Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Photo Tour Through Liguria: The Italian Riviera

I can't remember when I first heard of the Cinque Terre (the Five lands) in Liguria, Italy. Perhaps I read about it in one of the many coffee table travel books in my living room, or maybe I saw it on a Rick Steve's episode. Regardless, I've often pictured myself hiking along the coastal paths connecting each of the quaint hillside villages that can only be visited by foot, train or boat.

When Jarrod arrived in Florence, we rented a Fiat Panda and headed towards the coast, eager to experience what we had only before read about, heard about and imagined.

We stayed in the somewhat ugly (but cheap) city of La Spezia and caught a morning train north to Monterosso. From there we began our hike to each little town, ending in Riomaggiore, where we caught the late night train back to La Spezia.
Although these villages see many tourists, they have remained (for the most part) free of commercialization and corporate development. Their proximity along the rugged cliffs hugging the sea have kept them isolated from vehicle traffic. They all have their own charm and families who have lived here for generations continue to fish, grow grapes and hang their laundry on the lines.
The start of our hike from Monterosso

Looking back on Monterosso

Looking down on Vernazza

A street in Vernazza

Mainstreet, Vernazza

Boat parking, Vernazza


Vernazza: Castle tower on the edge of town

Hillside cafe

Village #3: Corniglia

Church in Corniglia
 The Cinque Terre is a big tourist destination, but hiking from village to village isn't for the faint-hearted. The paths hug the rugged coastline and climb up and down the steep hillsides. The floods and mudslides in October of 2011 wiped out a section of the trail that went right along the coast, and currently the only way to continue hiking south past Corniglia is to take the high route, which adds quite a bit more elevation gain, but also beautiful views. (The trail along the coast from Manorolo to Riomaggiore - Via dell'amore - is scheduled to re-open this year.)

Leaving Corniglia, taking the 'high route'

It's stunning to see grapes growing on these steep hillsides, so close to the sea
A pulley system is used to collect grapes since the hills are so steep

Many of the grape vines are trained to grown as a canopy to ensure that they absorb as much sunlight as possible

Our 'high route' led us between the terraces of vines. (If you look closely you can see people walking along the terrace)

Hiking down to village #4: Manarola

Looking at the Via dell'amore trail that was wiped out by floods and mudslides in 2011

Steep decent into Manarola

Steep, steep, steep steps!

Train tracks connect each of the five villages

Manarola with vineyards in the backdrop

Kids playing on a mosaic

Manarola is a vibrant, colorful fishing village 
We found a great spot to have a bite to eat and watch the sunset (with some wine from the area that was served in ceramic mugs)

The most photographed Cinque Terre village (and it's clear to see why), Manarola

The view became even more stunning as the sun set and illuminated the rocks and buildings.

Catching the very last drop of the sunset
 After the sun went down in Manorola, we decided it was time to catch the train to the last village, Riomaggiore and find a place to have dinner. Riomaggiore is the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre. We read that many people only visit Riomaggiore, as it is the first stop that the train makes. and highly recommended by Rick Steves. We found Riomaggiore to be very pricey, touristy with far less allure than the other villages. We opted to catch the train back to La Spezia and find a little hole in the wall restaurant that cost a fraction of the price for pasta and wine. 
What a day!

The next day we decided to take our little Panda to visit the village on the peninsula south of La Spezia: Portovenere. It was spectacular!

Another fishing village full of charm

Next, we decided to drive north along the coast to soak up more of the Italian Riviera beauty. We found a nice little apartment with two rooftop patios (yes, TWO!!). We paid 90 Euros to stay here and saved some money by cooking in (well, technically we were cooking outside on the patio).  
The small jewel of a town, Sori

Nice sunset watching from our rooftop patio

Our room with a killer view

Enjoying some wine by candlelight

Our outdoor kitchen (I'm making a Spanish tortilla for our breakfast)

Sori in the daytime

Looking up towards our apartment from the dock
It was sad to say goodbye to Liguria and the Italian Riviera, but our appetites were wet for the land of deliciously rich food and bold, tantalizing wine...A place called Piedmont!

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