CINQUE TERRE – WHERE POETS ALSO WALKED

Leaving lovely Lucca and Tuscany behind, I was on the home stretch of Journey 2.   I had one famous sight to see then it would be a slow return via Italian countryside to Courchevel, through the Mont Blanc tunnel, to my home in France just outside Geneva.  It would be on this last, leisurely leg that I would have a profound and mysterious experience, inexplicable to my rational mind, that would bring together all the different effects and impacts of my Journey into a completed, if incomprehensible, whole.   But more of that in my next post.

Before that strange occurrence I stopped to visit the province of Liguria and the delight of Cinque Terre. 

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The five fishing villages of Cinque Terre nestle independently on the rugged coastline of the Bay of Genoa, romantically known as the Bay of Poets, beloved by writers, artists and poets over the years including Byron, Shelley and DH Lawrence.  These villages were literally carved out of rock by the fishing folk over centuries and climb dramatically up the cliffs and hillsides behind their ports.  Their precariousness is attractive enough, but it is enhanced by the colours of the buildings – pretty, pretty  pastels, reds and blues.   Add surrounding vineyards on the background slopes, and the crystalline ocean waters, and you have a postcard paradise.    

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, cars were banned decades ago from the area and access is only by a quaint local train or from the sea. Though the train service is said to be the most convenient I believe that the best way to visit these hamlets is by boat, in this way you approach them in all their glory, full face, rising up from the ocean in paint splodges of colour. 

This is how I visited Cinque Terre and luckily for me it was on a glorious, sunny day with a kind wind, allowing me a pleasurable sea voyage on the well-organised ferry service. 

Setting off for Cinque Terre

Setting off for Cinque Terre

Porto Venere

Porto Venere

Before you reach the Cinque Terre villages the boats make a stop at another alluring place which could easily qualify to join the club.  I loved exploring multi-coloured Porto Venere’s higgledy-piggledy alleyways which led to a theatrically positioned gothic church on a promontory.   The Chiesa di San Pietro is completely exposed to the elements and the sea and has long been a thrilling place to worship one’s god, built as it was on the ruins of a Roman temple to Venus.    Tucked behind San Pietro is a cave where apparently Byron used to hang out.  Byron famously swam right across the Bay from here to Lerici to visit Shelley.  

The Chiesa di San Pietro

The Chiesa di San Pietro

Byron's cave

Byron’s cave

Jumping onto the next connecting ferry boat I set off for Riomaggiore, the first settlement in the chain of Cinque Terre, which is followed by Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso Al Mare. Each quaint community has its own unique feature, whether it be Vernazza’s castle, Manarola’s vineyards, or the beaches of Monterosso.   But every village scrambles alike up the rocks behind their port or simple landing stage –  though Corniglia is inaccessible by sea and can only be reached by train or on foot.  

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore

It has to be said that the villages profit now from an active tourist trade and not many of their shops, though charming, seem original or authentic these days.   However, if you are a hiker you can escape the tourism as this is superb walking country.  Each township has a sanctuary path to a clifftop chapel giving divine views on the way.  There are also trails connecting the villages, one of which includes the Via Dell’Amore which clings to the cliff edge and, once constructed, allowed (intrepid?) lovers from the different settlements to meet.   

The Via Dell’Amore cliff path -dedicated to lovers

Certain coastal pathways have suffered at different points in time and had to be closed for renovation, including the Via Dell’Amore.   The whole coast was badly damaged during serious floods and mudslides in 2011 which killed several people and caused much destruction, particularly to Vernazza and Monterossa. 

Vernazza

Street poster showing 2011 flood damage to Vernazza harbour

Despite the plentiful tourists nothing can detract from the splendour of this coastline which I continued to explore on other days by train.  I also spent a hot day in the seaside resort of Levanto, but left the multitudes on the beach to follow some of the history trails that I learned about from the tourist office.  I strolled through the old town around historic routes and buildings with interesting stories, past a 13th century loggia, and walked up to the old medieval city walls and clock tower before coming across choir practice in the liquorice-stick striped San Andrea Church where I rested peaceably for a while listening to their music.    I spent another day visiting the busy port town of La Spezia, with many remnants of its maritime history, particularly enjoying the wonderful and varied collection in the Museo Amedeo Lia with its Titian’s and Tintoretto’s, all donated by one benefactor. 

Levanto seafront

Levanto's medieval loggia

Levanto’s medieval loggia

Each of my Journey stops are different and individual in their own way.  In Cinque Terre I was definitely in tourist mode for the duration, enjoying the beauty of this special area.   After Cinque Terre, Journey 2 almost over, I headed north and had a very contrasting stop-over – in Italian vineyards “far from the madding crowds” where, under a Supermoon, I could reflect on the approaching end of these solo travels.

Levanto

Comments
2 Responses to “CINQUE TERRE – WHERE POETS ALSO WALKED”
  1. Joannir says:

    Now that I am too old to journey myself, your blogs are so carefully constructed that I can
    Feel as though I am doing the trip with you. THANKYOU so much

  2. apollard says:

    Che Bella!
    Gorgeous photos, I’m super jealous. I only got as far as La Spezia. I definitely need a return trip.

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