Sunday, April 14, 2013

One day in the Cinque Terre

In theory Lucca is only an hour or so from the villages of the Cinque Terre (the five lands), by train.  But we'd picked a perfect clear warm Spring day for our visit, and a Sunday to boot, so the trains were packed with locals and tourists and there were quite a few hold ups on the way.

In October 2011 flash floods caused landslides, deaths and damage to the villages of the Cinque Terre - especially Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.  The whole area is still in recovery mode and the infrastructure can't handle the number of visitors.....and it's not even high season yet.  We spent a frustrating time at Riomaggiore - the first village of the Cinque Terre when you approach it from the south......queuing for tickets, trying to find out information - only to be told that all the coast walks are still CHIUSO because of the landslide damage...and then queuing for the ONE WC that was still working in the village.  Men and women were in the queue ..... and at one stage an American guy shouted down the queue (in response to a shouted query from the back of the queue) "there's only one FUNCTIONING toilet" - and everyone thought he said (because that's what everyone else was thinking) "there's only one F....KING toilet"!

Anyway, feeling a bit jaded by now we caught the train to Monterosso al Mare, the northern most of the five villages and just tried to make the best of things. We got out of the train about 11.30am, walked along the promenade a short way.......... and found ourselves in the Italian Riviera - and all was good!

We spent a while wandering the gorgeously coloured streets of the old town and enjoyed fresh out of the oven rosemary flavoured foccaccia and some ham and cheese filled calzoni for a simple lunch on the beachfront.

Next stop southwards - using our all day train pass, was Vernazza, a much smaller and more isolated village than Monterosso al Mare, and it wears its dependence on fishing much more obviously.

Vernazza is an absolute gem of a village - picture perfect in every way - we loved the colours, especially against that backdrop of the intense azure blue sea!

We met a small group of walkers In Vernazza who assured us they'd just walked the Corniglia to Vernazza coastal path..... that it was OK to use and no one had stopped them.  So we made a decision to go for it too!

We found that walking the path gave us the most intense experience of this unique (it has UNESCO World Heritage Listing) environment and setting.  It took us around one and a half hours to walk from Vernazza, to the old town of Corniglia and then down the steep hill to the railway station below it.  The path was safe, though very steep in parts and uneven.  Parts of it were damaged and still under repair but it was still safe enough for us to use - and we were very excited to have had this opportunity. The path has been in use for hundreds of years - connecting farmers and fishermen with their groves of olive trees and vineyards (and lemon trees) planted in narrow terraces on the steeply sloping sides of the mountains down to the sea.

This is what Vernazza looked like as we walked out of town....

We got a great view of the rail line just south of Vernazza, that follows the coast along the Cinque Terre.

This is Corniglia as we approached it on the walking track from Vernazza.

It was an extremely steep descent to the rail station at Corniglia at the end of our walk - we were so glad we didn't start the walk from Corniglia and have to climb UP that steep hill!

By now we were happy with our look at the Cinque Terre today and we caught the train from Corniglia to La Spezia in time to get a good connection to Viareggio where we would change trains to Lucca.  It was around 5.30 by the time we got to Viareggio, a beach town on the coast only a twenty minute train ride from Lucca.  We heard the news here (eventually) that a lot of train services are suspended on Sundays in Italy and that the next train to Lucca would not arrive until after 7.00pm.

It was as good an excuse as any to introduce ourselves to Viareggio. We walked some more towards the beach, stopped for a beer at a little bar and then joined the thousands of locals doing La Passaggiata on the beachfront promenade.

I hope you can see there is snow on the top of that mountain in the distance in the shot below!

The train back to Lucca (on the way to Firenze) was filled with hundreds of mainly young things returning home after a day in the sunshine - and a few bikes and rather large dogs as well.  It made Rob and I feel rather old being amongst them. We had walked around 16klms today and done a lot of huffing and puffing at times after all, so we were feeling stuffed!  We were so glad to back in beautiful Lucca again by around 7.30pm.  Another amazing day in Italia.

1 comment:

Maxine said...

Really enjoying your amazing blog Judy. And this one brought back so many memories for us from our visit 18 years ago. We didn't have holdups caused by damage along the route or the tourist crowding but we did do the same village to village walk that you did and we always felt it was one of the highlights of our Italy stay. Lovely to read your account of the Cinque Terra.