Tag Archives: cinque terre

Will They Ever Be the Same?

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Last week, the Italian region of Liguria was hit by torrential rains which created devastating floods in the beautiful Cinque Terre, especially Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza.  What started off as a much needed rain storm quickly turned into a terrifying reality that this was not your run-of-the-mill  rain storm – this one was going to cause so much damage that the Red Cross and the Protezione Civile of Italy have declared it a national emergency.  In fact, many nations and individuals have come to the aid of this ravaged area.  There are numerous sites to donate money for relief, and if you are interested, simply doing a search online can put you into contact with one that you feel comfortable with.  During the storm, and since that day, the beautiful coastal town of Vernazza has been virtually cut off from all communication – the phone lines went down and the only way to get into the town was by boat or helicopter.  Relief efforts by way of helicopter were flown in, and the residents banded together to help make dams with sandbags and displaced boulders.  The town was literally underwater, with thigh high water running down the streets from the mountains behind.  With all this water, came the horrible mud which caused so much damage to the shops, restaurants and homes in its wake.  At last count, only 40 residents were left in Vernazza – those determined residents that are working hard to help bring this wonderland of beauty back.  Lifelong residents were forced to leave; packing their few belongings with them.  The pictures of overturned cars and boats are so disturbing, knowing that this idyllic place will take so long to be restored.

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Simple and Peaceful….

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High atop the Cinque Terre sits the beautiful Santuario della Nosta Signora di Soviore.  The view from here is incredibly beautiful, and you can see how it would be a place for contemplation and reflection.  Walking paths wind from here down to the town of Monterosso al Mare, as well as to other sanctuaries in the Cinque Terre.  In fact,the adventurous hiker can follow the sanctuary trail to reach all the sanctuaries of the Cinque Terre.

This particular sanctuary serves as a sort of hotel, and it is a welcome change to the hustle and bustle of staying in the Cinque Terre.  The simple rooms are reached via old archways from the main corridors.  They are fairly large and very spartan but with clean sheets and towels.  The rooms themselves are clean, but the amenities are a bit on the lacking side.  Definitely bring some soap if you stay here!  The view from the rooms on the second floor are spectacular, and there is a gentle sea breeze which travels up the canyon into the rooms when the shutters are opened.  The dining room is available for simple breakfasts and dinners.  The dinners comprise a choice of a few tasty entrees which were very good.  There is even a “snack bar” for in between eating!   The Ligurian coastline is visible way below you in the distance!  The sanctuary church is beautifully frescoed, with a gorgeous organ and lovely chandeliers.  In a glass case, at  center stage on the altar, is a small wooden statue of the Madonna and Child.  This statue was the inspiration for the building of this particular sanctuary so many years ago. 

This statue has a very interesting and spiritual story attached to it which I will summarize here:

In 641, when a barbarian invasion threatened the small Etruscan village of Albereto, this  simple wooden statue was buried to protect it.  It remained buried for about 100 years, when it was discovered by a  priest from Monterosso while he was out hunting.  The story says that a white dove caught the priest’s attention.  He followed the dove which came to rest near a clearing.  Upon coming close to the dove, it disappeared underground.  Intrigued, the priest began to dig but came upon a large sandstone slab which he could not move.  He returned with some laborers to help remove the slab.  As the laborers were digging, a sweet smell emanated from the slab as it was removed.  A wooden statue of the Madonna and Child was revealed.  As they attempted to move the statue, they realized it would not budge.  They came back a day later, only to find that the statue was gone.  It was found nearby on top of a chestnut tree.  They returned it to the place of discovery only to find it moved again a few days later.  This happened a few more times, and the only explanation came from the priest’s interpretation of these events – the Madonna was telling them that she wanted her chapel built near the chestnut tree!   The present day church is an expansion of that original chapel and it dates to the 1700’s.  Laborers passed bricks from hand to hand from the sea in Monterosso all the way up to the Sanctuary to build the new church.  The vault was frescoed in 1872 by the priest Mentasti, and it depicts the story of this sacred place.

Sanctuary stays are not for everyone, but if  you are looking to stay in a beautiful and quiet location, then it is definitely worth a try.  Everyone was very friendly and the experience was very positive.  Walking around the grounds at night was magical.  The buildings were lit from beneath with a warm glow and the entire place had almost a mystical sense to it.  It was even quite romantic….an ideal place for a moonlight stroll!!

The Cinque Terre!!!

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There has been a lot written on recommendations for visiting the Cinque Terre, therefore I’m not going to go into great detail on each land.  But I will share my experience – the pros and cons of what we did – in hopes that it may give travelers who are contemplating a trek there some tips!

The Cinque Terre is a National park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In order to maintain the area, admission is charged to enter the National Park which comprises the 5 lands.  There are 2 levels of park admission – one covers admission to the  park,  and the other combines the entrance fee with access to the train system between each town.  I would highly recommend getting the combination pass.  Even though we had every intention of hiking the entire 8 km path connecting the lands, we quit after the 4th one, and therefore were glad that we had bought the combination pass. 

Our visit began at the southernmost land, Rio Maggiore.  We spent lots of time visiting the town and walking up into the hills surrounding it to see all the beautiful views.  Once we had stopped and gotten some sustenance, we began the hike to the next town, Manarolo.  The path connecting these two towns is beautifully paved and winds around some incredible cliffs.  This path is called “La Via del Amore” and it is filled with expressions of love that lovers have left – grafitti on walls and locks of love! 

The second hike connecting Manarolo with Corniglia becomes a bit more difficult.  The hike takes about an hour on a path that is narrow and not paved. It ends with 382 steps zigzagging their way up a hill.  Once at the top, you are treated to some wonderful vistas of the towns you just left, which now seem so far away.  It amazes you to realize that you have already walked a great distance, without really too much of an effort.  Once you have reached Corniglia, you are supposedly half way through all the towns.  But…..then comes an incredibly difficult hike to Vernazza.  One and a half hours of heavy duty trekking is in store for this part of the trek.  Knees and hips are surely put to the test, as well as the efficiency of your hiking shoes.  I wore hiking sandals which allowed my feet to breathe, but it probably would have been better to have had some real hiking shoes to negotiate all the boulders and rocks along the path.  We saw many people with trekking poles, and after having spoken to them, they touted their praises!  Water is a must as you will get very thirsty and sweaty!

Upon entering Vernazza, we came upon the most amazing view!  Vernazza is by far the beauty of the Cinque Terre.  It sits on a hill with a beautiful tower at its southern tip.  Upon entering the town, while you are still very high up on the cliffs, there is a wonderful restaurant with a terrace that overlooks the entire town.  I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it is at the end of the trail coming from Corniglia.  Anyways, with sore and trembling legs, we sat down and had a glass of wine!!!  It was well worth it, but was definitely a mistake if we planned on continuing the hike to the last town, Monterosso al Mare!  Our muscles cramped up, and we decided that, since we had heard that this last path was the most difficult of all the hikes, we would skip this last one.  We instead hopped on the train and visited the last town the lazy way!  Luckily, because we skipped this last trail,  we have an excuse to come back to this enchanting place.

Looking back, would it have been easier to do the trail in the reverse order?  Perhaps – we would have begun with the most difficult hikes and ended with the easy “Via del Amore”.  We would also have been going down all those 382 steps instead of climbing up them!  Would the views have been the same?  Probably!  Hmm…something to ponder for next time 🙂

So many places to see, but so little time…

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This coming September, we are taking a trip back to Italy.  Originally, we were planning on making a stop in Deruta to pick up some more pottery for my shop, Tesoro.   As much as I want to do this, I realized that it would make our trip so much more duty-oriented rather than just about taking time and being at leisure.  So, I think I’ve made the decision that I will skip Deruta this time, thus giving us more time to explore Italy’s backroads.

This past weekend, we actually sat down and tried to find some places and things to do that fit into our path of travel.  I think we’ve come up with some unique and fun things to do.  I would love it if anyone reading this blog had anything to add to our ideas – whether you’ve experienced them or have any other tips!  Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Since we are travelling to and from Zurich, Switzerland, we have decided to incorporate a teeny bit of Switzerland into our itinerary.  The first thing we are planning to do is to take the William Tell Express, a scenic train ride from Luzern to Locarno.  The William Tell Express goes to Lugano as well, but we chose Locarno because it is on Lago Maggiore and the starting off point for our next adventure.

From Locarno, we are planning on taking the train ride through the Cento Valli.  Another scenic train ride through the valleys in the Piedmont region west of Lago Maggiore.  I have heard lots of favorable reviews of this excurion.  It can be combined with a boat ride along the western shore of the lake from Arona back to Locarno.  Even though I have been to lots of places along the shores of Lago Maggiore, I have never experienced anything north of Stresa.  So this sounds extremely appealing to me!  Exploring the lake of my roots has always been a dream of mine, and this will be a start to fulfilling that dream!

After visiting family and friends on Lago Maggiore, we plan on making a road trip to the Cinque Terra via Piedmont.  Stopping in Piedmont and exploring some of this area’s wineries and charming little towns is hopefully a possibility.  Visiting the Cinque Terre will be another new experience for me.  I have always wanted to see these enchanted towns set along the Ligurian coastline but never before had the opportunity.  We are excited to visit in September – hopefully the throngs of tourists which frequent these places will be gone and we can have the place to ourselves?  (am I being too hopeful?).  Irregardless, the tourist crowds have to be better than in the height of summer!

From Liguria, it’s on to Cecina in Tuscany to visit more family!  A trip along the coast is in the plan.  Being from California, travelling along the coast is always so scenic and beautiful.  I’m sure this Italian coast will not disappoint! 

Alas, at this point, our trip will be  almost over so we will have to take the Autostrada back up to Lago Maggiore, and then back to Zurich.  But….some quick stops along the way are a very strong possibility. 

Now I am starting to get excited!!!