I dream of Italy…the serene, winding canals of Venice, the cradle of Renaissance art in Florence, emerald hillsides of Tuscany…oh, and the food, the wine! My sister lives in Italy so I have an excuse to visit often. This month I enjoyed my first visit to Cinque Terre, five seaside villages in Tuscany famed for their kaleidoscope of homes clambering up cliffsides, adorning sleepy harbors.
We stayed in a spacious apartment in Vernazza, overlooking the piazza with its pastel bell tower and striped umbrellas shading diners. By day, the town bustled with hikers and tourists from around the world, exploring the shops, the cafes, the castle and tower. Small boys played soccer and young people laughed into the evening after their day of hiking the crest trail that connects these towns for hiking enthusiassts.
The five towns that comprise the Cinque Terre stretch out along a small mountain range, dangling over the sea like charms on a bracelet. You can explore the Cinque Terre by train, by boat or by walking between them along a path through the mountains. I recommend exploring the Cinque Terre as many ways as you can because these 5 villages deserve being seen from every angle. Traveling by train puts you right at the heart of each town and from there you can wind your way through the narrow streets, up the staircases among quiet alleys that lead to surprising views, either of the town from a new angle or of the Ligurian Sea.
But don’t pass up the chance to take the ferry which runs frequently between 4 of the 5 villages and allows you to skirt along the vine-covered cliffs and experience the Cinque Terre as you approach from the sea. There you will take the full measure of their beauty and come to appreciate the engineering it took to build homes up along those cliffsides, the houses like clusters of grapes cascading down the rock face.
I traveled with my mother, an artist, who wanted to capture the workaday side of these towns… as if the taffy-colored homes weathering in the sun weren’t picturesque enough. We photographed the residents chatting in the piazza or taking their daily “passeggiata” to enjoy the evening cool with a leisurely walk, photos my mother would use to compose her paintings back at home. We photographed the small worn fishing boats bobbing in the harbor, rainbows of disrepair that captured mom’s interest. I couldn’t resist taking pictures of our food as well.
The regional cuisine of the Cinque Terre includes seafood served every way imaginable, fresh and caught that morning. Mussels, sardines, sea bream and squid, the Italians certainly know how to display the abundance of the sea, draping their prawns over delicate risottos, delivering an aromatic fish soup in a gargantuan bowl for the family to ooh and ahh over and then devour. The drama! The local wines are soft and complicated and easy on the wallet. And the cheeses…my favorite was a Pecorino di Fossa, a local specialty buried underground to ripen for two years before savoring.
With its combination of dramatic seascapes, candy-colored homes nestled into the crannies of the mountains, breezy harbors, and always, the beautiful Italians, the Cinque Terre have been charming travelers for years. I recommend a visit on your next adventure in La Bella Italia.