We went to bed thinking that we would be docking in Livorno, the port city closest to Florence and woke up to find that we were in La Spezia. This disappointing news was followed by the fact that the ship was not at a dock, but anchored in the middle of the bay. This meant that tenders would be used to get everyone to shore, a tedious process at best. The explanation given was that a cargo vessel had been delayed in departing Livorno because of the weather and there was no room there for us. It turned out that for our tour to Cinque Terre, this ended up being a good thing, because we were an hour closer to this amazing spot.
Cinque Terre is a collection of five little coastal villages on the Riveria that are a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park. Usually national parks are designated to save and protect unspoiled nature. In Cinque Terre the park was created to preserve all the efforts that man has made over the years to tame this rough and rocky coastline and make it a liveable area.
The sides of the mountains here are so steep they cannot even be worked by animals. Over the years men lugged rocks and built terraces and created vineyards, olive groves and orchards. These terraces had to be tended and repaired every year or rain would cause rock slides and all this effort would be washed away. These days few people are interested in this kind of unrewarding work and it was only the discovery of this quaint area by tourists that makes it economically viable. Many of the terraces have fallen into disrepair and are overgrown with pine trees and gorse.
Today the towns are connected by train but the roads are so small only the folks who live there are allowed to have cars. A walking path along the edge of the sea allows tourists to stroll from town to town, stopping along the way to have a bite to eat or a glass of wine. Those residents with bigger homes rent out rooms and an area where about 1,000 people live full time has 700 B & B's. One of the towns has a sandy beach and this must be a happening area in the summer, but most restaurants and shops were closed for the season today.
Our tour was supposed to visit the area by boat, but the rough seas sent us to the train instead. As the tour bus neared the first town the sky opened up and it began to hail. This area boasts 300 days of sunshine a year and the sun did eventually come out, but our guide was astonished to see the terraces white with piles of hail. It was treacherous for us to walk down the steep hillside into town, our feet struggling to keep traction on the ice balls. We were soaked and chilled, but once the sun came out and we could walk along the sea, all was forgotten.
We walked some of the path between the towns. One part of the path was called the Via Amore, path of love, and it was decorated by amorous graffiti and locks. Lovers would put their names on the locks and attach them to the fence as a symbol of undying love. Latin men are known for being lovers, but the writing our guide translated revealed that the girls were equally ardent.
The villages are a photographer's delight. The buildings are painted in bright colors and contrast with the dark terraces behind them and the crashing waves of the blue sea. Many of the fishing boats were pulled onto the shore until the weather calms enough for them to go out again.
We would like to come back to Cinque Terre and walk the entire coastal path, but it's hard to imagine how we could get ourselves and the luggage into town. The hills are steep and challenging to climb without a suitcase. There are no taxis and few hotels. This is truly a unique spot.