May 14 and 15, 2019
Cinque Terre really is just one damned “Ta-dah!!” after another … especially when the sun is shining, which it was most of the day we were there. Over and over again I thanked myself for having taken the advice of my son Matt and his wife Nancy Riskin, who had suggested we not miss this area when we were in Italy. I dedicate this post to them, with endless gratitude. (The gesture will balance out the fact that we have about a thousand other photos from this and other parts of our trip, which they will be “invited” to peruse next time we see them.)
Of the five fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre, Monterosso is the oldest (first mentioned in a document dated 1056 ) and largest (pop. about 1500). The original town, south of the San Cristoforo Hill, subsequently expanded to extend past the beach at Fegina – which is where the train station is located. Albergo La Spiaggia, our hotel, was a two minute walk down Via Fegina from the train station.
I am sure we had the best view in Monterosso, as our balcony doors overlooked the promenade and the beach. I had chosen Monterosso as our destination in Cinque Terre because of the beach — it is the only one of the five villages that has one to speak of — and although the water was too cold for swimming, it was a treat to be so close to the water.
We had arrived exhausted in the darkness the night before, after two days of gloomy weather and frustrating misadventures, and to wake up to this view was as though a curtain had been pushed aside to show us a glimpse of paradise.
Where the Dead Have the Best Views
We had one full day in Cinque Terre and we used it to advantage, taking the morning to stroll up the hill towards the centre of the mediaeval town, where Monterosso’s small harbour is located. Arnie was suffering from a painful foot so he watched the trains and watercraft go by while I hiked further up San Cristoforo Hill to the Church of San Francisco and the Capuchin Monastery. Built between 1619 and 1622, the complex was confiscated and used as a garrison during the Napoleonic Wars before being returned to the Franciscans.
The town’s cemetery is at the top of the hill, and the views down toward old Monterosso to the south and Fegina to the north are beyond description (which is why cameras were invented). The effects of landslides and earthquakes have taken their toll on the hill and the buildings, but the result is an engaging agglomeration of aged, crumbling and restored buildings, hives of burial chambers, wilting bouquets of flowers (it had been Mother’s Day a few days earlier), filigreed crosses, cacti, scarlet poppies, tiny lizards, and breathtaking views.
After a late lunch, we took the train to the most southern town in the chain, Riomaggiore, and wandered up and down and around the streets lined with the colourful “tower houses” for which the town is famous, and its occasional installations of ceramic art.
We spent quite a bit of time down by the waterfront alternately admiring the changing light on the town behind us as the clouds came and went, and watching workers manipulate a huge grab dredger to lift massive rocks from the bottom of the sea and move them carefully to extend the breakwater just offshore. Sometimes they didn’t get a solid grip and the enormous rocks plunged back into the water, and sometimes — carefully, carefully — they moved them over the breakwater and gently lowered them into place. It was hard to look away.
We concluded this almost perfect day (there was some rain later, but I hesitate to mention it considering that the time of its arrival meant that it barely affected us) with an outstanding meal two doors down from our hotel, in an “ancient wine cellar” that has been transformed into Cantina di Miky.
It doesn’t get much better than that, we told ourselves. And we were almost right.