Visit: 26th – 27th July 2014
From Genoa, Natalie and I took a regional train from Piazza Principe station 26 stops all the way to Vernazza, where we stayed for two nights. This small fishing village is one of five that together make up the Cinque Terre (‘five lands’) that cling to the rocky cliffs of the Ligurian coast. The group is joined in the WHS by another village – slightly larger – called Portovenere, and three islands: Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. In a fairly busy two days we managed to visit all of them, making use of the footpaths, railway and ferry service.
The first village, starting from the west, is Monterosso. We travelled there by train in the evening and relaxed for a while eating bruschetta and ice cream. I had a sort of cherry flavour and Natalie had double super dark extra chocolate, as usual. It’s not obvious why the village is called ‘red mountain’ when you translate it, as the hills are all covered in greenery.
The next village along is Vernazza, where we stayed. People say it is possibly the prettiest village, along with Corniglia. We ate there on one night, though couldn’t go to tripadvisor’s top recommendation because it was fully booked. We didn’t eat there on the first night though because we were totally full from the bruschetta in Monterosso and all the free foccaccia they kept giving us when we ordered drinks in a bar!
Each village is linked by a scenic footpath, which is described as some of the best walking anywhere in the world. Unfortunately several of the inter-village footpaths were closed when we were there, which I understand is not uncommon because the steep hills are prone to landslides. The most famous (and easiest) of the footpaths is the Via dell’Amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore, but it was one of those closed off. We instead walked the path from Vernazza to Corniglia, which is 3.6km and not for the faint hearted. It goes up and down and up and up and down, but it rewards you with great views of the coast and the sea. Because the village of Corniglia is located high up on a promontory, it is the only one you cannot land at by ferry, so it was lucky that it was the one we managed to walk to.
We did attempt to carry on to Manarola, but there was no way of getting past the locked gate that stopped us about half way along the route.
Corniglia’s centrepiece is its plain-looking church, which dates back to 1244.
The next day we set off bright and early on a ferry ride that would take us to the other two villages of the Cinque Terre and then on to Portovenere and the islands. There were just enough ferry services in the day for us to be able to get off and spend some time at each of the villages. First stop for us was Manarola, where we climbed up a hill in order to get the view above. The town was packed with tour groups so we didn’t hang around too long, plus we had to get back to the ferry in order to carry on with our planned itinerary!
Riomaggiore is possibly the largest of the five villages, and probably the easiest to photograph. We spent a while there at a bar, enjoying the view and cooling down.
The WHS justifies the area’s inclusion on the basis that it demonstrates the tenacity of early settlers to build their homes on such an inhospitably jagged coast. Monterosso is the oldest dating back to the 7th century, followed by Vernazza, established 1000AD. The people who lived here managed to make their livings from the steep hills, which are to this day covered in vineyards producing notably high-quality wines. The area has attracted notable artists throughout history, including Byron, Shelley and Wagner.
From Riomaggiore it is 12km down the coast to Portovenere, formerly a Roman settlement known as Portus Veneris.
It is located at a strategically dominant position between the mainland and the island of Palmaria. Below, the bay in the foreground is known as Byron’s Grotto because the poet apparently used to meditate there.
The port was so strategically valuable that it was the used as the base of the Byzantine fleet following the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The town’s land borders are surrounded by the walls of the Doria Castle. After a delicious lunch of anchovy pasta we climbed up to the top of the hill for a view. We were the only ones up there, so took some time to enjoy the peaceful view. I perhaps pushed it a bit too far by continuing down a steep rock face that only led us to a dead end, but I think Natalie enjoyed the experience?!
Included in the daily ferry ticket was the option of an island tour, which made the otherwise rather pricey €27 fare worth it (for me at least). It is not the most interesting boat tour you will ever go on, but it allowed me to the see the islands that I would not otherwise have been able to. The largest is Palmaria, which you can see in the background of the picture above. On the other side of the islands is a quarry that provided much of the precious black marble that you see in Genoa.
The other two islands are smaller. Tino is noteworthy for its monastic ruins, built by monks who wanted to get away from the distractions of everyday life in order to concentrate on their prayer. Although it probably did the job for them as a location, it isn’t as impressive in its remoteness as Skellig Michael, St Michael’s Mount or the Meteora of Greece – all WHS that I haven’t yet visited.
Tinetto is even smaller – take a look below – and I can’t work out either from Unesco or Wikipedia why exactly it has been included in the WHS. Possibly it was also the home of a hermit, though he would have to have been very determined to get away from it all to live on what is essentially a small rock in the sea.
The next morning we got up early and headed back to Genoa to catch our flight home, which ended up being delayed by six hours due to the wrong kind of rain at Gatwick!