Friday thru Monday, May 15th – May 17th
What a delightful campground we found at Pian di Pichhe (www.piandipicche.it)
Great Grandparents Paulin and Caterina had set their minds on the acquisition of the orchard, vegetable garden and vineyard that together were known in the area as Pian di Picche. In 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War and two years after the foundation of the Italian Republic the sale was finally made.
Their strong beliefs in this plot of land turned out to be right. After many successful harvests, a campground opened its gates on July 13th, 1985, on this same land.
With no specific experience in this line of work, this little venture has grown and become a very successful enterprise for 30 yrs. Five members of the original family take pride in offering true hospitality representative of their great-grandparents and grandparents.
It was a delightful experience. Even more so when I found out that we were in a grove of Acacia Trees. Talking to a family member I was able to discover that thru grafting over the years they had been able to produce the beautiful trees above us. They were able to produce a tree with beautiful pink/purple, fragrant (to some) blossoms and to minimize the large thorns that usually thrive on the tree.
This was especially memorable for us as our youngest grand–daughter was named Acaysha.
The next three days were spent exploring the Cinque Terra. Five crazily constructed fishing villages, perched onto and into the cliffs that rise from the Mediterranean, and set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the planet.
Cinque Terre’s unique historical feature is the steeply terraced cliffs bisected by a complicated system of fields and gardens that has been hacked, chiselled, shaped and layered over the course of nearly two millennia. These artificial contours have some scholars comparing the low stone walls to the Great Wall of China in their grandeur and scope.
Marauding pirates from North Africa were a persistent problem until about 1400. Many locals were kidnapped and ransomed or sold into slavery, and those who remained built fires on flat-roofed watchtowers to relay warnings – alerting the entire coast to imminent attacks. The last major raid was in 1545.
The first town Monterosso, was settled in 643 AD when hill dwellers were forced down to the coast to escape from invading barbarians. The villages prospered, fishing and cultivating grapes as the threat of pirates faded.
The towns remained virtually isolated until the advent of the Tourist in this generation. Somehow, they are still able to cling to their traditions to this day.
Even cars were banned over a decade ago.
Anyway our visit starts -
At the train station after much confusion we were able to purchase a 2 day train pass with off/on privileges.
What an experience this was!! The congestion was horrible. Mobs of people tried rushing onto the train before we could exit. One incident saw a women slam into Bill (he later explained; “It was like a Rhinoceros charge”.) then bounce back off the train.
The only way to see these enchanting hamlets (minutes apart by train) for us, was either by train or boat. Twenty years ago might have found us walking between these little villages but not as we both approach 70. Assuredly, we have no mountain goat left in us.
There are 2 trails to follow; the first hugs the edge of the cliffs and is very scenic (many parts had been washed out due to avalanches) so not a choice and the other takes a much higher ground. (also, not a choice)
In spite of everything we managed to wander 4 out of 5 of these towns. We inadvertently missed Manarola because we hopped a train that skipped that station between 12 and 1.
Cornigila (population 240) (pronounced Cornelia, supposedly named after a Roman’s farmer’s mother) is the only one of the five not on the water. Apparently, its ancient residents produced a wine so famous, some say that vases were found at Pompeii touting its virtues.
Because we missed the bus which would take us to the town (at the top of a cliff) we decided to walk it instead. Rick Steves wrote there were 100’s of stairs I would like to correct that statement because I think it was more like 1,000’s!!
Breathlessly; after, it seems many hours of exertion we reached the top.
On the way up, we had plenty of time to admire the view. I’ll tell you these Italians were quite enterprising. First in building the terraces out of stone, then planting and cultivating the grapes. No wonder they are so proud of the local wine they produce. I haven’t missed having a glass or two of wine at lunch over the last 3 weeks and haven’t had a bad tasting one yet – and the colour and the legs not to mention the body – hummmm.
I loved the spirit of the residents of these cliff top and side towns. Especially Vernazza, population 500. They proudly proclaim “Vernassa is locally owned, Portofino has sold out”. (The rich and famous have discovered and spoiled this town)
Fearing the changes that a major road into town would bring the residents of Vernassa stopped its construction. Families are tight here and go back centuries with many generations living together.
Through most of the “90’s the local government was Communist. In 1999, residents elected a coalition of many parties working to rise above ideologies and simply make Vernassa a better place.
That practical notion of government continues to this day. Umm wonder if it would work in other countries.
Not a family was spared death in WW II. In 1943, Hitler called up Italian boys over 15. Rather than die on the front for Hitler, they escaped into the hills and became “resistance fighters” in order to remain free.
I was able to approach Vernassa by boat and the many pastel buildings atop of each other truly look to be tumbling down a ravine to the sea.
In the “70’s, tiny Vernassa had one of Italy’s top water polo teams, and the harbour was their “pool”. Later when the league required a real pool, Vernazza dropped out.
2011, saw a flash flood hit this town. Pictures posted on the walls by the water showed incredible damage. I am surprised anything was left but rebuilding they are.
I loved the spirit of this little town.
The delightful couple from The Netherlands advised us to look for the elevator before the tunnel, as it would “whisk” us to the top thus bypassing a 1,000 stairs. It was worth the 2E it cost for the trip.
As we were passing through San Giovanni square I happened to notice an elderly gentleman sitting under a tree leaning on a cane. I smiled and said,”Buongiorno” (I think). Well, the expression on his face was miraculous, it just lit up and as he smiled he replied,” Buongiorno Madam”. I think the exchange filled us both with joy.
The views from the “Top” were spectacular. I don’t feel that pictures really capture it but I have included a few. Also check their website for really good pictures.
There are no ugly, arial, antenna on the roof tops in Riomaggiore. In the 1980’s, every residence received cable.
The first concession to perhaps an elderly population was Rick Steves mention in his 2013 tour book that an elevator was being installed beside the church of San Giovanni, to help the older adult get around the steep town. Alas, it is still under construction.
The trip down from the top was quite an adventure. One’s eyes were continually drawn upwards to marvel at the architect while consciously remembering to keep an “eye” on the treacherous “cobblestone” streets underfoot. Not to mention the pesky motorized scooters who were determined to wipe me off my feet at every turn. In spite of all this you couldn’t help but admire the determination and will it must have taken to build a life here.
Monterossa al Mare
This town is the most resort like one of the 5. Also built on flat land so the easiest town for us to get around in. It has small crooked lanes with cookie cutter pastel houses as well just a whole lot easier to navigate. We had lunch at a little café overlooking its vast sandy beach. There is still a 16th century lookout tower, built after the last serious pirate raid in 1545 and a Nazi “pillbox”, a small low concrete bunker where gunners hid in the 2nd. WW.
From the waterfront promenade you could pick out each of the Cinque Terre towns. What a view.
Bill encouraged me to take a boat trip on Sunday, which stopped at all the towns except Corniglia (Why ?) and also went on to Portovenere. Four hours on the sea. I was in heaven!! From the sea each little hamlet looked like it could be shook loose from its hold on the cliff side and shaken off at any second. I just had to smile as we approached each town. They were a delight.
The captain slowed down at one point to allow us to watch a pod of dolphins playing.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Bill was waiting on the dock when I returned and after a casual Italian dinner with wine, we wondered back to our camp.
Note; Bill/Dad/Grandpa, gets quite seasick, which is why he elected to stay on shore.