Or should one say, “How were Cinque Terre?”
Here’s what I knew from friends’ descriptions of Cinque Terre — it was a string of utterly charming villages perched high above the Mediterranean and connected by a terrifying, heart-stopping, non-insurable unguardrailed narrow path. Having now visited tre of the cinque, I utterly agree with the charming part and was thrilled that the paths were closed for repairs.
With the paths closed, we traveled between the villages by train and boat. There are no roads connection them. Thankfully, wise heads prevailed to preserve Cinque Terre’s unique charms. The entire area has been declared a national park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We visited Montarosso al Mare, Vernazza and Manarola. Montarossa, the largest of the villages was my favorite. Like its neighbors, Montarosso is built into a series of hills planted with olives, lemons and grapevines. Still today, the olives are harvested by hand (hands belong to sixty-, seventy- and eighty-year-olds!) and walked down the hills in large baskets where they are processed. Laundry hung from windows to dry. Fishing boats lined the quai and even in October plenty of sunbathers soaked up the rays and dashed into the crystal clear aqua water to cool off. Montarossa, has the only sizable sand beach of the five villages, earning it the nickname of the Ligurian Riviera.
The pastel-colored houses lining Montarosso’s medieval stone streets snake up the hills like lines of dominos. Hundreds of years ago, Montarossa and the other villages were regularly targeted by pirates. Up until the raids began, the homes had only a front door. In defense, backdoors were cut into the homes giving villagers an escape route by weaving front to back through the houses all the way up the hills and into hiding. Our guide grew up in Liguria where the houses follow much the same configuration. She told us that she and her friends would play hide and seek, going from house to house all the way up the mountain, in much the same way their ancestors ran from the pirates.
And now, on to Milan!
Photos courtesy of Martin Darvick