Sunday, September 21, 2014

Exploring the Cinque Terre, Italy

 The Final Chapter of our Euro Trip III encapsulates the Northern Italian Coast!  And what a way to wind down the hustle and bustle of dashing through London and Paris, with the calming seas and scenes of the Cinque Terre!  
Cinque Terre meaning "Five Lands", encompasses the five villages that grace the shoreline of the Italian Rivera: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.  The entire area along the coast is protected by the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.    

Monterosso and Vernazza include historical records that date back to the 11th Century, making them the first of the villages to be born. The others were built up later under the authority of the military and political leaders in Genoa.  In the 16th Century further development of defense towers and fortresses began in all the villages due to Turkish attacks, but eventually the villages fell into disrepair.  
It wasn't until the railway came in the 19th Century linking Genoa and La Spezia, that the inhabitants of the Cinque Terre could escape their isolation and venture into neighboring towns.  This left many coastal traditions to evaporate and be left, forgotten, as well as homes to become empty and markets to close.  Poverty swept the area and was seemingly lost forever.  
Finally, many, many, many years later, in the 1970's, new developments of tourism brought visitors,wealth and life back to the Cinque Terre!

Glorious and colorful, the five villages will grab a hold of your heart and pull you into the past!  Wondering why the buildings were a multitude of colors, I started asking around.  It turns out, that the wonderful colors of the Cinque Terre are almost used as spots on a map for fisherman at sea to keep their eyes on their homes, ensuring that their wives were staying busy completing the housework while they brought in the catch;)

Monterosso, the largest of the five towns is where we called home for the next few days of our trip!  Terraced with colorful rows of houses, hotels, restaurants and shops, Montesrosso is also home to a lovely winery, many beautiful churches and wonderful beaches!  The hillsides that surround it are cultivated with vines and olives and everywhere you turn, citrus fruit trees greet you blooming beautiful oranges, lemons and limes:) 

My husband and I booked a room at the lovely, quaint Affittacamere Da Cesare Hotel in Monterosso al Mere.  Located up a steep and winding stone pathway inside the city walls, the hotel sung out to us as we approached!  Twisting vines of green and white honeysuckle swept over the entry way beckoning us forward:)  I couldn't have dreamed up a more wonderful place to stay! 

This Inn only had accommodations for 6 people at most, three rooms total, two on the second level and ours, in the remodeled attic!  It was perfect and pretty and was by far, my favorite place we've stayed in all of our travels!!!  A gorgeous, homemade, traditional Italian breakfast greeted us downstairs every morning and the Inn keeps were lovely hosts!   

Moments after arriving, we dropped our bags and headed back out to explore this intricate little town and find something to eat.  Within a few steps of our Inn, a lemon orchard cascaded down from the hill onto the streets below!  Steps after that we were greeted by open windows, fresh laundry strung out like lights across the alleyways.  Locals and tourists alike flooded the streets, ducking in and out of shops and enjoying wine and cheese on terraces of their own or at local restaurants.     

We enjoyed dinner at Il Piccolo Diavolo, the first night and it was the best meal I had, the whole trip!  Steven ordered a pizza topped with the local favorite, anchovies and I feasted on the best pasta I've ever tasted in a rose sauce with huge shrimps!  Delizioso!!!  And nothing goes better with Italian pasta and pizza than Italian wine!  " Una caraffa di vino bianco per favore!", (A carafe of white wine please) ;)  And to ask for the check, "Il conto, per favore".

After dinner we did a little shopping!  I purchased many gifts to take home for my family!  Bags of local pasta and spices for sauces, lotions, soaps, kitchen gadgets!!!  I also bought a few things for us;)

The next day we explored more of Monterosso and went to the beach!  We came across this gigantic statue, extended out from an old stone wall.  Il Gigante, built beside the terrace of a villa represents Neptune, God of the Sea!  He is quiet extrodinary, larger than life, he stnads there, hunched over from supporting the ceiling on his shoulders.  He almost looks like he has taken the building, and is getting ready to drag it into the sea!

Wine!!!!  You cannot come to Italy and not drink the wine!  And luckily for us, we didn't have to venture far from our Inn, in fact, the Buranco Winery was just up the hill from our Inn, on the same cobble walkway!  More a farm, Buranco produces much more than wines from their vines, they grow olives, keep bees to make their own honey and grow a variety of citrus trees!  A spectacular place to spend an afternoon:)


A visit to the Cinque Terre wouldn't be complete without train hopping from village to village, so we planned to spend a day just doing that;)  From Monterosso, we took the train back east, past the other towns to the first village, Riomaggiore, and decided we would hit each one, try their own, local cuisine, shop and hit the next, heading back west till we reached our Monterosso again:)

Riomaggiore, is the first of the five towns you'd meet if traveling from La Spezia.  This town is characterized by it's colorful houses, terraced into a "V" along the shoreline.  Since it's main street is at the lowest point, the center of the "V", and the hillsides go upwards in opposite directions, you can clearly see the shape from afar.  A beautiful town with an interesting church built into the hillside on one of the northern streets.  The views, shopping and eating here are amazing!  As you walk along the stony, narrow streets, that wind around the hillside, you'll look upon houses cantilevering over one another.  Many of these homes also have small yards and gardens which also seem suspended against the cliffs.  It's a magnificent scene!

Manarola was one of my favorite places!  Being the second smallest of the five towns, you'd think we'd be in and out,  but we visited here the longest!  This is the most photographed of the five towns and anyone can see why!  Manarola is characterized by its village enveloping one main hillside.  The choppy waters below are usually photographed crashing into the huge rocks below the arched bridge seen along the shoreline.  In fact, it's picture is at the start of my post!  This is where we walked every walkway, entered every church, looked through lots of shops and enjoyed a lovely lunch of seafoods and pastas and lots of Cinque Terre wines:)  During our walk we watched brave men and women jump from the large rocks into the clear blue waters below, just off shore!  I'm not that brave;)

Corniglia was next on our list!  One thing that sets this village apart from the others is that it does not sit against the shoreline, it is the only village that instead, sits atop a high platform on the hillside.  Surrounded on three sides by vineyards and terraces, the fourth side is a steep cliff  that faces down over 300 feet, directly over the choppy sea!  To get to the village from the train depot, you must climb the Lardarina, a flight of 382 steps, or travel cautiously up the winding roadway.  It is here, on a terrace facing the sea that the four other villages of the Cinque Terre can be seen two in one direction and two in the other:)

After climbing those stairs we were due for some gelato!  As yummy as you'd think, Corniglia boasts some fantastic gelato:)  After enjoying a cone of hazelnut and pistachio heaven we took to the streets in search of treasures!

While exploring the shops here I fell in love with a local boutique!  The shop owners long time friend was the designer and seamstress for all the wonderful clothes inside!  This place was hard to leave!  The clothing label is Lavgon, you can check them out online!  I left with an Italian silk dress in peacock blue, you'll see it in its full glory later on in my Piza, Italy Post!

Vernazza was the last town, unexplored on our list and the sun was still bright in the sky despite heading into the evening hours!  Known as one of the truest fishing villages on the Italian Riveria, Vernazza has absolutely no car access/traffic.  Travel is done by walking, train or boat only!  The name of this village was derived from the indigenous wine that's grown here, Vernaccia, meaning "local".  

Earliest records for this village date back to 1080!  Can you imagine?!?  Because Vernazza opens right up to the sea, it was used by military forces as a port and the town provided fleet and soliders!  Over the years it has seen pirate raids, defense construction, natural disasters and decline in wine production and commerce.  In 1997, when it joined the National Park of the Cinque Terre, it has seen a positive lift in restoration, preservation and revenue!  Tourism has had a huge impact on the revitalization of the village, and the deep rooted traditions of fishing,wine and olive oil production have significantly grown to meet the new markets demands!

Be sure to walk through the bustling streets and pop in and out of the wonderful shops!  Italian linen is the absolute best!  If you see a shop with beautiful linen shirts, pants, scarves, etc. be sure to take home a treasure, you'll wear and enjoy it over and over again!  

Stop inside the old Church of Santa Margherita, circa 1318 for a rest while you listen to beautiful hymns being sung:)  And walk all the way out on the Piazza Marconi, which stretches into the sea to turn around and look back at this wondrous village that shines back at you, full of colors, brightly in the sun:)

With all the running around, it'll be time to eat once again...yeah, you'll be eating every few hours, the food here is AMAZING, and you're burning calories pretty steadily throughout the day just by exploring!!!!!  Come try it for yourself:)  Yummmmmm!

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