In the last couple of years, spurred on by a desire to make the most of each precious, free moment and a habit of putting my rambling tendencies into prose, I have carved out my own tiny space here on the web, centred around making the most of my annual leave. Pumpkin and I usually invest the bulk of our leave into long-haul travel with just long weekends spent in Europe but this summer, we headed to Italy for a full ten days, a country that stole my heart when I first visited at the age of fourteen.
After a cosy one night stay in Pisa and prior to heading onto Florence and Venice, the first stop for our Italian adventure was Cinque Terre in Liguria. This region of northern Italy is so fondly spoken about by all those I know who have been there before me – but what exactly is all the fuss about?
What is so special about Cinque Terre?
I am always wary about destinations that carry such acclaim. I’ve seen many a place end up with its reputation in tatters because hordes of happy customers showered it with generous superlatives on instrumental review sites only to build up an image so unattainable that the subsequent hordes to arrive dug in with the most critical of claws.
For years, I imagined that the Maldives couldn’t possibly be that special before finally seeing it with my own eyes and I now try and remind myself that there is a reason hyped up places acquire hype in the first place.
And it isn’t just the locals or millions of tourists sauntering in and out of these five seaside villages, who portray its Italian Riviera charm with their photographs. UNESCO too has paid homage to the fact that this is a part of Italy we should all take note of. I can only speak of my own verdict of Cinque Terre in saying with conviction that I developed a deep rooted fascination with this enchanting region of Italy.
The Cinque Terre Views
The striking views are really the face of Cinque Terre and arguably the most convincing reason it is considered so special and for me, it was these that drew me to this part of the world. I wanted to capture the essence of these colourful, cliff-top vistas and bustling harbours.
I longed to see the old, pastel-toned buildings, to listen to the waves that carry the swaying fishing boats and to reap the aesthetic rewards of the uphill climbs. Seen through the lenses of both radiant sunlight and drapes of grey clouds that made appearances during our visit, the views of Cinque Terre remained irresistible.
And away from the mosaic panoramas, we felt at peace wandering aimlessly through the tiny back streets of the villages, stumbling upon plants nestling snugly in terracotta pots, family run greengrocers’ stores and vibrant, summer flowers adorning walls and staircases.
I should tell you of the transient moment of panic that set in when I realised that I had inadvertently booked us onto a hiking holiday. I booked the trip set on seeing these views but I had not clocked onto the fact that those very views are best seen on the hikes. You can certainly hop between villages by train or boat, as many do, and walk around the main town areas but you will miss the aerial views that hallmark the beauty of the place; for those, you need to ascend some steps, often steep and often lots of them but completely worth the rising heart rate that accompanies them.
The Vernazza – Monterosso (or vice versa) routes are the most popular of the hikes but we also we also did the Corniglia to Vernazza and Volastra to Corniglia hikes, the latter of which I recommend in particular, as it is certainly off the beaten track and gives you these emerald views.
I’m not usually a hiker, nor do I consider myself particularly athletic and I certainly never anticipated we would be walking an average of 10 miles a day but even I felt that the hikes were quite manageable, always in large open spaces and with plenty of areas to be able to pause for food, drink and rest.
The Vibe and Crowds
The ambience here is a funny amalgamation of the relaxed pace of life of proud villagers, who seem to accept the contrasting busy crowds of tourists with an admirable grace and hospitality whilst still going about their normal lives.
The rounded boulders that protrude into the seafront are shared by local fishermen at sunset, slow travellers who camp out on them throughout the day, making headway through their novels and perhaps less endearingly by larger crowds using the space for waterfront parties. Sadly, as with many popular regions, there is increasing evidence in the hills of the damage being caused by tourism – littering on the hiking trails, graffiti on the natural cacti and a few tourists bellowing profanities thereby detracting from the etiquette and culture that villages like this call for.
But what makes Cinque Terre so special is the fact that everyone from families to teenage backpackers to the elderly were seen travelling in this area, each group equally absorbed by the magic of the villages, all welcomed in equal measure. It appeals to romancing couples honeymooning their way to the hilly peaks. seasoned walkers, grandparents and we even spotted a super-fit, young Mum and Dad who were somehow able to do the two hour steep hike we did with a baby perched on their shoulders!
The Pesto, seafood and foccacia
Pesto was the first of the foodie specialities that I came to learn of. Freshly made here in Liguria with local basil, parmesan and pine nuts, the traditional way to enjoy it is with Trofie pasta, which is characteristic of this region and served up by most restaurants in the area.
Whilst replenishing your fuel before or after a hike, other local specialities not to miss include warm foccacia and Antipasto Misto (fresh seafood catch of the day fried up in a light batter), often served in cones to take away or as a starter in restaurants.
I loved this region of Italy and if you like the look of it, watch this space for plenty more photographs coming soon. I will also try and give you the low down on the differences and similarities between the five villages as well as neighbouring villages you can visit during your stay.
Have you ever visited Cinque Terre? What was your opinion of the place?