The fab­u­lous five

Vil­lages cling­ing to cliffs make the Cinque Terre a must-see

Warwick Daily News - - ESCAPE - with Ann Rickard Read more of Ann’s mus­ings at an­nrickard.com.

IT MUST surely be on ev­ery trav­eller’s bucket list. The Cinque Terre means five lands and refers to the vil­lages Riomag­giore, Ma­narola, Corniglia, Ver­nazza and Mon­terosso.

The vil­lages are built into the weath­ered cliffs on Italy’s Lig­urian coast over­look­ing the sea. They cling onto the cliffs as though one hearty gust of wind could set the lot tum­bling into the Mediter­ranean Sea.

Trains, boats and paths con­nect the vil­lages. Cars can­not get in.

Fif­teen years ago, we walked the rough and craggy paths on the ter­raced hills be­tween each vil­lage, sur­rounded by vine­yards and or­chards with glit­ter­ing views all the way.

We had no idea of the dif­fi­culty of each walk be­tween each vil­lage. Our in­ten­tion had been to do per­haps one and train it back. But our ar­rival at each be­guil­ing vil­lage in­spired us to go on.

We sat in al­fresco cafes over­look­ing the clear blue sea, look­ing up to the multi-coloured build­ings while we drank cof­fee, and as the day pro­gressed, wine and then later cock­tails.

At each vil­lage we asked wait­ers: “Is it far to the next vil­lage?” and the re­ply was al­ways, “no, not at all.”

But it was far. Not so much far, rather stag­ger­ingly steep and out­ra­geously tricky in parts.

The paths along the cliffs some­times as­cended to dizzy heights, and then de­scended dra­mat­i­cally, of­ten with just dirt steps dug into the hills. It was a gru­elling walk. But we were 15 years younger and the scenery was so spec­tac­u­lar we kept go­ing.

We re­vis­ited this UNESCO World Her­itage site this month in a man­ner more suited to our years. By sea, by ferry.

Day tick­ets from nearby La Spezia would take us to Riomag­giore, Ma­narola, Ver­nazza and Mon­terosso if we wanted to stop in each vil­lage. Corniglia was no longer an op­tion, closed due to floods and mud­slides in 2011.

The ap­proach to the vil­lages by sea is a high­light be­fore you even step off the ferry: the soar­ing cliffs, the multi-hued build­ings, the rocks, the gin-clear wa­ter.

The colour­ful build­ings of Riomag­giore are hud­dled around a tiny port, a snug spot where hun­dreds of tourists were try­ing to get pho­tos without an­other per­son in them (im­pos­si­ble). Peo­ple were sun­bathing on the rocks, div­ing and jump­ing into the invit­ing wa­ter, and who were we not to join them?

Then it was back on the ferry with hun­dreds of oth­ers, squeezed into seats on the top deck, the wind and sun­shine and views en­chant­ing all of us.

Off at the next stop to Ver­nazza, in time for lunch. De­spite the cafes around the har­bour hav­ing an ob­vi­ous tourist look, we de­cided any one of them would be the same as an­other, and for­tu­nately we found one right on the wa­ter­front.

It could not have been bet­ter for the close-up view of the ac­tiv­ity in the wa­ter, on the rocks and in the sur­rounds.

“This will def­i­nitely do,” I said as a small boat put­tered into the walled har­bour with four at­trac­tive young men on board, all shirt­less. I as­sumed they were lo­cals, and said “hot Ital­ian guys com­ing in without shirts,” to my old (not so hot but still good) Aussie guy and we watched as they slowly made their way into shore and tied up the boat, put on their shirts, and stepped ashore for lunch. A high­light.

Vis­it­ing the Cinque Terre in sum­mer or even in shoul­der sea­son (it shuts down in win­ter) is al­ways go­ing to mean crowds. It is one of the world’s most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions. Ferry, I think, is the best way to see it. You have the sea trip as a bonus, but train is ef­fi­cient. Un­less you are fit, don’t think about walk­ing the path.

PHO­TOS: ISTOCK

◗ The Cinque Terre means five lands, and is made up of five Ital­ian vil­lages and, be­low right, a cof­fee break in Ver­nazza.

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