Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are five colorful fishing villages on the coast of Liguria that have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Dramatically situated between the sea and the land, they can be reached by walking paths, trains and boats, but not by cars. Not that that poses a problem for the rivers of tourists that flock them every year.
It was really funny to sit in the train that took us to Cinque Terre, observing exciting tourists waiting impatiently to get to our destination. When, after a short and pleasant drive from La Spezia, dreamy villages started appearing before us, ooh and aahs spread all over the train. Because villages of the Cinque Terre, compact, colorful and dramatic, seen on the background of deep blue sea, really are a beautiful, memorable picture that impresses and stays with you for quite some time.
Our first destination was Monterosso al Mare. Largest of the five, the town is divided into the old and the new part by a breezy tunnel. For its size, Monterosso al Mare was even briefly excluded from the Cinque Terre trail in 1940’s, because it was considered too big by the Italian officials. The main attraction of the village is its long beach, the only extensive sand beach in the Cinque Terre, filled with colorful parasols and bathers.
Apart from the beach, which exuded the air of fun summer times, and the romantic old part of the town, full of flowered balconies and windows, Monterosso al Mare gave the impression of being overrun by tourists that filled the beach, the shops, cafés and streets.
After taking a walk around town, it was time to get back to the train and move on to the next village – Vernazza. Positioned around a small harbor filled with fishing boats, Vernazza is beautiful, with its colorful houses and narrow passages. It is very easy to fall in love with this village, while you are sitting on the line of rocks that divide it from the open sea and look at the sun-drenched houses, the tower of the imposing church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia or the remains of the castle built as a lookout to protect the village from pirates.
At the same time, despite the daydreaming that easily overcomes you, reality is never too far away and it manifested itself to us by a funeral procession that, with great difficulty, tried to fight its way through the crowds of tourists that filled the streets. It was a sad sight to see obliviousness and impoliteness of tourists who were in the way of the procession and didn’t find it necessary to move. There were even some individuals who took photos of the procession, completely disregarding the right to privacy of people in the procession.
Our next stop was Corniglia. When we got there… I’m just kidding, we didn’t get to Corniglia. Unfortunately, Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza turned out to be the only two of the five villages of Cinque Terre that we visited. Blame it on our planning, Italian railways and quite useless timetables that we were given at the train station and that, apparently, no train ran by. Trains that day came extremely irregularly, and couldn’t account for the number of tourists wanting to get from one place to the other. That resulted in many people not being able to get on the train and having to wait for another one, as well as in general frustration of the visitors, and because we had our car parked in La Spezia, on the meter, we had to get back there in time in order not to get a ticket or get our car towed.
Despite our hopes to see all of the villages, our Cinque Terre experience, because of the series of less fortunate events, turned into a Due Terre experience. It showed us, once again, how unpredictable traveling is and how, no matter how well you plan your trips, something can always go a bit wrong. Still, our short semi-adventure transported us into a different, fairy-tale world of pastel houses, fishing boats, colorful parasols and deep blue sea, and made us promise to come back one day and see the Cinque Terre in their full splendor.