by Phyllis Zeck
In 2000 my husband Don, daughter Ashley (then age 16), sister Lori and I traveled to Italy. On our list of things to do was to visit the towns of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre (five lands) consists of five towns tucked away in a series of inlets along the Mediterranean Sea. Multi colored homes are nested among jagged rocks.
The northern most town is Monterosso al Mare and is rumored to have been established as far back as 1056. The next town to the south is Vernazza, then Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
The towns are accessible by train. Some small cars will be seen in the towns but it is very hard to maneuver around the crooked streets. You can hike from one town to the next. We rode the train from Florence through Pisa and then to Monterosso. We were on the last leg of the journey chatting away as the train went into a tunnel. We rounded the bend and cleared the tunnel and our mouths dropped; the glorious blue sparkling Mediterranean Sea was glistening in the sunlight to our left. I will never forget that incredible sight!
Our hotel was in Monterosso so we got off at the last town and headed for the Hotel La Spiaggia. First things first, we needed a bathroom. Now the bathrooms in Italy could be a whole blog in itself but we had reached a new low with this rest stop. The facilities were literally a hole in the floor!
We checked into our hotel, had lunch and got our guidebook out to decide which hike to take. We decided to try Monterosso to Vernazza, a one and a half hour hike the guidebook advised us. We stocked up on sun block and lots of water and took off. We had learned that the Italians do things differently from us Americans but it seemed very odd that the women hiking in the opposite direction were in dresses and high heels and both men and women were not carrying any water. We thought this must be a shorter hike than the guidebook said.
Well into our second hour of the hike we began asking the hikers traveling in the opposite direction “how much further to Vernazza?”. They all replied the same “it’s just around the corner!”. After three hours of hiking we reached our destination.
The scenery was incredible. We saw lemon trees and passed vineyards and olive groves. The sea sparkled and the boats bobbed up and down with the gentle waves. We stumbled upon a concrete machine gun bunker from WWII. We arrived in Vernazza hungry and tired but exuberant from one of the most amazing hikes of our life.
The next morning we went for an early morning stroll along the beach and visited with the fishermen who were bringing in their morning catches. Don tried to talk me into fish for breakfast, but I was sticking with pizza.
Today your prayers are needed for the people in northern Italy. Devastating rains during October and November have made passage in the towns of Cinque Terre impossible.
People were evacuated via the sea. The flooding and mud slides have brought down bridges and houses. The villages in Cinque Terre lost electricity and the roads and railroads are blocked. The most severely destroyed towns are Monterosso and Vernazza. The mayor of Monterosso said the fishing village had been all but wiped out.
Our family was very fortunate that we were able to hike these glorious towns and enjoy their beauty 12 years ago. I hope that Cinque Terre is quickly restored and the residents are able to return to life as they knew it before the devastating rain and mud slides interrupted their peaceful way of living.
Jan 5, 2012 Update. Copy and past the link below to read an updated post from Jan 3, 2012 about Vernazza.