Cinque Terre, Italia 2017 By Dr. Sven W
The Italian Tourist Board is not going to be happy with this latest travel piece, but the truth needs to be told.
We just got back from a week on the Ligurian coast. For the last five years, I have wanted to visit and hike the Cinque Terre region. The area is made up of five (Monterosso al mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore) old fishing villages that originally could only be reached by boat. Then came a road and a railroad and now access roads to each individual village. “If you build it, they will come”- and therein lies the problem. They just keep coming and coming.
First, let me take you to the general area. You fly into Milan’s Malpensa airport, rent a car and head north towards Genoa. The drive is beautiful, especially, the last 20 kilometers before Genoa. You turn onto an elevated coastal road with fabulous views of the Mediterranean. One of the most picturesque towns below, which is worth a visit, is Camoglio with its large beach, charming shops and interesting alleyways. From there we continued to our first destination, Portifino- a picture perfect port, with unique views of the sea and world class yachts- that still maintains the old world charm that made it a watering hole for the rich and famous. The grand Spendido Hotel still attracts starlets, wannabes, and oligarchs. Leaving the hotel, there is a real red carpet that extends for kilometers taking you to neighboring villages thru shaded paths, along the sea and thru the village centers. You feel like they rolled out the red carpet just for you. We were determined to make this a hiking trip, so the first stretch from Porifino to San Fruttuoso surprised us for its sheer beauty and was worth the initial steep hill because the views and color of the water as you approach San Fruttuoso are unique. Another marvelous town further down the Ligurian coast is Sistre Levante. It has a wonderful sand beach and a marvelous hike up to an observation point. Frequented by locals, you avoid the crowds and meet friendly, interesting people who are out for the exercise or the view.
Finally, we are off to Cinque Terre which can be reached by rail, ferry or car. We elected to drive right to the first of the five villages- Monterosso. Easy parking access and the journey begins. A devastating flood in 2011 wiped out the connecting paths between the villages. Today, the only traversable path is between Monterosso and neighboring Vernazza. In town, the signs and directions are poor but you (and hundreds of others) eventually reach the first ascending stairs that take you to the path. First surprise, after climbing twenty flights is the admission fee to walk the path. I think I grasp why; it does cost money to maintain the path, sort of. Next surprise, after another thirty flights, is the vendor selling Jamba juices. Ok, the tourists need a rest stop. And finally after another half hour, you run into the vendor selling costume jewelry. Come on. When was the last time you went on a hike with a hawker selling bracelets and rings? Would you believe there was a line of seekers? Give me a break. This is Italy- you should be peddling shoes and pocketbooks. You march on past the hordes and do have a few good views and then you descend onto Vernazza – the prettiest of the five village, built on sheer rock, picturesque -now inundated, not by mud, but by tourists. With people moving in every direction, you get the feeling of Fifth Ave during Christmas week on the Italian Riviera- and everyone trying to get into a restaurant. Give it up. Just get me on the ferry back to Monterosso and my car.
And then, further south on the coast, around ten kilometers from La Spezia, you discover a gem- the sea port of Portonevere. This spectacular place was frequented by Lord Byron in his day, and for good reason. If you are looking for remarkable views, wonderful restaurants and small town charm with adorable local shops, you found the place to spend a few days. From here you can drive or hike to the other Cinque Terre towns, Riomaggiore and Manarola. The roads are exciting, dramatic and provide endless views. In between you will find multiple hiking trails devoid of tourists and hawkers.
Well that sums up Cinque Terre in 2017. Maybe, next year more of the trails in Cinque Terre National park will be open but until then Ciao.
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