Cinque Terra - Sept 2002
Cinque Terre from Rio Maggiore to Monte Rosso
Liguria (red) is a skinny province stretching from Genoa to La Spezia, where the coast turns south into the "leg" of Italy. The Cinque Terre is the name given to the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore - seen west of La Spezia on the map.
The coast here is rugged, with mountains rising straight from the sea. The hillsides are covered with terraces, where farmers grow grapes, olives and other crops. In former times, the villagers survived mainly from their vinyards and fishing - their wines were famous. Today tourism plays a large role - and the prices charged to tourists are high (as is generally the case in Italy).
Each village has a small harbour and is perched on whatever land is available: all have defences facing the sea. The five villages are connected by boat, by train (Genoa - La Spezia) through tunnels, by a high road perched on the mountainside,
and by the Via d'amore. This is based on the ancient footpaths used by the locals to reach the next village. The main tourist attraction, the path is sometimes on the cliffside, sometimes by the sea, or through inland olive groves, or along the terraces, ... There is a daily or weekly charge for walking on the coastal route. The eastern section of the path is the least rugged, has the shortest distance between villages and attracts the most tourists. The path is extremely hilly as it climbs up and over the many headlands: sometimes there are many steps.
The eastern section from Rio Maggiore to Vernazza
On September 15 2002, after a long drive down the Autostradas from Garda, we arrived at the Hotel Belvedere in the mid afternoon. Being a Sunday, the village was full of visitors and the cars were parked for 2 km up the road. We were advised to park, somewhat illegally outside some garages opposite the hotel and move our car to the road in the evening when there would be space.
After unpacking, we walked down to the front for a snack: then back to get our swimming things and off for a swim from the sandy beach and a walk along the promenade. The hotel was comfortable, and had a balcony overlooking the seafront and beach.
Then on to explore the harbour, castle and the church of San Pietro. It is believed that the settlement existed around 100 BC, and was named Portus Veneris after a temple to Venus on the site wher San Pietro now stands.
The old colourful apartments by the harbour seem similar in style to some of Rio Maggiore, which we would see the next day. And there is always washing to brighten up the scene in Italy.
After a climb to the castle, we descended towards the medieval church and fortress of San Pietro which is right at the tip of the peninsular, guarding the entrance to the harbour.
These photos, taken from the church, show the nearby islands in the evening light.
We returned to the seafront for dinner.
Monday, 16 September was sunny and warm. We chose to travel to Rio Maggiore by boat rather than the train, and were rewarded with very fine views of the inhospitable coast. Everywhere there were steep cliffs going high into the mountains: there were sparse small settlements, each with its terraces built into the hillside. The sight of Rio Maggiore built into the cliff is amazing. Colorful tall houses reach up the hillside, from the small harbour.
The high road that connects the villages of the Cinque Terra can be seen also in this picture.
We wandered up through the town, on steep "roads" following the contours of the hill.
Then off to find the "Via dell'Amore", to be approached from the railway station. No longer the little mountain path that it used to be, rather a wide safe promenade - nonetheless beautiful with sea and mountain views and colourful flowers. The path to Manarola was easy and took 1/2 hour.
Manarola sits on the cliff at the back of the photo - there are a few steps to climb to reach it.
From Manarola, the path climbs up and up with steps and then descends into the station at Cornelia, and then up more steps to the town. Here, we paused for a well-deserved rest. This section took 3/4 hour.
The stretch from Cornelia to Vernazza is the longest and the most difficult. It starts by going inland through some terraced olive groves, then steps and more steps to climb over several headlands. Here is are two views looking back to Cornelia.
The descent to Vernazza is long, but affords great views of the fortified town and harbour. (Monterosso can be seen in the distance: a 3 hour walk.) This section of the walk took about 2 hours.
We strolled around the harbour, then had some extemely expensive refeshments in the village square. Followed by a wonderful swim from the tiny beach under the cliffs (tucked in behind the church in this picture). Though the water was warm, nobody else was swimming.
Completely forgetting about the time of the last boat back to Portovenere - we caught it only because it was very late!
Back at Portovenere at 6pm, we went to a restaurant for pizza - expensive and not very good.
Next day, it was back for the long drive up to Garda for an overnight on the way home.