ENCHANTED BY CINQUE TERRE
Today Marina calls on La Spezia, Italy, and guests have the chance to visit delightful Cinque Terre. As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the opportunity to visit the villages of Cinque Terre last year, and they are the most enchanting I’ve seen.
Cinque Terre is composed of five fishing villages along the stunning Ligurian coast of Italy. Soaring cliffs rise straight out of the sea, and this rugged landscape kept these towns inaccessible by land and completely isolated for centuries. As a result, the traditional Ligurian culture has been remarkably well preserved, and Cinque Terre is both a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even today it is very difficult to reach the villages by car, and no traffic is allowed in the historical centers. The best way to reach the villages is by boat or train, both of which are available from La Spezia. There are also hiking trails that lead between each of the villages, although some require steep ascents or descents, often via stairs. The easiest, shortest and most famous path is the Via dell’Amore, or “Lovers’ Lane,” that runs between Manarola and Riomaggiore and offers spectacular views. But then, in Cinque Terre almost any vantage point offers spectacular views.
My visit began in the village of Manarola. At first I was simply mesmerized by the uniquely scenic beauty of the town, embodying all the romance of the Italian Riviera. But I was even more astounded to imagine what perseverance had been required to create these isolated villages and ensure their survival. In addition to fishing, the locals have made their living through the centuries by constructing thousands of miles of terraces along the cliffs on which grapes and olives are grown. Because of the challenging topography, most of the cultivation of the vineyards is done manually. Today Cinque Terre offers a picturesque and peaceful retreat only because of centuries of hard work and determination.
My next stop was Vernazza. Both Vernazza and Monterosso were devastated during a freakishly severe rainstorm that caused destructive floods and mudslides in October 2011. But both towns rallied impressively afterward and made a remarkable recovery. Now the cafés, restaurants and shops are all bustling again as tourists and locals alike enjoy Vernazza’s charming waterfront, one of the most photographed spots along a coastline that inspires infinite photographs.
My final stop for the day was Monterosso al Mare, where the Torre Aurora stands on a promontory overlooking the sea. The medieval tower was one of several constructed in the 16th century to protect the town from pirates. A lovely walk along the coast took me from the train station past the Torre Aurora to the Old Town.
Monterosso has some lovely churches, such as the 14th century Church of Saint John the Baptist with its striking striped façade and rose window.
Next door is the Church of the Brotherhood of Death and Prayer. This charitable brotherhood for the poor, farmers, fishermen and sailors was committed to providing burials for those who could not afford it. As I was admiring the Baroque details of the church, I suddenly found myself taking a much closer look. The interior was adorned with skeletons, a reminder of the inevitability of death. It is said that pirates donated their treasure to the church in an attempt to save their souls.
After a day of touring, I stopped into one of the lovely restaurants that lined the narrow streets. I felt obligated to reward the local fishermen and vintners for their efforts, so my choice for lunch was an easy one: seafood pasta and a local wine. Both were absolutely delicious, and the crisp white wine beautifully complemented the flavors of the pasta. Liguria is also known for its pesto, so as an appetizer, I tried some trofie al pesto. The hand-rolled pasta was the perfect marriage for the best pesto I’ve ever tasted.
I was content to conclude my visit without seeing the other two villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia, because that gave me an excuse to return! Oceania Cruises offers excursions to Cinque Terre not only from La Spezia but from Livorno as well. I hope you have the chance to visit these captivating villages on an upcoming Oceania Cruises voyage.
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