There’s a thing to be told about Liguria. It’s a rugged land – often tougher than you might think, close-knit, tight-lipped, you might almost say wizened – much like the people who inhabit it. Yet upon a closer inspection, the Ligurian lands reveal an uncomparable beauty that is at a time moving and deeply lyrical, an amazing blend of breath-taking landscapes and vivid seaside sceneries. It’s not easy to grasp – it’s not the quick-and-easy postcard kind of beauty you may find in other towns – but it’s intensely poignant, and a discovery worth many a stroll down the enchanting paths of Ligurian towns. The Cinque Terre might just epitomize the concealed, pulsating heart of this region. A visit to the Cinque Terre is never an ordinary experience. And only after you’ve walked their streets and listened to the distant song of the waves washing ashore, you might understand the momentous influence that the Cinque Terre – and the beautiful Ligurian landscapes – had on the work and poetry of artists like Eugenio Montale and Giorgio Caproni.
Colors, sights and visions in the painterly frame of the Cinque Terre
The first impression you get of the Cinque Terre- particularly if you’re approaching the ever iconic settlements of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore by the sea – is that of a lavishly painted picture, where the broad strokes of colours delineate in turn the subtle play of the light glaring off the waves, the rocky cliffs, and the skyline of squat buildings standing out in many patches of yellow, brick-red, pink, and brown.
The picture-like quality of the surroundings – by turn sharp and grittle, by turn poetic and gentle – is what draws so many visitors to this corner of Liguria, by far among the most suggestive destinations in the region. We have told volume of how it’s not an easy beauty to grasp, but once you are there and see it play out before your very eyes, you can never get enough of the sightsings and the glorious variety of life, colours and nuances sapiently intermingled over the Cinque Terre.
But there’s far more to this. And if you’ve been keeping tabs on recent Italian history, you might not be surprised by the aura of desperate strength and dignity that hangs over Monterosso and Vernazza especially. These settlements were severely damaged, on the brink of destruction, during the floods and heavy rains on October 25th, 2011. Although the Cinque Terre have since struggled to return to their former grandeur, the gaping and still all-too-sore wound in the hearts of the inhabitants is reflected by the loss of many sections of the historic centre of Monterosso and Vernazza, respectively.
Monterosso and Vernazza, jewels of resiliency
Nonetheless, the floods that destroyed a great many resources in Monterosso and Vernazza have not halted the vibrant soul of these two fishermen villages. The small town of Monterosso Al Mare, which can be easily explored within a couple hours, retains much of its picturesque beauty. There’s a deep dignity to its gulf, enveloping the village in the embrace of its crystal-clear waters – just as the gentlest lover would. Monterosso might be secluded, shielding itself and its beauty from the prying eyes of the touring hordes. But it has an all-ecompassing aura of vitality, of everlasting passion and resiliency. You might say with good reason that Monterosso has a voice of its own – and it’s authentic, true only to itself. It won’t take you much more than a couple hours to tour this little jewel encased in the sometimes harsh, sometimes soothing backdrop of the Ligurian coast. But once you’ve seen all that Monterosso Al Mare has to offer, you will undoubtefy feel its spirit – that selfsame voice sung by renowned poets in their verse – tugging powerfully at your heart strings. It is that poignant – and that majestic.
Likewise, Vernazza has long been true to its legacy of poetic charm and timeless fascination. Few sights have the same allure of this idillyc little harbor overlooking the sea. As the day wears out and gives way to the night, you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the play of lights over the water’s smooth surface. There’s an intensity of life in Vernazza that you’ll rarely come across elsewhere. It’s all there in the atmospheres of its characteristic shops… in the proud majesty of its storic center… and it leaves a mark that won’t be forgotten easily. Vernazza might very well have materialized from a traditional sculpture of Ligurian artisans – but when you get to baske in its lights, colours and glorious sceneries, it’s where the charm happens. Because in the blink on an eye – or in the span of a couple hours, which is really all it takes to embrace its wondrous sightseeings – you’ve also been transported in that very same sculpture – into that elaborate work of passion – that seems to be the authentic essence of Vernazza. And from which there’s no turning back.
Corniglia, breathing into the salty seaside air from the overlooking hills
If there was but one word to describe Corniglia, it would be “gemstone”. This is no boast. You might think that there’s many a breath-taking view in Liguria that deserves the term – and far more rightfully. But it’s only when you’ve seen it draw closer – with the square little houses giving off tints of light and colour, like the many facets of a diamond – that you really grasp the accuracy of that description.
Corniglia – or Corniggia in the Ligurian dialect – is a little fishing village nested on the hills, looking down onto a beautiful terrace of cliffs and blue sea. Its gulf – the Marina – is a triumph of vivid colors and antique traditions, with just a sparse few fishermen boats stranded ashore – and crowned by the majestic three crosses which homage the Biblical retelling of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion alongside the two thieves. Upon closer inspection, the slopes ascend toward the inhabited centre, where the houses and the narrow streets surround the St Peter church.
From the overhanging antique Tower – one of the few surviving relics which dates back to as late as 1550 – the view spaces out onto the gulf below. You may think yourself prepared to the all-sweeping rush of emotions that will overwhelm you at the sight – but the truth is, until you’ve been there and you’ve lived the momentum of looking down into Corniglia, you have but an inkling of how powerfully moving this landscape truly is.
Manarola and Riomaggiore
Imagine lengths upon lengths of housed – the brick-like, brightly colored, genuine-yet-oddly-lavish traditional Ligurian buildings – perched over steep sea cliffs… the sky overhead, fading into a clouds-strewn sunset… the salty, sea-sprayed wind carrying the distant shrieks of seagulls. Sounds nifty, huh? But words (or pictures as for that) can only go so far in capturing the enchantment that you can really only breath during a visit to Manarola. Out of the Cinque Terre’s magnificient sighthings, this might very well be one of the most unrealistic. There’s something out of this time and age in the pristine reflection of the clear water… or in the rows of buildings facing out onto the cliffs. It’s fabled – out of our everyday experience. But it only takes a hour or two strolling its street, climbing up the narrow lanes from wonder to wonder, to realize that Manarola has planted deep, long-lasting ties into our hearts. When we depart, it’s with the knowledge that we can’t forget – we can’t unsee – this authentic corner of Ligurian splendour. So don’t be surprised if on your next visit, you’ll find yourself retracing your steps across the Cinque Terre. It’s just the way it happens – even if you’re a seasoned traveller.
You’re almost at the end of your travel experience now. You have toured back and forth from Monterosso to Manarola – and chances are that you might by turn have felt speechless, awestruck and incredulous before natural, historical and architectural wonders the likes of which you don’t come across every other day. But if you’re like us, and believe that an italian vacation is never just a travel on charted roads, a forthnight’s stay in some of the choicest accomodations, or a lavish meal in a five-star restaurant – then you’ll also have experienced a powerful urge to embrace these villages thoroughly and become one with their culture, their traditions and their atmosphere. Because if there’s one thing the Cinque Terre are amazingly good at, it’s stealing souls – and hearts. Visiting these lands is like growing a wild, wide-eyed, over-the-moon crush with the “five lands” themselves. If – as we believe – that is the case with you too, Riomaggiore might very well be what takes your crush onto a brand new level, and makes you fall deeply and hopelessly in love. Inlaid between the landscape of Ligurian hills and the sky above, Riomaggiore is a dazzling dream of colors, feelings and reveries. Ever wondered why its jewel-blue waters have become renowned as one of the truest corners of Liguria? Why even the locals refer to it as a hidden treasure where time has seemingly left the land untouched and unchanging? That’s easy – because it is. Now don’t get us wrong, Liguria has many enchanting holiday destinations up its sleeve. But it just does not get any better, any truer, any more gorgeous than this.