Cinque Terre, a twelve-kilometer stretch of rocky northwestern Italian coastline on the Ligurian Sea, holds five tiny colorful villages nestled into their own harbors. I stayed two nights in Monterosso al Mare, the older section of which dates back to the 13th century. All five villages are pedestrian-only (leave your car in a parking lot at the far end of Monterosso). Cobblestone streets, and alleys so narrow you can easily reach across and touch both sides at once, wind between clusters of pastel gold and red houses and buildings. With a population of 1500 Monterosso is the largest of the five, while the others are each less than a thousand. While tourism is the primary industry, these are fishing towns too, and brightly painted fishing boats line the waterfronts. Monterosso anchovies are famous. Olive vines grow between terraces carved into the hillsides above the villages, and local olive oil is prized as well. I found quaint cafes with marvelous fresh, local food, and enticing pasticcerias (pastry shops) where I quickly standardized my morning order, “Un ciambella grande e doppio caffè macchiato, per favore.” Which roughly translates to, “May I please have one of those gigantinormous donuts (they have them everywhere) and a double espresso (all coffee in Italy is espresso so they just call it caffè) with a splash of milk.” Actually, through the trip this developed into my two-or-three-times a morning order, and sometimes in the afternoon too. The photo above is of Monterosso and that pathway along the edge of the cliff leads up to my hotel: Hotel Porto Roca, a gorgeous little inn that hangs out over the water. The photo below is of the waterfront, Piazza Marconi, and Church of Santa Margherita d’ Antiochia (built in 1318-) in Vernazza, the next town over.
An interesting observation: each of these little towns has a spot where the elder men hang out and shoot the breeze, pretty much all day. In Monterosso it was in front of the barber shop. In Vernazza they sat on a wall down by the fishing boats. In Barga, a Tuscan hill town where I spent my third night, they sat out in front of my hotel, Albergo Alpino (see photo below). Throughout the trip, but particularly in the small towns, the people I met were gracious, soft-spoken (with the exception of the Stelvio Pass Polizia-man), and especially patient with my limited grasp of Italian. Other photos below are of north Tuscany hill towns Castel Nuovo di Garfagnana and Careggine.
Stay tuned for Part 3.