Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Italian Riviera: the Cinque Terre, May 2018

The harbor of Vernazza
After Lucca, we went on to visit the 5 fishing villages of the "Cinque Terre" on the Italian Riviera. These little towns still have some fishermen based in town, but now most of the money comes from tourism. The 5 villages are isolated from each other geographically by cliffs and hills, but there are boat and train connections from village to village. They are technically part of Liguria (main city: Genoa).

At the top of the pic:
Belforte Tower in the Doria castle atop Vernazza
You can left-click on each picture to see it in a larger version.

We had great food (pesto and fresh fish) and wine and did short day trips to the other villages. Our apartment was on the main square on the harbor in Vernazza. We could hear the waves of the Mediterranean lapping at the shore. Anchovies are available fresh from the Mediterranean and they are prepared in so many ways to provide a very different experience than anything we were familiar with in the US!

A view of the Vernazza harbor. Our apartment was in the house
that is one window wide to the left of the light pink house

Anchovies done right - the local anchovy "pie"

The weather was sunny but not too hot, because there was always a breeze from the Mediterranean.

Each town of a few hundred natives is separated from the rest by high hills and cliffs. During the afternoon, Richard took hikes in the hills above the towns where there are little isolated chapels called sanctuaries.
Reggio Sanctuary from the trail

The one above Vernazza is called the Reggio Sanctuary. It is know for a portrait of the Virgin Mary  called the Black Madonna, presumably because her garment appears to be black. The church was built in the eleventh century on the ruins of an ancient religious structure. The current building is plain on the outside, but inside it is beautifully decorated. The area around the church is peaceful, and the trees offer plenty of shade after a challenging hike up the hill.

Inside Reggio Santuary

A side street in Vernazza

Coastal hillside with terraced vineyards

view from Winexperience

Kathy usually stayed around our little apartment that had a view of the harbor and piazza in Vernazza or wandered up and down the only street of the town shopping for groceries or good restaurants. One evening, we went to a balcony overlooking the sea, where a wine-tasting establishment called Winexperience serves some incredible Italian wines (and only Italian wines). The most unusual red wine smelled wonderfully like leather (and Richard detected a hint of saw dust). It tasted great, but he didn't want to drink it all because it smelled so good.
After several whites and reds, we finished with a desert wine called Sciacchetrà, which is made from grapes that are only grown in the Cinque Terre. It was so good that we later found a bottle in town to buy as a souvenir. It is sometimes served with little biscottis called bucellato.
The sommelier, Alessandro, spent time with us explaining each wine, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

On other afternoons, we took the train or the boat to the other little towns, which were all just as crowded, but each one had their own charm with either more of a beach-and-hotel scene (Monterosso), or a much smaller harbor so that the fishing boats were sitting on part of the town square about 20 feet above the water, having been hauled up there by a crane, as in Manarola!

vineyards surrounding Corniglia
Richard went to another sanctuary one afternoon, this one called Santuario della Madonna delle Grazie (the sanctuary of our lady of graces), and located above Corniglia. The view of town from the path up to the church was beautiful. Corniglia is the only one of the five villages without a harbor. In fact, the town sits on above the cliffs with no river valley leading down to the sea. But the town is a colorful patch in a landscape of vineyards. And the town itself is very charming. It is the smallest of the five villages, and the streets and sidewalks are correspondingly narrow.
In Corniglia
Corniglia from a distance

Monterosso from the sea.
We took a boat  to Monterosso, where the harbor is in the new town. This part of town gives Monterosso a slicker atmosphere. This is the largest of the five villages, and it is where you will find hotels, for example, something hard to come by elsewhere in Cinque Terre.  Here is where we found the Oratorio della Confraternita dei Neri Mortis et Orationis, which is roughly translated as the Oratorio (chapel) of the Brotherhood of the Black Death and Prayer. It's not really a church, but rather a chapel and meeting place for an organization that cared for the families of the fishermen who died at sea. Skeletons were everywhere to be seen.
It was also interesting to watch the workers performing the careful restoration of the frescoes as they applied a fine layer of what looked like cheesecloth and plaster to the walls.

Oratorio della Confraternita
dei Neri Mortis et Orationis
Examples of many skeletons in the Oratorio

Old town of Monterosso
 The old part of town is where you find the rustic charm of the Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore has the most rustic harbor of the villages. It seemed to us to be more a pile of rocks than a harbor, and there is no beach. But it fits in wonderfully with the shear cliffs surrounding it.

There is a footpath from the harbor of Riomaggiore through a tunnel to the train station and then farther to Manarola. The path between towns is called the Via d'Amore (Lover's Lane) due to the beautiful views.

 Manarola seems to have a little more room than the other villages. Near the harbor there is a small town square (Piazza Capellini) with a mosaic of the local fish and birds. Higher up in the town in front of the Chiesa di San Lorenzo (Church of Saint Lawerence) is another small square with the bell tower overlooking town.

During the summer season, the villages are populated by a few hundred natives, who in the course of the last couple decades have shared their towns with thousands of tourists daily(!) in a continual stream from May to October. It's like Lake George on July 4th all season long! We don't know how they put up with the constant crowds. We saw some of them on the harbor-front square in front of our apartment in the early daylight hours having coffee and chatting outside the small bar across the plaza. We were glad to have an apartment to retreat to during the most crowded hours when we weren't visiting the other towns ourselves or retreating to the hills.