Every Picture Tells A Story
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No matter how many beautiful photographs I’ve seen of Cinque Terre nothing beats being there oneself. Like any great beauty there is more to her than meets the eye. This place has soul, history and charm. Being a World Heritage Site does not happen at the drop of a hat, there are criteria to be met and followed. Cinque Terre has them all.
Being on a budget makes one delve into options with an open mind. It’s easy to click on an accommodation website and pick the cream of the crop and pay exorbitant prices, we, on the other hand have to look for great stays at reasonable prices. A 9.8 rating on a shoestring! Airbnb had the best options, what’s more we’d stay in La Spezia, a city nearby which enabled us to approach Cinque Terre by ferry opting to miss the crowds staying there.
La Spezia, a naval city on the Liguria coastline is the gateway to Cinque Terre, the five irresistible Italian villages made famous on social media and photography websites. Narrow cobbled lanes, with narrow houses painted in brightest, saturated Mediterranean fruit colours from bright pink Pomegranate to rich melon, lemon and orange. Clinging to the rugged coastline on one hand and protected by a mountain range behind them these picturesque ancient villages speak volumes about life in Italy.
Small vineyards, stone fruit orchards and citrus trees are a patchwork of colour in between rustic homes and hamlets as we hiked from village to village after a scrumptious lunch of Parma ham, musk melon and my first Pizza in Italy. (I fib, it probably was my second pizza in Italy, but they're so amazing, each time I had a slice it was like my first!) Vibrant colour, quaint achitecture, the mist, mountains, narrow corridors, trains, tunnels and cobblestones are all reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie set. Locals walzing down the street in Speedos carrying fishing rods and pretty young things posing like fashion models had me gawking. I was in heaven.
I love boats. Seasickness prevents me from being overly enthusiastic about sailing, fishing or setting out crayfish pots but admiring them at a distance or when they’re safely moored is my best. Whether they’re small, colourful fishing boats or large mysterious black Super Yachts. I conjure up stories about the humble fisherman out to meet his match and in wonderment I speculate what the owner of the billion dollar baby does. Must be dotcom Billionaires with tax havens and I’m sure there must be the odd sprinkling of dodgy dealing too.
We took a stroll down to the waterfront to do a bit of admiring. We weren’t disappointed. The Maritime Museum had closed by then. As the sun set yachtsmen set their spinnakers for a quick sundowner cruise while others moored and beautiful people came ashore to enjoy meals and tapas at one of the many quayside restaurants and bars. I was able to photograph a large frigate the next morning from the water.
My admiration of places always include the people who live or visit there. They make up the colourful palette of characters who breathe life into a place. Chernobyl would be the only “dead” city I’d like to visit. There I think the forsaken, discarded possessions speak volumes, but, in Italy it’s the passion of shopkeepers, pedestrians, the blue collar workers and the holiday makers that give Italy it’s robust, passionate, chaotic flavour.
Musicians play their favourite tunes on street corners or under the shade of an ancient tree. The saxophone player’s plaintive slightly nasal tone encouraged me to step it up as the sound of The Lady Is A Tramp wafted down to me on the gentle breeze as I hiked between lemon and fig trees.
Although the day was slightly overcast I think it played out in our favour, not too hot yet a little sultry, perfect for hiking in the hills behind the villages. Perfect for photography as shadows were eliminated and colours were marvellously saturated to show their true brilliance. The sea a luminous aquamarine, almost postcard perfect.
At the halfway mark I bought a glass of delicious, freshly squeezed ice cold lemonade from an old guy with a long white beard. If you're like me, you'll know why he's irresistable, I too can't let fruit go without a good sniff especially citrus fruit, he is a man after my own heart. He had set up all his paraphernalia on a rock, the electrical cord snaking its way down the hillside from his villa further up. I could still hear the saxophone while I enjoyed my drink. This is bliss.
Once we’d all gathered again, had our daily dose of Gelato we made our way back to the jetty to await the ferryman. With slightly burnt cheeks and salty locks I was happy to return to our very comfortable apartment in La Spezia. A hot shower would do the trick before we set off to supper at the world renowned All'Inferno DAL 1905 restaurant.
Set in a cavern halfway below street level this place dates back to 1905. Low ceilings, no windows and slightly crowded it didn’t take long before I got heart palpitations, sweaty palms and knew I had to move before the panic set in. Claustrophobia is a bitch. Fortunately I’m not the first sufferer there and the kindly waitron moved us to a table at the door, the cool evening breeze washed over me as I started breathing normally again. Nothing would dampen our sprits nor our appetites as we enjoyed one delicious course after the other in this atmospheric restaurant whose walls, if they could talk, would have a thousand tales to tell. Just imagine, from Mussolini to Lorenzo Richelmy (the actor best known for his role in Marco Polo on Netflix).
Our mission to this neck of the woods was to visit Cinque Terre. My personal view, although breathtakingly beautiful I do think it’s been spoilt by all the publicity, the crowds who, like us, flock there in droves, all year round. I’m sure the villagers, although they must enjoy the financial benefits of fame must rue the day as it saw the end of village life as they knew it. I’m pleased we decided to spend our time in La Spezia a quiet city on the fringe where locals still enjoy an unspoilt lifestyle away from the maddening crowds, where one can still enjoy la dolce vita.
We’d acclimatized and were ready to take to the road in our own hire car making our way to Tuscany, village life, long walks, good food, excellent Chianti and lots more gelato.
ACCOMMODATION (Airbnb- just download the App)
Cernaunavolta - an apartment in the old town, near the station and harbour (ferry), eateries, fresh fruit/ vegetable market
Hosted by Enrico - who is brilliant, friendly, helpful and available at all times
Address: Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi, 24, La Spezia, Liguria 19121.
The apartment is self contained allowing guests to prepare their own meals. Laundry can be done while there. Comfortably sleeps 2 couples. The large, modern bathroom is well equipped with an excellent shower and ample hot water.
La Taverna del Metallo
Via Cernaia 17, 19121, La Spezia
(Bookings absolutely essential)
All'Inferno dal 1905
Via Lorenzo Costa 3, 19121, La Spezia
Tel: +39 018729458
(Loved by locals who make reservations well in advance)