Cinque Terre - italian heaven uphill
January 1, 1970
by Maria-Antoaneta Beneva
Destination hunt in Italy
Being in Italy gives you that drive to explore more and more. To satisfy the curiosity for living that care-free lifestyle, where time is fiction, reality is yours and living is what truly matters.That peculiarity is what brought me here. I chose Milan as a city of residence, but I knew it is not the true Italy, corrupted by the capitalistic drive for earning and expanding. Nevertheless, it was a good starting point, to begin my adventure for finding the peculiar.
I was being told about five small villages, spread on mountain hills somewhere, overlooking the sea. It almost sounded like a fairy tale land forgotten in time. In order to find my way there, I needed names – speaking to some Italians I easily reached my goal – Cinque Terre ( The Five Lands in translation). Apparently, it is a very famous tourist destination, which kind of killed my enthusiasm. Tourists tend to ruin that special atmosphere, like turning magic into a simple trick, performed on the street for money. Fake! Reconstructions, English translation, directions, overpriced restaurants, souvenir shops around every corner and overcrowded loudness! Noise intercepting the vintage music, leaving behind just the echo of beauty…
The journey begins!
But I decided to give it a try. I was already in Italy, so – half-way there! Cinque Terre is located in Liguria, just a few hours away from Milan with a train. You can start your journey from La Spezia, buy a special train pass to go between villages – which takes 5 minutes a ride or do hiking instead. Cars are unable to reach the villages fortunately.With a friend of mine, we decided to act differently – take a Blabla car to Santa Margherita – from there, first stop – Portofino and then – Cinque Terre. We weren’t sure if a day trip would be enough to see everything and most importantly – to enjoy it, without being in a constant rush, pressured by time ( this is not the Italian style I was talking about ).
We arrived in Santa Margherita – the sun welcomed us with a gentle touch. Il tempo bellissimo!! We took the bus to Portofino – a little piece of heaven, which fully incarnates the famous song – “Love in Portofino”. On our way back, we decided to walk instead – the road was as small, along the coast line with a breath-taking view alongside. An amazing decision, which costed us a missed train to Monterosso – the first out of the five villages. This was already a huge delay in our time schedule, but it was still a doable single-day plan. But the next mistake made it clear that the one-day trip is impossible – we took the wrong train. I was never keen on planning, as Murphy’s law stated – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.
We managed our way to Monterosso in the late afternoon – after travelling without tickets and almost getting kicked out of the train. Now the challenge was to find a place to sleep. Online everything was already booked of course, so I decided to try the old-fashioned way of asking locals for an available bed. It was quite the experience – with limited language capabilities on both sides and being sent to different people around the whole village – it felt like a chain quest that you have in those role-playing games. At some point we lost all hope and I was also “in case” looking for comfortable benches. But in the end, when the sun was already down and the coldness was creeping in with all hope lost, we were lucky to find a very cozy little room, very simple with a presence of a moist smell in the air. It was a perfect safe haven. For dinner we had a magnificent frutti di mare pasta – in Italy whenever you are on the coast, sea food dishes are a must! Bed was the next destination. The next morning we woke up early, followed the instructions of the owner – left the key to the room in a random store(Italians are very chill as I mentioned) and began exploring the rest of the villages.
My overview of Cinque Terre is truly italian, meaning – small paved curvy streets, where you can barely pass, when there are more than two people, little vintage houses in different bright pastel colors, fat cats passing by and flowers… flowers on every window, along the streets, welcoming the sun kisses. The smell of the sea, the sound of the espresso cups gently landing on the table, the murmur of italians speaking and… tourists. Yes, indeed tourist ruin a bit the atmosphere, they are way too many unfortunately. If you are able to ignore their presence, you could find the peculiarity. Usually they are roaming around the village center, so going uphill is the solution. The view is better and you can enjoy the melody of the mentioned italian beauty, reflected in the sweet, sweet silence of calmness. Time stops and you find yourself alone, able to satisfy your hungry senses.
We traveled between the villages with the train and just between Manarola and Riomaggiore we took the hiking path. It is an easy path with labels stating the distance till the next village and a rewarding view – an endless sea on one side and green mountain hills on the other. Nothing else.
We took the train back to Milan from La Spezia. In the train I was evaluating my little adventure and honestly I’m happy that I visited this fairy tale lands, because indeed it is plagued by “touristisation”, but still there is part of the fading beauty worth seeing. The peculiarity was well hidden – between the crumbling walls of the pastel houses, in the calm way the locals served tourists with smiles on their faces, in the way the old italian ladies were sunbathing on their flowery terraces, in the insignificance of time – you just have to pay attention.
P.S. Everything is better with a glass of wine.