Riomaggoire, Manorola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso might as well mean sight, sound, touch, taste and smell in Italian, because that is what these 5 small villages gave us in abundance this past week.
The Cinque Terre is a little patch of heaven located in the Italian Riviera on the coast of the Mediterranean. It consists of the aforementioned five villages which are connected by a series of challenging hiking trails, both along the coastline as well as up through the mountains. The Cinque Terre is also considered a National Park and is designated a World Unesco Heritage site. We happened to get extremely lucky with our accommodations, booking a nice little apartment with a fair sized kitchen and comfortable bed, two items considered luxuries after 6 weeks of travel. The apartment itself couldn’t have had a better location, which we had no way of knowing until we arrived. We stayed in the middle town of Corniglia (population 240) which is the only town perched above the water. If you train in (which we did) you will be greeted by 382 stairs at the foot if the tracks that lead you up to the village. Our apartment was located on stair 140, one of the very few properties on this face of the hill. We soon discovered how lucky we were, surrounded by water, olive trees, lemon trees and vineyards.
Our stay was a total of 6 days and 7 nights, each day a differentiation of the day before it. The first full day was spent training between the towns (5 minutes separate each) getting the lay of the land and hunting down laundry and groceries. We lucked out in both, refreshing our ‘closets’ and getting out first taste of what the tiny markets have to offer. A little further explanation about the geography is needed to fully appreciate the products they are able to farm. The cliffs of the Cinque Terre are pure rock, steep and unforgiving. Over the centuries the hard-working locals (this place was largely undiscovered until the end of the 19th century) have transformed these cliffs into a staircase formation which allows the Earth to collect the sun and rain while providing a proper drainage system and a safe means to work the land. The results are some of the best and freshest wines, olives, lemons, tomatoes (sundried and regular) peppers and pestos you have ever tasted. On top of that they are renown for their anchovies and provide many different catches to choose from including squid and swordfish. And we’re not finished just yet. The Cinque Terre provided us our first taste of local honey drizzled on fresh cheeses such as Parmesan (from Parma some 140 kms away) and Asiago, something which managed to escape us for some 26+ years, as well as amazing salamis, foccacias and ciabattas daily. To say we ate well is an understatement! We were also lucky enough to run into a friend we had made in Florence, and we mean that literally. On the third day we were walking through Riomaggiore and we spotted Mike, having just arrived 20 minutes earlier. We made dinner plans for the next two nights and were extremely glad to have met a fellow Canadian (Edmonton) with similar interests and values, as well as love for wine.
As for the other senses, our daily hikes made sure they rivaled anything our taste-buds could offer. Each hike, whether along the coast or through the mountains, presented something different from the others. There are several dozens of kilometers of hiking to do, and we managed to cover about 15 in our time. Our favourite actually happened by accident. The trail between Corniglia and Manarola had been washed out prior to our arrival, so we had to make the adjustment to go above and beyond it. Our reward was a steep, narrow trail through lush vegetation (looking much like the Canadian shield at one point) and on the other side of the final plateau a slow journey through a large vineyard.
As for our final day in the Cinque Terre? For Jessie’s birthday we went out for a couple ‘bowls’ of Zuppa Pesce (fish soup). We could try to explain it, but we think it’s best to let the photo do the talking. Let’s just say it was amazing.