accidentally caught a couple making out in the fashion I described in this post! It's such a common sight, it was inevitable that in my 100+ shots from the weekend I would capture it!)|
|First shot of the weekend with Monterosso in the background!|