Discovering Bejeweled Cinque Terre

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I have never heard of this bejewelled place before until early last year when I was planning my visit to Italy.  I’m referring to Cinque Terre as bejeweled  because it is just that… jeweled colorful towns clustered on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera  coastline especially at night when all lights are aglow and are reflected in the sea surrounding it like sparkling yellow diamonds.

From Florence, our home base in Italy, we took a big air-conditioned bus for our day tour  to Cinque Terre, located in the Ligurian Riviera in the Province of La Spezia, in the beautiful mediterranean  coast of Italy.  Pronounced as “Chenky-Terry” , Cinque Terre means ‘five lands’ in Italian. It is actually five beautiful coastal villages with clusters of gorgeous, colorful fisherman and farmer houses built into the steep and rugged cliffs of the Ligurian Peninsula.  These villages were largely engaged both in fishing and farming in the distant past, but now it depends on tourism as its major money-making industry.

Cinque Terre is composed of the five coastal villages of Manarola, Riomaggiore, Monterosso Al Mare, Corniglia and  Vernazza. Each town is unique and beautiful in its own right and is interconnected by train through the belly of the mountain.  Once there, one can hike through between villages via paths in the steep cliffs, as well as use the endless stairs that is a familiar site in those regions. But if you have a knee problem like me, climbing up and down those countless steps may be a problem.  If you have no physical concerns, hiking through the villages in designated paths proves to be a scenic experience especially if you want to get photos from a high vantage point.  When you are there, time seems to be in a stand still, in fact time seems not to exist at all.  You can swim wherever and however long you want; eat the fresh harvests from the sea and land that shows up in a delicious plate in front of you for lunch or dinner; and of course sip red wine produced in the local vineyards while enjoying a golden, radiating sunset  in this popular Italian Riviera.

Because of the harmonious interaction between people and nature to produce a landscape of exceptional beauty and scenic quality for more than a thousand years, Cinque Terre became inscribed and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, and was also installed  in 1999 as a national park producing exceptional products like honey, marmalades, wines, pesto and cosmetic products made from the produce developed and harvested within the five lands.

MANAROLA

Our bus slowly descended to the quaint coastal town of Manarola and at some point alighted there.  We hiked a bit and climbed down many flight of stairs to get down to this beautiful town.  Even the hike to Manarola was a bit of a traffic going down the narrow flight of  stairs, creating long lines of excited tourists who couldn’t wait to arrive in this little town.

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This is the spectacular ocean view showing off the Ligurian cliffs that we saw from a high vantage point as we climbed down to Manarola.  As we walked through the narrow passages and steps, we knew we were almost near because we could see colorful fishermen and farming houses strategically arranged in the cliffs.  Backyard lemon trees dotted the path we walked on towards the town.
The ‘Sentiero Azzuro’ is the scenic coastal path that people walk on which interconnects all five villages.  The shortest walk which takes around 20-30 minutes is the path between Manarola to Riomaggiore, depending on how fast or slow you go to enjoy the scenery or take photos.  Tourists have a choice how to enjoy Cinque Terre: on foot through Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) or by train through the belly of the mountain.  We took the latter.  From Manarola, we took a short train ride, about 1 km to Riomaggiore, then we walked through a short tunnel and when we reached the light on the other side, we had arrived in Riomaggiore.
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RIOMAGGIORE
Riomaggiore is the village I love best due to its colorful fishermen stone houses, cafes and restaurants.  The locals and tourists staying for a few days navigate from where they are staying to the main street by way of stairways and countless steps.  Cute souvenir shops and cafes  litter the streets tempting us to go in while we waited for our group to assemble to take the ferry boat to the next village, Monterosso Al Mare, where our lunch was waiting.    As we walked nearer to the sea, boats bobbing in the sea as well as boys jumping into the sea from the steep, craggy cliffs entertained us.  Everywhere we looked there was always something interesting to look at.

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While you have the option to walk, you can also take this ferry boat to Monterosso Al Mare to save time if you only have a day to explore Cinque Terre. This is the option that most day tours take. But if you are staying in Riomaggiore for a few days, feel free to take the Via dell’Amore.
While you have the option to walk, you can also take this ferry boat to Monterosso Al Mare to save time if you only have a day to explore Cinque Terre. This is the option that most day tours take. But if you are staying in Riomaggiore for a few days, feel free to take the Via dell’Amore.

CORNIGLIA

Corniglia was supposed to be the next village to visit, however during that day of our tour, Corniglia was closed to tourists because it was declared unsafe to visit due to some rockslides.  Located 100 meters above sea level, Corniglia is the only village that has no access via sea but only via well-maintained 377 staircases and footpaths.  So after Riomaggiore, we skipped Corniglia and proceeded to Monterosso Al Mare.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE

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Monterosso Al Mare’s wide and picturesque beach frontage greeted us as our ferry boat docked in its wharf in front of the beach.  We were looking forward to be here because this is where we were going to have our lunch of seafood and pasta.  Home to a cathedral, a castle and an impressive white beach, it is divided into two, the ‘Old Monterosso’ and the ‘Modern Monterosso’ which we explored within one hour after lunch.
Lunch was served in this Seafood restaurant located in the Old Monterosso district. It was full and swinging by the time we arrived and we were quite concerned if we still had our lunch reservations because in one glance, the entire restaurant was full. But a waiter rescued us all and led us to our own special private room where our group was warmly accommodated.
Lunch was served in this Seafood restaurant located in the Old Monterosso district. It was full and swinging by the time we arrived and we were quite concerned if we still had our lunch reservations because in one glance, the entire restaurant was full. But a waiter rescued us all and led us to our own special private room where our group was warmly accommodated.
Seafood Appetizer served in a restaurant in Monterosso Al Mare. The main course was pasta with pesto, however I was very hungry by this time and devoured it all before I could even remember to take a photo of it. Has that ever happened to you before? It happens to me all the time.
Seafood Appetizer served in a restaurant in Monterosso Al Mare. The main course was pasta with pesto, however I was very hungry by this time and devoured it all before I could even remember to take a photo of it. Has that ever happened to you before? It happens to me all the time.

Before we proceeded to walk to the last village of Vernazza which was just a few minutes walk away via the coastal path, I went into a souvenir shop to buy some postcards. While paying for my five postcards, I looked at the female cashier tending to the store and suspected she was Filipino although she was speaking really good Italian to the customers ahead of me.  But I decided to take a chance by asking her this question when it was my turn to pay.  I asked her: “ Magkano po lahat Miss?” and that totally surprised her into a sweet smile and she replied to me: “ Kababayan!!!”. We chatted briefly, happy to see another Filipino in this part of the world.  She told me as I headed out that “ Ang sarap mag-Tagalog! Nakaka-miss mag-Tagalog!”

A cup of espresso later, I wrote my postcards with a huge smile on my face, so happy and amused with the thought that Filipinos are travellers and can be found anywhere in this world.

VERNAZZA

Vernazza is the smallest village of the five lands with about 500 and counting inhabitants.  It has a main street and at the end of it is a square with a church named St. Margarite. One of the interesting sites here is a castle with a fortress. By this time, I was so tired and contented myself to just sitting in a restaurant with a cold bottle of soda and a slice of pizza while waiting for the others to arrive.  Vernazza was our last stop and this was where we took the train that took us back to La Spezia where our bus was waiting to transport us back to Florence, our homebase.

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This trip to Cinque Terre was one of the highlights of my Italian trip.  Seeing this place in one day was not enough to really enjoy and get to know each village, however it gave me a wholistic feel of each one and gave me an idea to come back one day and this time stay longer in 2-3 places.  I also look forward to walking the path of Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane), this time with someone whom I can hold hands with and not just for one journey, but hopefully for the rest of my life.

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