Cinque Terre’s been on the bucket list for a long time. We’ve tried to visit a couple of times in the past but bad weather and rough seas have stopped us in our track. This time Craig had a cunning plan to make sure we got to see the 5 little villages. Rather than stay at La Spezia lets go to the campsite at Monterosso.…so we did.
The drive along the toblerone coast (that’s what we call Italy because it looks like mini toblerones everywhere) was nice except for the squeak. A good thump every so often seemed to lessen the pitch but not eliminate. As for the drive along ‘remote’ headland, it was absolutely fine. The villages are not as remote or cut off as the guide books portray.
The small campsite Il Poggio is more like a camper sosta with services. It is perched high on the slope above Monterosso village It is impeccably clean and well maintained by Sara and her family. With space for only 15 vans and the only camper stop in the area, it soon gets busy. Thankfully there is room for us for 2 nights at a cost of €25 per day. This includes shuttle service up and down the steep slope to Monterosso. If you exclude the shuttle (which we only discovered at check out) it is only €20.
Our Bumble paid campsite at Monterosso al Mare GPS position: N044.154948, E009.659458
The Cinque Terre are five coastal come hilltop villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. They are located on the rocky coastline and linked together by Sentiero Azzurro an ancient pathway. Sara brings out a map and shows us the trail at the same time as shaking her head. “This path is now ruined, too many tourists, not good. I would recommend you take the higher path. No tourists and much better”.
We took her word and set off on our hike with the dogs. Several hours of walking with only a handful of people along the path. It was a nice walk, which we thoroughly enjoyed but if I am honest, disappointing in terms of views. The dramatic coastline was difficult to see amid the trees and forest. It was also a hot and sticky walk amid the canopy. Poor Mac n Tosh withered very quickly but a good job we had lots of water. The best way to see the coast and the villages are from the sea or from the road. A trip out in Eor is a better solution…roll on tomorrow.
The Cinque Terre villages are still beautiful from afar amid the rugged coast line, blue sea and surrounding terraces. From the boat looking back they are stunning. But once in the village they are not quite a nice as you might hope. They are a heaving and in some cases an unpleasant experience at close quarters. Each village has a handful of streets, lined with cafes and trinket shops. Every restaurant is packed, every bar jammed and at only 4ft 10 it was rather stuffy amid the hot bods.
Most visitors are day trippers who come by train. Like sardines packed in to carriages they arrive looking like drowned rats. Others are dropped off by an endless procession of boats that sail from La Spezia. Only a handful arrive by car as access to the villages is now completely forbidden. All the villages are under police control who help coordinate the crowds and the traffic. The idyllic and remote coastal villages weren’t quite as we had imagined. For us Porto Venere just around the corner is much nice and picture postcard pretty. Maybe July is not the best time to visit and appreciate the villages.
Sentiero Azzurro, the ancient tracks used by the locals hugs the beautiful coastline. Now hardly used by the locals to tend the terraced land as the path now resembles a lemming trail. An endless procession of panting and poorly prepared people constantly pausing for breath. Walks which should take an hour often take several hours due to the crowds. We are all for tourism but when the balance of tourism exceeds the limits, its such a shame because it will eventually be its downfall. No wonder Sara told us to avoid the trail and take the high road.
In the evening, the villages return to some sort of normality and you can appreciate their appeal. Life seems to return to normal with locals strolling the alleys and sitting on stone steps chatting about the days events. But the best way is to admire these little villages is from afar and let your imagination visualise life before tourism found them.
The top road, high on the slopes offers some good views of the villages. But the best views are of the terraces and vine yards. Winemaking has been one of the Cinque Terre’s main industries since Antiquity. About 650 years ago the effusive Italian poet Petrarch described the district’s “vineyards illuminated by the sun’s benevolent eye and much loved by Bacchus.”
Local pride in the wine business is big to this day. The local grape Vernaccia is said to acquire its name from the village of Vernazza. In 1300’s, the grape from Cinque Terre was transplanted to San Gimignano in Tuscany. As Tuscany is famous and fashionable everyone knows about San Gimignano’s Vernaccia wine, but very few know of its origins and of Liguria wine.
Driving and walking through the the grapevines provokes many a thought. The ‘cooperative’ signs at the side of the vines shows how strong a community live here. Over 20% of Cinque Terre’s residents belong to the local winery. The white wine is the main income and staple of the residents and is covered by the D.O.C. quality label granted in 1973. The vineyards are contained within 7,000 kilometres of dry stone walls, which is actually the same length at the Great Wall of China.
The the top of each terrace you find an interesting little motor. It looks like part of an old fashioned lawnmower. Look a little closer and you see its fitted with a 400cc Honda engine. This zippy and unusual contraption is part of a rail system that runs all the way around the grapevines. At harvest time the farmers set off with their train system whilst winding around the vines filling the basket with juicy grapes.
Sara once again shakes her head. “The white wine is for selling. But the best wine Sciacchetra is special, its for us”. The sweet, honey-hued Sciacchetra dessert wine is made from dried grapes. “As you drive through the hillside take a look at the old stone wine stores. Inside they hide the drying grapes and the vintage wine which can be up to 30 years old”.
Learning about the regional wine and talking to Sara turned our some what disappointing trip in to something rather special. Now when we look back on Cinque Terre we think of the village life beyond the trail. The life of the original wine makers.