July 5, 2012

The Cinque Terre

We first heard about Cinque Terre when our friends Maria and Charlie Fox honeymooned here 8 years ago.

The Cinque Terre is a set of 5 villages in Northern Italy set along the Mediterranean Sea: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.

Each little town has its own trademark…one’s got a harbor; one’s on a hilltop; one’s got a beach, etc. But they all have the same basic necessities: deli, bakery, fruit stand, gelateria, wine shop, train station, church, school, and cemetery.

I suppose what makes these towns so famous is their unique (and cleverly-marketed) group name as well as the 7-mile system of hiking trails which links them all together. We spent three days hiking, ferrying, training and even kayaking between the towns.

Besides the fact that they are smaller and connected by the distinctive trail system, at first Cinque Terre didn’t feel all that different from the stretch of towns along the Amalfi Coast. But as we spent more time here, the differences became obvious. More than anything else, we left the Cinque Terre with the lasting impression of community.

Unlike in the Amalfi Coast towns, Cinque Terre has absolutely no sign of outside wealth. There are no cliff-hugging mansions or mega yachts lingering off the shore. There are only the families who have been living in the same community for generations. These people live humbly in their colorful little villages with their colorful wooden fishing boats.

These modest towns have been through so much lately…landslides, flooding and forest fires. Only 8 months ago Vernazza and Monterosso (towns 4 & 5) were hit with devastating floods. Monterosso has bounced back, but Vernazza was encased in 13 feet of mud and debris. Each morning we bought our breakfast from the same charming deli. It's almost unimaginable that this is what the deli looked like the day after the flood subsided.

We stayed in Vernazza, and it was obvious that they’ve had the hardest time recovering. At first we found it a teensy bit depressing, but after a couple of days, the spirit of the townspeople completely changed our outlook. Everyone was working so hard to bring Vernazza back to what it used to be. As soon as we stepped outside in the morning, we could hear the progress. People were out plastering, hammering, drilling, and even gathered around as a man repainted the square’s water fountain. This town was picking itself up and moving forward.

Cinque Terre is a slice of Italian life. Old women peer out from behind their window shutters. Old men play bocce at the town court. A mother gives her son swimming lessons in the ocean. Keys are left in front doors. Gentlemen play accordions on the hiking trails. Monks chant from behind the alter screen at a hilltop monastery. The cemeteries display pictures of missed loved ones. Children come down to the church courtyard every night for a giggly game of soccer. A man sells fresh-squeeze lemonade (and lemoncello) from in-between his grape vines. He knows from the church history books that his vineyard goes back at least 5 generations, but he imagines it’s been even longer. It is community at its best.

This is one of those magical places that delivers on both nature and culture. If ever the phrase, “This little corner of the world” was appropriate, it would be in Cinque Terre.

No comments:

Post a Comment