I come back to Orvieto at least twice a year, but I’ve always wanted to make the journey to Le Cinque Terre, so this trip I decided to drag myself away from “La Rupe” for a few days and head for the Ligurian Coast. Winter is a good time to avoid the usually crowded trails of the high season and the sweltering heat of summer.
It was an easy 4½-hour train ride from Umbria, changing trains only once in Florence. It was raining lightly, but that only added to the atmosphere of towns perched on the rocky Ligurian coast. In La Spezia, I met my friend Angelo, who lives and works in Torino (3 hours north). His train was an hour late so I waited in the bar at the train station. When he finally arrived, we caught the train to Monterosso al Mare where we’d made reservations at B&B Arcobaleno (rainbow). After unpacking, we met up to walk the promenade that lines the beach to the antique section of town. We found an outdoor cafe and sat down for a glass of Proscecco when it started to rain, but luckily we were protected by a large awning. As we sat there, a train carrying passengers between the five villages drove right over our heads! The waitress, Chiara, recommended a seafood restaurant and because we were both so hungry, we ordered too much food. I had ravioli with spinach in a walnut cream sauce. Angelo had pasta with pesto (a specialty of Genova – just an hour north). We shared mixed, deep-fried seafood (the famous Anchovies of Monterosso, are a local specialty that have a Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union.) Two glasses of Lemoncello completed the dining experience and we were off to bed…we had a big day ahead of us.In the morning there was not much sun but, fortunately no rain, the temperature was pleasant for our long trek. We took the train to the first town, Riomaggiore where we purchased a pass that includes access to the paths as well as unlimited train trips between Riomaggiore and Monterosso. We walked the main street that leads to the sea. Colorful houses were stacked on top of each other like a crowd of people trying to push against one another to see the view. And what a view it is! Red, green, yellow and blue fishing boats lined the small harbor and men were fishing from the rocks (reminding me of my father and his love of fishing). Did their wives send them out for fish like American wives send their husbands to the supermarket?
We began our hike at the “Via Dell’Amore“ (Love Walk) which cuts along the cliffs above the calm sea below. Much like the famous bridge in Rome, Ponte Milvio, lovers hang locks on the nets attached to the rocks, writing their names to declare their undying love. Normally you could walk from the end of the Via Dell’Amore to the Sentiero Azzurro (“Light Blue Trail”), the trail that connects the five villages, but today the trails were closed because of rock slides, so instead we caught the train to the next towns of Manarola and Corniglia. The walk to Corniglia from the station was a long switch-back road, so we jumped on the bus that ferries tourists into town. Angelo and I decided to buy a couple of sandwiches, a bottle of wine and eat our lunch on the beach, but it was not meant to be. Both Markets that make sandwiches were out of bread…we waited too long!!! Instead we ate our lunch at a bar and eavesdropped on the locals’ stories to one another – Ligurians seemed to be a very calm and easy-going group. With lunch finished, off we went…there was much more to see.
Vernazza is the liveliest of the towns. All the brightly colored boats are parked in the middle of the piazza and so we decided to take our coffee outside on a bench while watching the waves crash onto the rocks. I’d still be sitting there now, but it was getting dark and we needed to return to Monterosso by sunset. After a long day, we took a break and met up that evening for a pizza in the old part of town again. Not wanting to destroy all the good effects of walking, we ordered pizza Margheritas and shared a dessert of sweet panini filled with Nutella – perfectly coupled with the house red wine. We walked slowly back to Arcobaleno, not because our legs were tired and tight (they were), but because we wanted to enjoy the picturesque walk with its soft lamplights and the moon’s reflection on the large rock in the sea near the shore. Saturday night in Monterosso al Mare is much like other towns in Italy with locals out for a “passeggiata” – children running and playing while their parents and grandparents stop to talk to their neighbors.
The next morning we were sorry to leave, but the train ride to La Spezia travels along the sea, periodically under the darkness of a tunnel, but then back out to see the magnificent “Mediterranean” again. My only regret is that my camera’s battery was low and although I took photos with a disposable camera I bought from a shop in town, I am not sure I was able to capture this Ligurian dream…..we will see what “develops”.
Leaving Umbria this trip, I had another opportunity to see how diverse and unique each region of Italy can be from the other. I loved Liguria and I hope to come back someday and spend more time learning about its customs and traditions.