Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cinque Terre

As I was lounging in the family room at our friend's home in France, my husband was busy studying maps for our morning trip South to Nice. Suddenly he came running into the room hopping up and down in excitement. "The Cinque Terre is only a 3 hr. drive from Nice!" he exclaimed. "I have ALWAYS wanted to take you to the Cinque Terre!" His excitement caught on despite the fact that I had no idea what the Cinque Terre was and we made a quick decision that it was a must do in our travel plans over the next week.
The Cinque Terre is know as "the Five Lands" on the rugged coast of the Italian Riviera. To get to these 5 towns you must travel on the walking path known as Sentiero Azzurro (Light Blue Trail) through the Cinque Terre National Park , by rail on the Via Dell'amore (Love Walk) or by boat. A permit/rail pass must be purchased to access the trails. The people of these 5 towns have protected the charm of these towns by fighting large road access.
We parked our car in the nearby town of Levanto, purchased our trail/train pass and hopped on the train to the first town of Monterosso. The stunning blue of the Mediterranean, painted buildings, a castle, round colorful sun umbrellas, green hillside and steep grey cliffs were almost too much for my senses to take in. We got off the train and headed through the tunnel connecting the new town with the old town, to begin our journey on foot. The 1 1/2 hr. hike took us up and down the terraced mountain side used to cultivate grapes and olives. We traveled on steep steps chiseled into the mountain. Through vineyards, over streams on rock bridges and past houses. Each twist and turn brought a new breath taking view.
Around each corner brought the view of the town of Vernazza a bit closer. It was beautiful from a distance. The colorful buildings and a castle turret rising on the edge of the Sea. The harbor was built out creating a protected cove on one side with waves dashing against the boulders on the other. As we came upon the town the trail dumped us into a series of alleys. One wrong turn and we would end up in someone's living room. We were hot and it was time for a break. We enjoyed some gelato while sitting on the rocks watching the waves crash in. Our oldest daughter and I decided to take a trip up the castle turret while the others took a swim in the harbor. From the top of the castle I was dismayed to see my husband among the crazy people jumping off the pier on the Sea side. He had to tread water for 20 min. while waiting for a wave large enough to sweep him back onto the pier. Well, he's living in Pakistan, guess there's no hope for safety in our lives!
After giving the kids some time to cool off in the calm waters of the harbor, we decided to take the train to the next town of Corniglia. The train travels mainly through tunnels in the mountains. We sat back for the ride before getting out and exploring some more. The harbor in Corniglia was surrounded by small cliffs. Ropes went up from the sea and men were climbing them and diving in. My husband couldn't resist. Into the water he went, up the ropes and into the water again. The kids and I sat above and watched, a bit envious but feeling too much danger to give it a try.
We did an easy 45 min. hike to the 4th town of Manarola. Manarola is not situated on the sea, so from the trail you have to go down the mountain to the beach or up the mountain to the town. By this time we were exhausted. We hiked up to the town, took a rather quick look around, not overly impressed and decided to get on the train to travel back to the first town of Monterosso for dinner.
Pesto and foccacia bread were developed in this region of Italy. A unique type of pasta was created to go with the pesto. Dinner was well deserved after hiking and exploring all day. In the setting of a small Italian town pasta had never tasted so exquisite. A piece of tiramisu was a perfect finish for a perfect day.

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