Three of the Cinque Terre in off-season

In keeping with the habit of blogging about holiday trips, started with the Ireland blog due to my good friend Pat, here is another installment about a very short trip between Christmas and New Year in Italy.

We wanted a place where we could travel by car so that we could take the dog too, and where we could do some outdoor activities, but not too cold. And we didn’t have much time to plan. So, after a quick look at some travel guides and google maps to calculate driving distances, I chose Cinque Terre, a place with a nice, mysterious reverberation, but about which I didn’t know much. So, I quickly booked a pet-friendly apartment close to the beach, in a place called Monterosso al Mare, and the adventure began.

monterosso.

What are the “Cinque Terre” anyways?! They are five small traditional fishermen villages, in the Liguria region, between Genoa and La Spezia, seated on the coastline in the North-West of Italy (except for one, Corniglia, which is nowhere near the sea, and we found that out the hard way…). The villages are car-free, much like Venice or Zermatt, and you can travel from one village to the other only by train, by boat/ferry or by foot, on hilly treks, through vineyards and olive trees plantations. The villages are famous for breath-taking views (you check and let me know from the following shots…), anchovies, sweet white wine, and very friendly people. The five villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – the coastline and the treks are part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

monterosso-arrival

Monterosso al Mare

We arrived at dusk and the first nice surprise was a rugged, wild, sand beach, and a majestic sunset. We let the dog free on the beach and she hurried to taste the seawater –  she was less than impressed…

The “old city”, linked with the modern part through a tunnel, has a castle, the Capuchin Convent, and a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the brave general who was instrumental in the unification of Italy.

Small restaurants and focaccerias, and colourful narrow buildings line up the narrow streets of the old town.

The boats and kayaks were all tucked for winter, except for this one brave fisherman sailing at dusk in search for some anchovies – or perhaps it was a romantic couple enjoying the sunset…

Pisa and the Leaning Tower

The following day we drove to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tour. The construction of the Bell Tower of the Pisa Cathedral took almost 200 years, between the 12th and the 14th centuries. The famous tilt is due to a soft and inadequate foundation on one side of the construction, which grew more and more during all this time. Attempts to compensate the tilt and consolidate the tower were made during the last 25 years, so that the inclination now is only 3.97 degrees, compared to 5 degrees at start, with an overhang of about 40 cm.

Lunch was in one of the very few open places in Pisa – Emma’s Osteria, a place apparently ran by some brave and enthusiastic women, with very good taste in decorations and wines.

Vernazza

Day 2 was dedicated to the other villages. We took the train to Vernazza, the next village going south. A four-minute ride for a half an hour wait – in off season, many trains are taken out of the schedule, so trains run only every 30 minutes.

vernazza-sun-rays

Vernazza was a different place – no sand beach, but much more active and lively, and many more steps! Doria Castle was nested on a hill at the foot of the sea and offered some magnificent views of the Vernazza village, its hilltops and the neighbouring villages.

Also, some very exquisite small hotels built into the mountain, offering special “room with a view” or “dinner with a view”.

It was also the place from where we witnessed an unusual rescue operation: “Bambi”, a small deer, got trapped under some rocks at the bottom of the castle, and the entire village apparently contributed to its rescue – a short video reconstructing post-factum the rescue operation.

1-vernazza-rescue6

After lunch in Vernazza – anchovies of course – we wanted to trek to Corniglia, the next village. We only got to what I called the “Pont-Neuf” of Vernazza – the love-locks on top of the hill overlooking the Doria Castle and the village below, when a couple of tourists coming down the trek told us the trails are blocked and forbidden for trekking. We learned later that all treks were closed, some due to off-season, some due to land slides.

Corniglia

So, on the train again for another 4 minutes ride after a half an hour wait! Surprise, surprise – the train station was out of the city and a bus was taking people to the city. But we followed the crowds thinking it must not be very far…. Then we started to climb… stairs… a lot of them… up to a very small “city centre” from where narrower and narrower streets emerged, climbing further up.

The views paid for the long climb, but mostly the cold beer and pineapple juice, from a terrace literally perched on a hill.

While we were waiting for the train back to Monterosso, this boat sailed into the reflection of the sun into the sea: gone fishing – it might take a while.

corniglia-sunset-gone-gone-fishing

On the way back home, we wanted to go to Portofino, but the road to get there was also closed, so we just had a quick lunch in Santa Margherita Ligure – a very popular and poche place.

Then, back home through the Mont Blanc tunnel, with the majestic Alps on a sunny but cold winter day.

Some unfinished business in Cinque Terre, with the other two remaining villages to visit – Manarola and Riomaggiore – and the treks to take on foot. To go back soon!

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