Monday, June 4, 2012

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre

Fabulous views and the tunnel of love!

On our second day in Pisa we headed on a short local train ride to the northern Cinque Terre town of Monterosso.  Cinque Terre is famous for its picture-book vistas and the five small remotely connected towns (hence the region’s name), but more to the point Cinque Terre is a Unesco World Heritage listed region.  I’ve seen pictures of the rugged cliff edges teetering on the edge of the Côte d’Azure, but nothing could have prepared me for what we found on our arrival.

The town of Monterosso was quiet, even for low season with what seemed to be a heck of a lot of building work going on (although on our arrival it was early in the morning and building work was not happening).  Also at the train station we saw a notice informing us that the hiking trail that leads through Cinque Terre was mostly closed.  With a lot of questions and not many answers we headed for a coffee, a burst of morning caffeine and then we would decide how to proceed. 

Since the local trains connect each town, we thought it best to move on to the next town Vernazza.  Upon arrival in Vernazza we were greeted by a very pleasant local lady who informed us as to the reason why the Cinque Terre trail was closed:  In October 2011, a huge landslide, due to a large amount of winter rainfall, caused a flash flood that ripped through the first three towns of Cinque Terre.  

Vernazza was the worst hit by the flood of rainwater, mud and debris.  Three people were killed, one of whom was the mother of the lady who was explaining this to us.  It was very sad, tourism had reduced to next to nothing and the town was struggling to rebuild in time for the summer season, a season that the local community thrives upon.  The lady asked us to stay in town, and take a look.  Personally, I feel it was worthwhile to stop.  To see the local community working together to rebuild their homes was truly inspiring.

Walking around Vernazza you could see why this place was a cracker in its hay-day.  Long cobbled streets that lead down to a small quaint fishing port and its town quay and church.  Colourful buildings used to line the streets, where now the ruins of what used to be a busy seaside destination lies in the aftermath of the unthinkable.

We stayed, bought a coffee and a cake, although the shop owner couldn’t give us change, so a builder paid for us – we hastily tipped the coffee shop with our loose change, hopefully more than enough to cover the purchase.

Vernazza's Little Church
The View from the Quay, you wouldn't realise the truth from here.

The Fisherman's Quay, recently being rebuilt
It was a humbling sight to see, but also a positive one.  To see the local community working to rebuild their homes, businesses and beloved town was amazing.  The rebuild is a massive one; we’re talking new infrastructure complete – sewage, water, electricity and phone lines, rebuilding homes and pathways is the final stage really.  Until the power is back on the town lay in ruins and is uninhabitable.  We took photos, and talked to some the locals who were largely upbeat, and headed on to the next town, Corniglia.

Corniglia was less affected by the storms since it is a town built high above sea level, and with lots of mountains around it.  We stepped off of the train and decided to walk up the hillside, using a steep staircase that lead to the town proper.  382 steps later and we reached the top of the hill and the town of Corniglia.  

Next we climbed to the highest view point, took some photos and then headed down another set of steep winding steps to the fisherman’s quayside.  All up we walked around a 1000 steps to reach the quay and back to the town.

After a quick check of our watch and the train timetable, we decided to run down the first 382 steps and the hill that preceded it to return to the train station.  We only just made it in time for the train!  Sweaty and smiling to have achieved our mission, between trains, we headed towards the 4th town: Manarola.  We had to pay a small Unesco entrance fee, but it was worth it!

Manarola and Riomaggiore were the only towns that we could actually hike between, which made for an excellent way to end this morning of highs and lows!  The path from Manarola led us first to a view point of the cliffs of Manarola, known as the Via Dell Amore (Road of Love).  This area was covered in “lovers padlocks” and we decided to fashion our own with a couple of cable ties (aka zip ties or tie wraps).  

We spent a few moments weaving the cable ties through the fence, so we could create a big white love heart – perfect since we are newly engaged!  Then we spent several more minutes taking photos of it!!

The Love & Light of My Life - Winnie, I Love You xx
After leaving our Zip-tie heart we headed on a lovely walk, leading us along sheer cliff edges with full frame views of the most stunning ocean views!  The sun was high in the cloudless sky glistening on the water’s surface.  

After about an hour of walking we passed though the tunnel of love.  This is a tunnel on the cliff edge path where lovers have left messages for each other, or announcing their love for the world to see.  Graffiti written by and for lovers from all over the world is there and is overwhelming.  Of course, we took our opportunity and left some messages.
Caught in the act!

Caught in the act!

The Famous Lover Kissing Statue
Our Version is WAY better!
Moving on from the tunnel of love we passed into our final destination town of Riomaggiore.  Riomaggiore is the start (or finish) of the 5 town walk and there were a few open shops and that was about it.

I would recommend the Cinque Terre to anyone visiting Italy, and I would hope that if you are heading over there, don’t be put off by the horrors of yet another natural disaster.  These small towns thrive on our tourism, and it just wouldn’t seem right to avoid.  We met some lovely people and saw some amazing sights – we vow to return to see Cinque Terre in all its glory, but until then we take away a remarkable day and some of the best scenery in Italy.

The truth is written on the wall.
Next Stop Roma!

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