Cinque Terre feels the pinch

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

HIK­ING the coastal path that links the me­dieval fish­ing vil­lages of Italy’s Cinque Terre on its north­west coast is a stop-start af­fair these days. Nes­tled be­tween azure ex­panses of sea and dry-stone ter­raced moun­tains that cas­cade into the Mediter­ranean, the rocky way is barely 1 foot (30 cen­time­tres) wide in places.

And as vis­i­tors ar­rive in ever greater num­bers to see why this corner of the Riviera fea­tures on so many travel bucket lists, pedes­trian traf­fic jams made the go­ing slow on a swel­ter­ing Au­gust morn­ing.

But Chi­nese stu­dent Hardy Yang has no com­plaints on the crowded path be­tween Mon­terosso and Ver­nazza, two of the five vil­lages that make up Cinque Terre.

“Words fail me, it is so amaz­ing,” the 18-year-old told AFP as he and his fam­ily, from Yun­nan prov­ince, took a breather. “Are there too many peo­ple? No. You know, in China, ev­ery­where you go there are so many peo­ple. [For us] there are few peo­ple here.”

A surge in the num­ber of Chi­nese vis­i­tors is only one of the rea­sons that the Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site that is home to some 5000 peo­ple, at­tracted 2.5 mil­lion tourists last year.

And with in­sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity con­cerns plac­ing coun­tries like Tu­nisia and Turkey off lim­its for many hol­i­day op­er­a­tors, the to­tal is set to be 20 per­cent higher in 2016, ac­cord­ing to Vit­to­rio Alessan­dro, pres­i­dent of the Cinque Terre Na­tional Park.

Other iconic Ital­ian set­tings, like Venice, Florence and the celebrity hang­out of Capri, are feel­ing sim­i­lar strains, trig­ger­ing de­bate about the pos­si­bil­ity of cap­ping ac­cess.

“The re­la­tion­ship be­tween vis­i­tors and res­i­dents is in dan­ger of be­com­ing a con­flict­ual one,” Venice mayor Luigi Brug­naro re­cently said.

Brug­naro is spear­head­ing a cam­paign for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for the most sat­u­rated sites to be given spe­cial pow­ers to limit ac­cess – a mea­sure Italy’s cen­tre-left gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing.

Alessan­dro made waves ear­lier this year when he un­veiled plans to mon­i­tor the num­bers of peo­ple en­ter­ing the 43 square kilo­me­tres (17 square miles) of the Cinque Terre. Ticket prices to ac­cess the coastal paths were raised to 7.50 eu­ros (US$8.40) per day and vis­i­tors are now made to pay higher rail ticket prices than lo­cals.

The ini­tia­tive sparked head­lines about the spec­tre of quo­tas lead­ing to tourists be­ing turned away at road bar­ri­ers or de­nied ac­cess to the trains that ferry the hordes to quay­side lunches of spaghetti alle von­gole with clams).

To date, nobody has been turned away. Alessan­dro says the ob­jec­tive is only to re­duce the num­bers at peak times to more man­age­able lev­els.

“We don’t have gates, we don’t have bar­ri­ers, the park is open, the sta­tions are open,” Alessan­dro told AFP TV.

“But this is a small and frag­ile ter­ri­tory and, yes, in­fluxes have to be ra­tio­nalised.

“This land­scape can only be pre­served by peo­ple liv­ing in it, oth­er­wise it be­comes noth­ing more than a cin­ema set.”

Ef­forts so far have been fo­cused on ex­pand­ing train ser­vices to spread the flow of ar­riv­ing and de­part­ing vis­i­tors more evenly.

Train op­er­a­tor TrenI­talia kicks back some of its in­creased rev­enue to the na­tional park, which uses it to main­tain the walk­ing paths and the ter­races which shaped the re­gion’s cel­e­brated land­scape.

Alessan­dro says the sys­tem is work­ing well with this year’s in­creased num­bers gen­er­at­ing fewer in­ci­dents of painfully log­jammed vil­lage streets or dan­ger­ous over­crowd­ing on train sta­tion plat­forms.

But, he says, chal­lenges re­main, par­tic­u­larly in deal­ing with cruise ship crowds. It’s like “or­gan­is­ing a party at your house with no idea of how many peo­ple are go­ing to turn up”, he said.

“Sus­tain­able tourism is some­thing that ben­e­fits the area, the host and the vis­i­tor.

“But a tourism that is so quick and fran­tic leaves noth­ing to the ter­ri­tory.”

Chiara Gas­parini, a na­tive of the re­gion who guides walk­ing groups, says most lo­cals have ben­e­fited from the Cinque Terre’s fame, high­light­ing how the new in­ter­est from Asia had helped ex­tend the sea­son into the tra­di­tion­ally quiet months of Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary.

“Ob­vi­ously it de­pends who you talk to,” she said. “But there are many peo­ple who work in tourism and it is thanks to tourism that peo­ple have the op­por­tu­nity to stay and work in their home­land.”

French vis­i­tor Camilla Le­conte has seen the re­gion trans­formed in the 30 years she has been vis­it­ing.

“For good or bad? I re­ally don’t know. I said to some­one in Ver­nazza, ‘There are re­ally a lot of peo­ple here,’ and she replied, ‘There are never enough’.

“I sup­pose charg­ing for the hik­ing paths is a way also of lim­it­ing num­bers be­cause the price is not in­signif­i­cant.

“But lim­it­ing things by money also raises ques­tions. Does that mean those who can af­ford can come, those who can’t, can’t?”

– (spaghetti

Photo: RJ Vogt

The small foot­paths that link Italy’s iconic Cinque Terre vil­lages are grow­ing more and more crowded. Can Italy keep up?

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