The beautiful and varied Italian landscape takes on another face as we
whiz by on the autostrada...that of rugged mountains inset with the
famous marble of Carrara. We pass factories with slabs of every
imaginable shape and size, trucks loaded down with thin sheets or
square blocks, carefully secured. The dust of the distant quarries hangs
above the hills, and coats the warehouses and workshops by the
expressway. Soon we begin to tunnel through the ridges
descending to the sea, and arrive in Santa Margherita Ligure. We find
our way to the charming Hotel Nuova Riviera, a pretty yellow and white
16th century palazzo, where friendly Signor Sabatini welcomes us and
shows us to our room -a corner with big windows opening out over the
After settling in, we walk down to the seaside promenade, and join a
sociable group of spectators waiting for a band concert to begin.
Across the street are lots of interesting shops, restaurants, and cafes.
The band opens up with Funiculi, Funicula, and follows with more
traditional favorites, the locals singing along and children dancing to
the familiar tunes. Rather than a tourist-packed resort town, Santa
Margherita is a lived-in and friendly haven.
The small marina is overlooked by a crumbling fortified castle, and
further up another hill, the impressive Villa Durazzo, rusty peach with
golden yellow trim and surrounded by luxuriant gardens, looks down on
the sailboats bobbing at anchor.
I want a sunset over the water to color my dinner, so we drive along the
cliff-hugging corniche road to west-facing Camogli, where tall vibrantly
colored homes terrace down the steep hills to surround the tiny harbor.
The brightly painted fishing boats and piles of nets on the stone
breakwater, ready for an early morning departure, let us know that our
seafood dinner will be full of fresh local specialties. We claim a
table on a terrace over the pebbled beach, and fill up on course after
course of the daily catch - which includes lots of shrimp, calamari, and
octupus. I have to admit that it's a bit much for me - but Kirk is able
to finish my portion as well as his. I thoroughly enjoy the penne with
pesto (a Ligurian specialty, different at every restaurant, and
delicious at all).
As the sun sets behind the picturesque church across the curved harbor,
we finish our dinner and walk along the beach to our car.
The next morning we awake, refreshed from sleep in our jasmine-scented
room, to another gorgeous sunny day -just perfect for a daylong hike in
the Cinque Terre.
The train takes us along the dramatic rocky coast for the hour and a
half ride to Manarola, in and out of one tunnel after another, speeding
by tiny towns just big enough for a beach and a church.
We start our walk from tiny Manarola, perched over its harbor and hemmed
in by the cliffs, beginning with an easy walk along the Via del Amore,
joining groups of school-children, european families, and oriental
tourists. The walk becomes more interesting, edging a beautiful cove far
below, as we approach the hilltop village of Corniglia. A hand-lettered
sign advertises a beach. A dip in the water, teasing us from our perch
above on the cliffs, sounds wonderful on this warm sunny day! We follow
the arrow, which leads us to a long abandoned railway tunnel...is this
the way??? After a 15 minute walk through the damp and dimly lit tunnel,
we come out above a rocky beach, where an entrepreneurial family has
established a cliff-side concession charging 5,000 lira for beach
access. A scrubby steep path leads down to the waves, and we welcome the
chance to cool off before hiking back to continue on the coastal path.
The only way to Corniglia, perched high above the water, is up 373 steep
zig-zagging stairs. We follow our noses towards the good smells coming
from a wood-burning pizza oven, and enjoy our delicious lunch under
colorful orange umbrellas shading the piazza at the top of the town. We
replenish our water supply at an outdoor stone sink, surrounded by
other hikers eager to splash on or guzzle some cool water before
continuing towards Vernazza.
A challenging 2 hour hike leads along narrow paths edging the cliffs,
sometimes through fragrant and flowery vegetation, with superb views of
foamy surf crashing along the rocks below. Motorboats and ferries pass
by out on the deep blue sea. Songbirds encourage us on our way through
groves of olive trees.
Picturesque Vernazza, with its tall multicolored houses circling the
tiny harbor, is hands-down the prettiest town of the 5. One photo-op
after another! And accessible water! We join many of our fellow-hikers
to cool off in the sea. Everyone's having a great time-swimming, diving,
sunning on the rocks, sampling delicious gelato.
Tired, we consider taking the ferry to the final town of Monterosso al
Mare, knowing that the final 2 hour hike is the most difficult...but
decide to just do it and complete the trip by foot.
The final leg begins with a steep and steady climb up, up, up, to the
start of the cliffside trail. Rough and sometimes very narrow tracks,
high in the hills, offer spectacular views back to bright Vernazza, as
well as the previous towns. We climb past little creeks, and can hear
but not see waterfalls off the trail. Through olive groves, past bright
wildflowers, we follow the path, which sometimes narrows to an inches-
wide ledge curving in along the mountainside, then juts out again high
above the rocky shore. The approach to Monterosso is down what seems
like hundreds of uneven stone steps - hard on the knees! We walk down
to the first beach we see, at the head of a cove surrounded by cliffs,
and dive in...finishing our Cinque Terre hike with a splash!
Anne in Virginia