March 09, 2015

Cinque Terre: the Five Lands

On the rugged northwest coast of Italy there are five small fishing villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. I love saying the names out loud – it makes me feel like I can speak Italian. (I really can’t.) Together these villages are known as the Cinque Terre, the Five Lands. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once accessible only by sea and untouched by the modern world. Today the villages welcome visitors but retain their old world charm.

We spent most of the morning in the nearby town of Porto Venere but a rail strike and rough seas threatened to foil the rest of the day’s travel plans. I put on my acupressure wrist bands, swallowed some ginger capsules, and hoped for the best.  Then we boarded a tour boat and sailed from Porto Venere into open waters. I gripped my camera with both hands, ready to snap pictures of the picturesque Cinque Terre villages.

Tour Boats in Porto Venere

Porto Venere Harbour

Ligurian Sea

The first subject to appear in my viewfinder was Riomaggiore, nestled snug in a ravine. The heaving tour boat kept a safe distance from the rocky shore so I wasn’t able to get any close-ups. (And thank goodness for iPhoto’s ‘Straighten’ feature!)

The Cinque Terre:  Riomaggiore

A system of hiking trails links the five villages. The most famous stretch between Riomaggiore and Manarola has been dubbed Via dell’Amore (Lover’s Lane) for its romantic graffiti and ‘love locks’. These sentimental padlocks are marked with a couple’s initials and then attached to a fence to symbolize their love and commitment. This custom has spread to other romantic spots around the world like the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris and Juliet’s statue in Verona.

The Cinque Terre: Via Dell'Amore (Lover's Lane)

We continued up the coast past Manarola and Corniglia (the only village not accessible by sea). Then we made a brief stop at the town of Vernazza.

The Cinque Terre:  Manarola

The Cinque Terre: Corniglia

The Cinque Terre: Vernazza

The Town of Vernazza

On the top of the rock face overlooking the pier is Ristorante Belforte. What a spectacular location! If I ever make it back to the Cinque Terre this would be a dining spot worthy of my Bucket List.

Cliffside Dining in Vernazza

Eventually we docked in the largest of the Cinque Terre towns, Monterosso al Mare, for a walking tour and lunch. It felt good to be on solid ground for a while. And I was grateful that my motion sickness remedies were doing their job.

The Cinque Terre: Monterosso al Mare

Disembarking in Monterosso al Mare

The Dock in Monterosso al Mare

Fishing Tour Boat

We followed our guide through the streets of Monterosso al Mare.

Piazza Garibaldi, Monterosso al Mare

Bell Tower

The town church Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (Church of St. John the Baptist) dates from the 14th century. The striped marble fa├žade is typical of Genoese architecture. The delicate rose window above the doorway illuminates the church interior.

Church of St. John the Baptist, Monterosso al Mare

Church Interior

Next door to the church is the Oratory of the Dead, the chapel of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. Above the doorway is the brotherhood’s macabre symbol -- a skull and crossbones holding two hourglasses. The brotherhood was established in the 16th century to support local families in their time of grief and, despite the skeletons adorning the interior, this unusual chapel surprised me with its warmth and light.

Oratory of the Dead, Monterosso al Mare

Chapel Interior

Symbol of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer

Skeletons in the Chapel

After two boat trips and two walking tours I was ready for some lunch. I’d been looking forward to dining on a Ligurian specialty: pasta with fresh pesto sauce and a glass of white Cinque Terre wine.

Restaurant in Monterosso al Mare

Ligurian Specialty: Trofie Pasta with Pesto

After lunch we walked through a tunnel to the new section of town, Fegina, where the railway station is located. The sandy beach here is the Cinque Terre’s best and it’s packed with orange umbrellas. Despite the tempting beachfront and looming rail strike, we managed to catch a mid-afternoon train to Santa Margherita Ligure.

Fegina, the New Town of Monterosso al Mare

The Cinque Terre's Best Beach

Rail Station in Monterosso al Mare (Fegina)

The Cinque Terre was another item I could now cross off my Bucket List. But would I? This small taste of the region only left me wanting more.

Next:  Resort Towns of the Italian Riviera

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