Heat and Humidity on the High trail to Vernazza

Cinque Terre trail 581 San B to VernazzaThe heat and high humidity of the past week encouraged us to take the high trail from San Bernardino across the valley and down to Vernazza. The Cinque Terre trails are innumerable and crisscross the whole area of the National Park offering breathtaking views, cool shaded woodlands, terraced vineyards and quiet streams that trickle down to the villages below. Besides, the high trails are free, so you can hike as much or as little in a day without paying a cent.

The heavy cloud almost eclipsed our distant view of the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of Reggio which sits above Vernazza, as we set off in the morning for what should be around a 1 1/2hr hike. It took us a little longer with photo stops, rest stops after the uphill stretches and continuous cherry picking or rather cherry stealing along the way!vineyards along the trail

The trail is a pretty one as it meanders in and out of woodlands, through terraced vineyards and across streams and gives distant views of San Bernardino almost disappearing in the clouds.View to San Bernardino

 

 

A  local farmer was out working in his vineyards, and gave a welcome wave together with a shout to make sure we closed the gate against the wild boar! Rarely seen in the day, the boar do a lot of damage as they root around at the base of the dry stone walls and render them unstable. Wherever they can, farmers fence in the terraces against the beasts, but are not always successful in the venture. The boar will slide, even fall, from one terrace down to the next without flinching as they are very tough animals. So we wave back and relatch the gate and head into the cool of the woodlands.

It’s so pleasant to climb up and around and cross crystal clear streams without getting our feet wet. Someone even planted a ‘sculpture‘ along the way which keeps an eye on us.

Santuary Madonna del ReggioJust a few more up and down dales and we see the striped tower of the Sanctuary peeking out from the trees. The church was first mentioned in 1248 with its Romanesque façade and built over an existing cemetery. Inside it houses an image of the Virgin which legend attributed to St Luke, but has been identified as belonging to the 14th Century Genovese school of artists.Santuary Our Lady of Reggio

The area is deliciously cool as century old Oak, Cedar and Horse chestnut trees shade the church. In the grounds is the oldest cypress tree of Liguria, 800 years, and fountains that tap into the Spring water. A great place to practice martial arts!

Every year there is the procession from the Vernazza St Margherita church up the old paved path to the Sanctuary and locals bring a picnic on the national holiday 15th August. From here it’s all down hill for us and the beginning of sea views and Vernazza.

While my favourite high trail is still the one to Manarola as I love the views, this trail is also a very pleasant one and Vernazza a welcome sight.

Vernazz, Cinque Terre

 

Time to wander the main street almost tripping over a basket weaver propped on the steps, a rare sight these days and a skill soon to be lost. Basket weaver

 

 

 

…and then we sit on the waters edge and people watch, eavesdropping on tourist tales with a thirst quenching drink in hand.Vernazza cafe

 

 

 

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Searching for Venus, Portovenere

Portovenere, St Peter's ChurchPortovenere is yet another beautiful town on the Ligurian coastline, close enough to the Cinque Terre to almost feel a part of it, yet secluded enough to avoid the tourist crowds. On a good day it is only a 35mins ferry ride away from the first village of the Cinque Terre, Riomaggiore otherwise a bus ride from the centre of La Spezia.

Portovenere

Photo Shutterstock – Mare

It is a romantic, picturesque fishing village, lined with tall colourful buildings and quaint alleyways that wind and climb up to the Dorian Castle giving a spectacular view.

It was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 for its outstanding architecture, and landscape and its exceptional example of human interaction with the environment. This includes the nearby Islands of Palmaria, popular for its beach and two tiny islands with the lighthouse Tino and Tinetto

We were here to find Venus, after all it is the Port of Venus  named as such from the middle of the 1st century BC as supposedly there was a Temple dedicated to the goddess Venus at the tip of the promontory on the site where the Church of St Peter now stands. According to tradition Venus was born from the foam of the surf below!    So far historical diggings have only shown a pre existing 5th century Church under the Church seen today which was consecrated in 1198. Cleverly the later addition of the 13th century is identified by the black and white stripes creating a complex mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles and an incredible landmark for the town.

From every angle the views are amazing – back towards the Cinque Terre, across the bay to the Dorian Castle or over towards Lerici on the mainland or to the Island of Palmaria. Craggy rock formations, hidden caves, and a wild impervious terrain abound, although not sufficiently dangerous to put off raids by the Normans and later Saracen pirates.

The name may be instead from St Venerius – a hermit monk who lived between 550-630 on a monastery built on the Island of Tino. Each year in September the town celebrates the Saint, taking his statue across to the Island to be blessed.

Portovenere view to LericiLord Byron was inspired by the beauty of the place and a frequent visitor, so much so that they named the bay after him. He was known to have swum across the gulf of La Spezia, around 7kms, to Lerici to visit Shelley in 1822, not a mean feat!

Entrance door Potovenere

We explore the main street being tempted by local specialities, like pesto which is out of this world as I have bought it before, and peer through the pasta curtain into the local bakery! Quaint doorways, cute shops, and narrow stairways are tucked in  between multi coloured tower houses.

Slowly we climb the winding steps that lead past the Sanctuary of the White Madonna  with the San Lorenzo church up to the austere Dorian Castle.

The Castle and its walls that surround the historic centre were built by Genoa in the 12th century to protect the town against invasions as it was an important outpost for the Republic of Genoa and the white flag with the red cross of the Republica are still flying throughout the place.

But we were still in search of our Venus and make our way back down to the Church of Mother NatureSt Peter, only to find instead ‘Mother Nature’ a rather plump bronze statue of a woman in a petticoat staring out to sea. A rather melancholy gaze across Byron’s bay. Locals believe she depicts, not Mother Nature, but a woman who lost her husband, a fisherman at sea, and waits undeterred for his return.

Dorian castle overlooking Byroin bay                                                        We may not have found Venus but we have explored another magical place in Liguria and only a few hours hike away from the Cinque Terre, or ferry or train and bus ride. Whichever way Portovenere is definitely worth a visit.Map PortovenereView of St Peter's Church form Dorian Castle

 

 

 

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Hiking San Bernardino to Manarola

Spring flowers on the trailThe Cinque Terre trails are forever enticing whether they be across the valleys, over the mountain or down to an alluring blue sea.  I have my favourite trails and now is a good time to really enjoy the Spring flowers and the new vine shoots and take a hike along the high trail from San Bernardino to Manarola, via Fornacchi and La Cigoletta.

Fornacchi is the tiniest of villages, only 5 houses but with an important laundry service that provides bed linens to the numerousMadonna of Fornacchi apartments and bed and breakfast places in the area. The view is stunning of San Bernardino below and the coastline to Monterosso as a sweet little Madonna indicates the path through to the woods.View from Fornacchi There are no other hikers just the sounds of Nature; rustling leaves from the light breeze and as tiny lizards run out of sight.

Crossroads indicate the trail across the mountain ridge round to Drignano or down towards Corniglia across to Manarola which I prefer as am more fond of coastal views. On the high trail between Corniglia and Manarola I meet lots of hikers since the coastal trail between Corniglia and Manarola is closed now more tourists are obliged to try the high trail.

It’s a great time of year as the vines have sprouted and the views over the famous terraced landscape are compelling. Besides a large part of the trail walks through the vineyards. A total immersion in an ancient farming method where vines are trellised over wire frames to protect them from the strong winds and allow more air circulation underneath to avoid mould from the humidity later in the season.

And of course the thousands of kilometers of drystone walls that make this area a Unesco World Heritage site and a twin site with the Great Wall of China! They say if you put all the drystone walls together they would be twice as long as the Great Wall…..but it’s a saying and I cannot guarantee that as fact.Vines on trellis

Little would most tourists realize how hard it is to maintain these terraces, cultivate these vineyards or even grape pick…..as our volunteers experienced at harvest time.Grape picking Cinque Terre

 

 

The trail leaves the vineyards in time for a coffee stop in the village of Volastra, perched high above the sea. This sweet semi circular village, immersed in olive groves features a lovely Romanesque church sitting on a shaded piazza with plenty of seats for hikers to have a break.Volastra church

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vinew back to San Bernardino

From there it’s downhill all the way with breathtaking views along the coast till Manarola appears in view.

Blessed with sunshine on the descent  enhances the beauty of Manarola as I meander through gorgeous irises and wildflowers and am beckoned on by the aquamarine sea.

Manarola main streetAnd Manarola never disappoints, today the rough seas play on the rocks in the cove, the fishing boats are hauled up and tourists and locals enjoy the fabulous scenery. Manarola bay

Manarola, Cinque Terr


 

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Cinque Terre is open for business

A combination of great Spring weather, putting the clocks back to Summertime and being the last weekend  in March could only mean one thing….the tourist season at Cinque Terre is open for business!

First ferry of the seasonI spotted the first ferry for the season somewhat sleepily slipping across a millpond sea from Riomaggiore on its way to Manarola. There was hardly a wisp of breeze and the warmth of the sun was just coming through. I could see it was already going to be a T-shirt day.

Work is still progressing on the coastal trail Corniglia-Vernazza with a new bridge built Cinque Terre trail Corniglia Vernazza in one of the worst landslide prone spots. It will allow space for slides to flow below it to the sea putting less stress on the steel barriers and the drystone walls either side. It’s a constant battle to find solutions so we hope this will be a successful one and completed quickly as the trail is still officially closed.

Bar Il Gabbiano coastal trail PrevoNot such a good sign for the Il Gabbiano bar already open at the halfway mark at Prevo and waiting on the stream of hikers that will eventually return when the maintenance work is done. An ideal spot to savour their fabulous refreshing juice of sweet lemon and orange, and enjoy a moment of relax in front of an awesome view.

Wildflowers peek from every nook and cranny, and wild garlic flowers create a lush carpet under the olives. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Vernazza, Cinque TerreBy the time I reach Vernazza it is basking in the sun and beckoning seductively. I can already anticipate the piazza covered in its fabulous multi-coloured umbrellas on tables, so typical of the village, welcoming tourists and locals alike to taste the specialities on offer. I am not disappointed and together with the fishing boats still parked in the main square the scene is very cheerful.Vernazza, Gianni Franzi restaurantCorniglia main square

The same is also the case at Corniglia as cafes and restaurants set up their outdoor areas in the main square, although daily tourists here are also less and the atmosphere is pleasantly quiet. The view from behind the church to Manarola is captivating and often missed by tourists. St Peter’s cross made of local sandstone is dedicated to “all the men and women who, digging with their hands, reshaped a harsh, arduous territory, making it fertile and habitable.” 

As tourists begin to arrive for lunch I hike back up to my little retreat at San Bernardino. For the Cinque Terre another season has begun.View to San Bernardino


 

 

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Winter peace, Spring weather at Cinque Terre

View of Vernazza, Cinque Terre How I love this time of year at the Cinque Terre. The peace and quiet of the Winter, the striking colours of the villages against the clearest of skies and the bluest of seas. It does not get any better and a real enticement to be out there hiking around on old familiar trails.

And encouraged even more so by the unseasonal warm temperatures indicating an early Spring. The fruit trees are already in blossom as is the Mimosa wattle so sought after for International Women’s Day.View to Monterosso from San Bernardino

My hike began from San Bernardino with a view towards Monterosso in the distance  Defibrillator along the trailacross terraced vineyards. Who could get ever get tired of this view, Nature at its best, coming out of hibernation.

This year, thanks to the National Park, Vernazza Council and two local non profit organisations, we have defibrillators in various strategic points in the villages and even along the coastal trail at the halfway point of Prevo. A great idea since many tourists start the trail, often not realising that it can be quite strenuous, especially in the Summer heat. The National Park has also just introduced a fine on anyone wearing thongs/flip flops on the trails as it is an expensive and time consuming business to rescue injured people from the trail, often requiring a helicopter.

Trail landslideBut today the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia was quiet as it is still under maintenance as more dry stone walls have crumbled during the Winter. It is a never ending battle in this fragile territory and hurts just to see the devastation, be it small or large. Memories of the 2011 landslides during the flood never go away.

Olive nets glistened between the trees stretched out until next Winter, lemon trees were heavily laden with fruit and wildflowers were squeezing out of every nook and cranny under a splendid sun.

The fishing boats are still parked in the main square of Vernazza, safe from any stormy seas, creating a postcard image across to the Church, and a few locals are sitting chatting in the sunshine.

Corniglia is even quieter, and without tourists the souvenir shops are closed and only Corniglia main squarethe local café and delicatessen are open for essential local needs. But it still has a good feel about, very homey, as if everyone is resting before the tourist crowds swarm in at Easter. And not everyone is resting, as it’s time to prune the vines, repaint the facades, and clean out the cellars, in preparation for the new season. Everything has a quiet order to it, and a comforting security of belonging to a culture where some things just never change!

And this year I have decided to rent out ‘A little piece of paradise” at San Bernardino so I can welcome tourists to my little village away from the crowds. So keep that in mind if you are coming over to the Cinque Terre and take a look at the link here.


 

 

 

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Nature gives us another belting

 

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

Two days of dramatic storms has brought Italy to it’s knees again, with terrible damage from North to South and miraculously only 14 people killed. The Cinque Terre and the whole coastline of Liguria has suffered and there may still be repercussions with landslides as the heavy rains soak in. The weather forecast remains gloomy and Liguria and Veneto regions are still under ‘Alert’, as we slide into the normal November rainy period.

And while Italy is not the only place taking a belting, it seemed appropriate to remember the flood of 25 October, 2011 in Vernazza and Monterosso and even the distant 1966 flood, 4 November  as the Mayor of Venice is saying the high water level may reach the same peak of 1.90 cm!

Vernazza sea storm

Photo credit: Paolo Lazzarotti

Unlike the flood of 2011, caused by an exaggerated downpour, on Monday/Tuesday  the storm provoked colossal sea swells with waves leaping over the entire village of Vernazza. As you can see in the video here the water in the main street is battling in both directions, from the sea and the rain!Cinque Terre Mud Angel

Locals are already doing the clean up of the sludge and mess that has flooded in, their own Mud Angelsas the clean up, at least in Vernazza, is not at the level of 2011.

Tourists were caught by surprise and made hurried exits of the coastal villages, dragging drenched trolleys to trains before various railway lines were closed.

I still wait with bated breath to return to my holiday haven at San Bernardino where I hear the wind was so strong the rain came horizontally. However it is not wise to travel over by car for the moment, if it can be avoided, at least until the weather settles and the weather alert is off. The road from San Bernardino to Vernazza is off limits for the moment, with access only by train or on foot.

The Cinque Terre is such a fragile territory, it breaks my heart to see it ‘battling’ yet again, especially in the current climate of stringent political and economic policies that limit resources and organisational capacity to recover quickly. Locals take it in their stride, fully aware that these natural disasters are just part and parcel of living on the coast…..and after all it could be worse!

Is this yet another message from Mother Nature to say we have gone beyond the limits? It certainly comes as a great reminder of who is really in control, demonstrating how vulnerable we really are.

Some of you may well remember enjoying Santa Margherita Ligure on tour and  this video of the recent storms…. ends with a positive “It will come back to being wonderful”.                            These Ligurians are a tough lot, and hard to beat!

Rapallo, Liguria

Photo credit: Regione Liguria

 

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Wine, all for a good cause

The grape harvest is well over now as are the Wine Festivals in Italy for 2018, yet they are not solely an excuse to party:

Manarola volunteer Associatiom

The Cinque Terre can be proud  as at each village festival the donations gathered raised enough money to buy a new ambulance, 4 x 4 wheel drive, BUT ….not for the Cinque Terre. In January 2019 it will be sent to a remote town of Senegal!

Grape Harvest festival Cinque Terre

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tourists contributed enormously, maybe not fully understanding where the donation was going, but reassured by the sincere smiling faces. After all, with only a total population of 4500 residents in the Cinque Terre it would have been difficult to raise all the money from residents alone. Besides what a festival in Manarola! Glamorous mermaids and pirates came from the depths of the Mediterranean to join farmers with their  ‘lively’ grapes and vines, parading together amidst lots of fun and laughter. Wine flowed as the band played and locals danced and sang all the way to the Church for the blessing, such a fruitful day.

Volunteers from the “Just for a Smile” Association, who regularly serve on the local ambulance service, worked hard encouraging everyone to donate, no matter how small. They made good use of the party atmosphere and the tourist crowds explaining in their best ‘Italish’ the reason for the funds as well as their fundamental role in providing an emergency health service to both residents and tourists.

So when the final tally of donations is done, the “Gocce di Sorriso” Association hopes to also have enough to fill the ambulance with essential medicines, gauze dressings and disinfectant creams.The ambulance will be loaded onto a container in Genoa provided, almost free of charge, by the shipowner Messina, and sent to Senegal. A great show of solidarity and humanity by all.

While in Florence  we were treated to the presence of the ‘Carro Matto’ – crazy cart  from Rufina. A tradition that goes back to the time of the Florentine Republic in the XII century when a huge pyramid was built on September 29th for the new wine. After receiving the blessing from the church the wine was brought to Palazzo Vecchio where the authority of the time toasted to the governors of the time – the Priori – and to the health of the Florentine people.

A  crazy cart – carro matto  loaded with 2000 fragile flasks of Chianti, masterly loaded and well strapped, pulled by oxen, and in this day and age aided by a truck! An unbelievable spectacle of balance and precision accompanied by an historic procession in the city.Chianti Wine cart on its way home

Crazy Wine Cart RufinaNothing like wine to bring out the best in us, Cin Cin!

Photo Credits: Francesco Zagli

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Colours of Cinque Terre

Vernazza umbrellasAfter the huff and puff of the ‘dragons’ in Florence it was time to lap up the colours  of the Cinque Terre. A refreshing change in this torrid heat of July. In Vernazza, before the lunchtime crowds, restaurants prepared their menus to be savoured under the multi colored umbrellas overlooking the fishing bay. The colours strikingly bold and gay have always been a favourite of mine, offering welcome relief in the shade.Cinque Terre, Vernazza unmrellas

Multi colours reflected in the buildings of the area , so typical of Italian beach resorts. Painted uniquely so every fisherman or seaman can recognize his own home by the colour even at a long distance….As I have found describing my home – the third house in pink next to the grey building! Not something one would do in Tuscany.

The colours of Summer holidays, of fun, laughter and relax, where work and study Cinque Terre fishing boatscommitments seem a time of the past and every new discovery a delight. Whiling away the time on the harbour watching the ferries come and go, and the vibrant fishermen’s boats lazily basking in the sunshine, endless colours brighten the day.

The joys and indecision at the gelati shop, again full of Corniglia gelateriadelicious tempting colours and flavours – crema delle Cinque Terre still being my preference together with a fruit choice like mango or a refreshing  mint and yoghurt. A definite welcome treat after hiking down from San Bernardino amid this heat still blessed along the way with panoramic views and loads of flowers compliment a brilliant sky.Cinque Terre, Prevo

….even the fake flower tassels draped over the door seem fitting amid the lively shops of Corniglia boasting attractive souvenirs.

Corniglia Marina

Time now for a for a well deserved plunge into the deep cool waters at the Marina of Corniglia. How gorgeous is that, marine blue and green coloring the rocks below.

The return hike up to San Bernardino elicits vineyard greens, silver sage olives and deep green pines on wild country terraces. Life is about using the whole box of Crayons and Cinque Terre never lets me down in any season!

Cinque Terre view to San Bernardino

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Cinque Terre is blooming

Cinque Terre vineyards and Spring flowersCinque Terre is blooming after the abundant Spring rains and sunshine. Everywhere from vineyards to gardens are looking lush, windowsill pots explode with colour and climbing jasmine leaves a sweet fragrance that lingers in the air enticing locals and tourists to the cool of the cafes and wine bars.

Agave starting to flower

Even my super cactus – agave has started to bloom; an exciting moment considering they take a minimum of 10 years to 50 years before maturing and then die off afterwards. So it will be sad to see it go in the end.Cinque Terre garden

 

 

 

Il Gabbiano cafe at Prevo, halfway on the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia has a new open air space this year, under shade cloth, with a fabulous view across the water to Corniglia and Manarola. Initially the waiter served on tables but I think by the end of the first week the area changed to ‘self serve’ …..or the waiter may not have survived the season, running up and down under the hot sun! As the sign outside the terrace says “HOW TO ORDER: Dear Hikers, you can sit in the table you prefer. Then, the strongest of you can walk down, 20 meters, in the Vernazza direction. Once at the bar you can find all the drinks you need to take up here and enjoy the view. THANKS FOR YOUR PATIENCE”

Cinque Terre trail VernazzaFinally the National Park decided to do something about the swampy area along the trail and two simple canals now take the water away leaving the tourists’ shoes and mine, drier and less muddy. As they say ‘Pazienza‘ ( Patience) is what you need in Italy as sooner or later a solution is found. Volunteers have also repaved the stairs down to the Marina at Corniglia  so that’s looking very smart.

Cinque terre wildflowers

Wildflowers are abundant, often sprouting from rather barren rock faces or forcing their way through the verdant jungle  – from wild roses, cyclamens, ginestra, poppies and many others I don’t know the name of. It’s certainly a pretty time of year and not just in the Cinque Terre.

Looking towards MonterossoMakes me wonder though when the crowds come through how many have really ‘taken time or had time to smell the roses, absorb the ambience, remain disconnected (from wi-fi) for a while sensing the Nature that surrounds them. Continue reading

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Plogging along – Cinque Terre

Plogging” has been introduced to the Cinque Terre this season in an effort to clean up the plastic trash along the trails. “Plogging” is an idea started in Sweden with happy joggers/hikers picking up trash as they jog along…. So the National Park of the Cinque Terre has included it in their “Vivi il Parco” ( Live the Park) project arming potential hikers with gloves and bags inviting them to pick up the rubbish on their way through. On their return they will be rewarded with a series of gadgets, from the Park – puppets, key rings, T-shirts, hats and I hope NO PLASTIC!?Cinque Terre trail

The “plogging” appears to only apply to the high trails, which are free and lovely to do although requiring more time and a little more energy. My favourite is from San Bernardino via Corniglia to Manarola and for a change I sometimes hike to  Vernazza  via the Madonna del Reggio. The logic is also to encourage tourists to move away from the coastal trails as daily people traffic on these trails between Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso is already intense.

The Rainbow Warrior of Greenpeace toured along the Ligurian coastline last year, taking samples and identified an alarmingly high rate of plastic and microplastics at sea. Not a surprise really as it seems to be an issue worldwide and the National Park has made other suggestions to alleviate the problem of plastic – like the ban on the sale of water in plastic bottles, much talked about but so far not implemented.

Tourist crowds ferry stop Cinque TerreAnd with the recent long weekend holidays and Summer temperatures the crowds literally poured into the Cinque Terre. An estimate of 5million visitors on the 30th April and a maximum of 33 coach buses parked above Manarola! The photos from local newspapers show the bedlam at the railways stations and ferry stops.Tourist crowds Cinque Terre

 

 

The Park and the Liguria Region hope to increase the capacity of the trains and ferries as they are reluctant to put a limit on numbers of tourists. The Local Councillor responsible for Tourism interview on Tv that evening said the villages are unable to cope with the crowds and preferred to spend resources on restoring the trails. He hoped for (the elusive) “Sustainable Tourism that would keep residents and tourists happy, provide sufficient economic returns to enterprises in the area without damage to the territory.”  After all Manarola has only 250 residents, Vernazza around 500 and the entire 5 villages a total of 4,500, who become insignificant on days of a 5 million influx!

So the battle continues and we shall see what the outcome may be. Venice introduced turnstiles to limit the numbers as a first step a week ago. I have suggested we need a weekly rest day at least, like the major art Galleries do……

Corniglia MarinaIn the meantime knowing the other villages would be overflowing, I left early for the Marina at Corniglia for my first swim of the season. Beautifully quiet, freezing water or should I say energizing water for just a quick dip, and very restful. Yachts and fishing boats coasting past and only the sound of waves lapping the new Marina, until the afternoon attracted a few more locals. Corniglia Marina

But sssshhh, don’t spread the word as I’d like it to stay that way for the entire Summer!

Will keep you posted on how well the ‘ploggers plog!’

 

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