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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.