Cinque Terre on holidays

Cinque Terre view to MonterossoFinally it’s Phase 3 after lockdown and we can cross regional borders and begin to welcome in the first tourists. I was so excited to get back to the Cinque Terre I left late at night to cross the border just after midnight on the 3rd June, like a thief in the night!

It was so good to wake that morning to the sound of the waves, and breathe the fresh sea air. A leisurely late breakfast on my terrace to savour view that I never get tired of. It had certainly been a long 3 months absence.Cornigla view to San Bernardino

I was keen to get out and hike down to the main villages – Vernazza and Corniglia to see what state the trails were in and how much the villages had returned to normal…or not. The coastal trail is in good condition, some maintenance had been done and so far no new wall collapses or landslides. The surrounding terrain is so enticingly lush you could dive into its green carpet and just wallow in Nature.  Hardly a soul walking the trail.Cinque terre vineyards

Vernazza time for fishingVernazza had the tranquility we normally experience in Wintertime but with warmer weather. Kids kicking a soccer ball under the loggia or fishing from the quay. Grandparents keeping a watchful eye on the younger ones playing hide and seek amongst the boats still parked in the piazza.Vernazza main square

Only half the restaurants and shops are open and it seems almost exclusively locals wandering about or chatting together in the café. The main square is missing a good portion of its multi coloured umbrellas but they will return by July.

 

For the moment there are no cruise ships, no crowds and only the beginning of the first tourists. I met a Swiss couple who wanted to get here before the rush and had left immediately to cross the border the day Italy ended the lockdown, although I think it will be a while before the rush returns!

Vernazza harbourSo it’s a very pleasant time to enjoy the Cinque Terre, obviously not so good for shopkeepers, restaurants and the various services linked with tourism which will take some time to recover.Cinque terre vineyards, Vernazza

Reminds me of the I980’s when I first came to the Cinque Terre when the villages were without all the razzmatazz of the recent years of mass tourism.

Corniglia was even quieter, the narrow streets adorned with spring flowers while most of the shops and restaurants are still closed.

The Cinque Terre is ‘on holidays’, taking a well needed break, recuperating its energy to face the new challenges of after Covid 19. Its a hikers paradise at the moment, or a welcome retreat for a romantic few days.Cinque Terre, Corniglia

 

 


 

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Fish are jumping – Cinque Terre

5 Terre view to MonterossoHiking Cinque Terre in winter with hardly a soul about under a gorgeous winter sun is my idea of heaven. And since our current winter has been relatively mild there has been ample opportunity. Besides with the coastal trails ( Corniglia-Vernazza-Monterosso) still closed it’s a great time to do the high trail from my little village San BernardinoManarola via Volastra.

 

The views are fantastic, no matter how many times I have seen them, an exhilarating challenge through woodlands and vineyards and vegetable gardens tilled over ready for planting. It’s a time for pruning and cleaning up, restoring facades battered by sea winds in preparation for the Spring.

So quiet, it’s a pleasure to hear the crunch of leaves underfoot, which was enough to scare 3 little ‘ caprioli’ – bambi deer from their feeding. Their white little fluffy butts darting into the undergrowth. A crispness in the air and the scent of Nature quietly resting.View on Manarola

Fish are jumpingAnd as I circle down towards Manarola, I can see the fish are still jumping of Mario Andreolis Christmas lights! The entire hillside above Manarola covered with Nativity scene figures, animals and marine life that when lit, dance and leap about to the delight of spectators. To see them now is still a reassuring joy that the tradition continues with the many volunteer helpers.

While the hiking trails are quiet, and many of the shops and restaurants are closed for holidays in the main villages, the cruise ships are still coming. Passengers disembark and wander the empty streets lured to the water’s edge to get the best photo shot.

Manarola

 

Depending on the day the sea can be a milk pond……

or drumming up a storm

 

 

 

Manarola rough seasThe coastal trails are under repair and the National Park has helicoptered in the bags of stones to rebuild the drystone walls that have crumbled. Nothing too serious between Corniglia and Vernazza still it takes time for the work to be completed. Encouraging to see the new foot bridge is done along the trail

and almost completed across the canal in Vernazza. That has taken since the flood of 2011 to be replaced! Essential to the vineyard owners who have been crossing the canal when the water flow is low enough. Such a hardy lot these Ligurians!New footbridge over canal at Vernazza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter sun on VernazzaAnd such a lovely time for locals now to enjoy their village and do what they enjoy most, drop a line with the grandkids and see if the fish are still jumping!

Time for fishing

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New Madonna at San Bernardino

San Bernardino churchHow does a small village like San Bernardino, in the Cinque Terre, with only 10 permanent residents, 3 dogs and about 5 stray cats manage to keep its community alive? It has certainly been an experience being a part of this village,  warmly welcomed each time I visit, and feeling the need to contribute whenever I can to this small community: helping with maintenance, lobbying the Mayor for better services and listening to the local grumbles. Volunteer labour is an essential part to keeping this village alive, which in the past rebuilt the entire church!

Best of all is helping out at any festivities which are now few and far between. Even our local bar has closed as the younger generation have found work elsewhere so the social meeting point is now sitting by the bus stop. Yet the locals have not lost their resilience and resist by having the world come to them, renting out their rooms and apartments to tourists during the season. When this generation disappear the village will only be for second home owners and tourists passing through unfortunately.

Yet San Bernardino is in the hearts of many, especially those from Corniglia as it is their Sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna. And at the festival to the Madonna early September a procession led by the local priest still hikes from Corniglia to celebrate. In fact it is the religious festivals which unite these communities (like many others throughout Italy) and bring back life and laughter to the hearts of all.

Madonna dei Tarsi statueSan Bernardino is entrenched in the heart of a local sculptor, Giuliano Carro, who having seen the public fountain moved to the opposite side of the church square thought something more spiritual should be placed on the space it left. So after months of study and work, and on finding a large sandstone boulder he took up his chisel and gave life to this statue: Madonna dei Tarsi
Described by the Mayor of Vernazza “as a work that is the result of the sweat of one of our artists who, out of pure passion, driven by boundless love for our places, without asking for anything, in all humility, and satisfied only by the ecstatic gaze of those who will linger and admire his finished work.”

Attendance at the inauguration was a must and with over a 100 people the air was charged with chit chat and laughter, like a huge family gathering. Young and old from Vernazza and Corniglia, and those who introduced themselves to me were invariably called ‘Basso‘ the family generated from this village.

Vernazza mayor with sculptor Giuliano CarroThe honor of unveiling the Madonna was given to the 3 oldest members of the community, looked on rather jealously by the two youngest members. And while Giuliano could hardly get the smile off his face, when asked by the Mayor to say a few words he responded  “I am a man of few words, and work with my hands.” He did however share one of his poems for the occasion (read by another local!)

 

Hands
the sun has not yet dawned
your footprints leave little trace
while you caress
the earth under the moon
step by step, like always,
every day until evening

Respecting it as you would a mother,View from San Bernardino
you love these plants like children
that cling to the rocks,

that challenge the absurd
but which without you
they wouldn’t last an instant

always thinking of your world
you are not afraid of it
for your life, when it ends
in every stone there is a memory
hands passed over a face
as a tear falls between the vines

to the moon, to the sun, to the stars
show your huge hands
hard hands, suffered yet true,
frank hands and outspoken words,
hands full of earth, yet never dirty,
huge hands, full of love

and his comment in the brochure- ‘Stop here for a moment and think about the difficulty and poverty but also the greatness and the dignity of the people that for centuries have shaped this earth. Think of their immense fatigue, their defeats, their will, their strength, their sweat. And then, if you want to, lay a flower, or say a Prayer.’

Mayor, Sculptor, Revered guests of honourThe crowd were almost moved to tears. My amateur video failed to capture the moment the drape fell as I had to join the grand applause and cheers that I am sure could be heard as far as the ferry boats chugging along down below!

It was time to party! You could not believe the amount of food and wine that was passed out to the tables, all volunteered from San B  and Corniglia locals . Generous helpings served by us with pride and affection to all the visitors who ate happily in front of the most panoramic view of the Cinque Terre.

The music blared old favourite songs and the partying and dancing continued on into the night. That’s what brings and keeps this community together.

The Madonna dei Tarsi now quietly sits and keeps an eye on us all and the rest of the Cinque Terre below.Cinque Terre, Madonna dei Tarsi statue

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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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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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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

Ps A warm welcome to my new subscribers

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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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Cinque Terre, another season begins

 

View to Doria castleAt the Cinque Terre Spring has burst upon us finally and in the past 10 days it has been Vernazza outdor restauantaction stations all round. The change from Winter to Summer time brought us out of the gloomy tunnel and blessed us with the extra daylight hours to get ready for the tourist season. Between storms and sunshine the outdoor platforms for the restaurants and cafes were completed and some of the tables at Vernazza boast new umbrellas in typically bold colours that are so Vernazza outdoor bar and restaurantmuch a part of the Cinque Terre tradition.

Volunteers cleaned up the small beach of Vernazza from the winter debris that sea storms had tossed up. And locals finished painting their bright facades that forever get a beating from the sea air. The place is looking pristine clean and ready to go.

The ferries are running, as long as it’s not too rough, yet it’s too soon for the canoes toVernazz harbout be lowered from their safe haunt at the back of the church. The new timetable is out for the Cinque Terre Express train and the prices so far remain the same as last year.

I snuck down early morning indulging in the peace and quiet and moved on as the tourists spilled from the train platform. The cruise ship  was in and it was going to be a busy time over Easter. On the trail above the village flowers perfumed the air and the vines were just starting to green, such a beautiful time of year.

 

And you can never get tired of the view from above, it is simple stunning,View of Vernazza

In Corniglia  late morning sun warmed tourists having breakfast in the main squareCorniglia main square where the trees are still barren of foliage and the tourists are less likely to be day trippers. Corniglia manages to maintain its layback atmosphere as the 380 steps of the Lardarina to get there remain a good deterrent to cruise passengers and the local bus often too crowded to be used as an alternative.

View Corniglia to manarolaLocals mingled with tourists at the outdoor café at the end of the village, lapping up the sunshine and the sea breeze and of course the superb view that makes the Cinque Terre so unique.

 

 

So be tempted, and come over…..and remember if you need an orientation day contact me!

View Corniglia to Monterosso

 

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The Castle- Vernazza

Vernazza Cinque TerreThe Castle….no not the famous one in Tullamarine, for those who may remember the movie but the landmark of Vernazza, Cinque Terre. This ancient Doria Castle has featured in millions of tourist photos as an icon of Vernazza, although not everyone takes the steep steps up to explore it fully. Vernazza Castle

 

Making the most out of a cloudy morning I climbed the narrow alleyways or ‘caruggi’ as they are known in dialect, to enjoy the breathtaking view from the Castle.

Tucked in a corner on the way was Susie Barrow’s Art gallery, an English artist who has been living in the area for the past 9 years, doing jewellery and ‘splashnflow’ watercolours.

Pirate of the pastI had visions of swashbuckling pirates plundering their way through the labyrinth of alleyways in search of treasures, or more likely, seizing men and women to use as enforced labour or to sell off as slaves. In fact they say the ‘caruggi’ were specifically built so narrow so no one could be surrounded by a group of sword thrusting bandits!

Historical documents date the Castle and its Tower to the 13th Century although it may be even older than that. Little remains of the Castle apart from the Tower, and during the Summer there is often an Art exhibition in one of the rooms below.

It is highly likely the castle, with its imposing tower, was built as part of the Vernazza system of fortifications commissioned by the Genovese during the early Middle Ages to defend itself against the raids of Muslim pirates from Andalusia or the Basque bandits from Southern France.

 

On climbing the narrow spiral stairs it’s easy to appreciate its defence quality for the commanding view of the coastline and  complete coverage of the village below.

Even during the Second World War, it was used as a defence base against Nazi attacks.

Today it is a peaceful spot to admire the stunning view and inhale the beauty of the surroundings of Vernazza and the Cinque Terre.

Vernazza wine poemAt the exit there is a sweet poem:

You don’t leave the Castle       without drinking our wine,          that’s called ‘Schiacchetra’           and which brings happiness

 

 

 


 

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