Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Travel Stories Part 3: Cinque Terre and Lorenza the Magnificent

Two years ago we went to the Cinque Terre (Five Villages) for the first time.  You may not know about the Cinque Terre but chances are you've seen photos of it.  These five small villages on the Ligurian Coast have become somewhat of a tourist Mecca over the past many years and you commonly see photographs of the brightly painted houses perched on the hillsides overlooking the sea.   The villages are all connected by a series of hiking trails which entice walkers and hikers from all over the world.

When I plan our trips I heavily rely on Tripadvisor.com and I have to say it has been a great resource to me.  I don't think I've ever been disappointed with an accommodation we've stayed in based on trip advisor reviews.  Two years ago I found Casa Lorenza in the village of Riomaggiore and booked a three night stay there.  It was perfect for us in every way.  You couldn't ask for a more picturesque spot or a more lovely hostess.  Lorenza is just one of those people you just can't help but to love.  She is unusually kind and gracious and her hospitality is genuine and sincere.  Since our first visit I've stayed in touch with her and even sent her a shawl I knit because I knew the colour was "her".   So when we knew we would be coming through from France to Italy I knew we would stay again at Casa Lorenza and it felt like coming to see an old friend.

I think because we experienced so much difficulty in our week in Provence we had a very grateful attitude about just being able to walk (a bit).  Im afraid I can't adequately express how happy we were to arrive at Lorenza's place.  We were greeted like long lost friends with the Italian three kisses and hugs as well.  We stayed in the same room as the first time - the "Venere" which means welcome, and that's just how it felt.  Home away from home.

Riomaggiore along with the other four villages (Monetrosso, Vernazza, Corneglia, and Manarola) are heavily touristed however the beauty of the place just overtakes any detracting factors.  Perched up on our balcony overlooking the Ligurian Sea, it was easy to pretend that nobody else was around.  In Riomaggiore you attune yourself to the sounds of the hourly church bells that keep you ever-aware of the time of day.  Twelve bells means lunch will be ready soon.  At night you keep the windows and doors open to get the ocean breeze and hear at the sound of the water splashing up on the rocks.  One night there was an incredible storm that woke us up with its cracking thunder and intense light.  I got up to watch for a while.  The jagged lightening struck over the sea lighting up the entire sky.  I was thankful that I wasn't out in a boat!

Speaking of storms, last October 25th there was a terrible rain storm in Liguria which caused massive flooding.  Genoa was affected and so were the two villages of Monterosso and Vernazza.  These two villages were severely damaged and five people died as a result of the flooding.  Vernazza is arguably the most beautiful of the five villages and has had a more difficult time in re-building.  I have been following their progress since last fall and was anxious to see how they were making out.   We were shown a video tape of the fateful day by one shop owner.  The tape showed the progress of the flood and how within an hour things became very serious.  The shop owner fled his shop and filmed from a higher point showing the water level increasing to above the first story level of his building.   The geletaria just down the road suffered not only damage to their premises but to their family.  The shop-owner was swept away by the water and killed as he saved the life of his little grandson.    Vernazza is rebuilding with much help from the public but they day we were there many shops had not yet re-opened.  This is unfortunate for the shop owners because their insurance does not cover loss of business.

The bay in Vernazza is mesmerizing and you can sit there for hours watching the surf come splash up on the rocks.   We did just that - me taking videos and photos and Keith sketching.  The Church in Vernazza is particularly beautiful due in part to its location just at the bay.  It's arched windows look right out to the sea.  We sat there for a while after lighting a candle and thought a lot about what the people of Vernazza have suffered.  So much pain surrounded by so much beauty.

One last note about Vernazza.  The most beautifully situated restaurant is there.   Its called the Belforte.  It is in a 1000 year old Fort perched on the rocks above the sea.  There are several outdoor terraces one of which is cantilevered over the sea.  The food was quite lovely, but the views are really the star of the show.  If there was ever a place to propose this would be it.

The plus side of being in such a touristy spot is - the tourists.  Isn't it funny how we go off to foreign lands to visit and consider ourselves travellers and everyone else tourists?  We try to fit in by wearing slightly nicer clothes or dress shoes instead of runners?  No matter what we do nobody is falling for it.  The very fact that we're there means we're tourists and we're not fooling the locals.  There is something really fun about meeting other tourists.  "Where are you from", Where have you been", "What have you seen".  You trade stories and you find out that people are much more alike than you think.  You make friends even if they are only friends for an hour - or if they stay friends forever.  There is something satisfying to the soul to cross paths with people.

A very appreciated gift from Lorenza

Seafood Pasta at Belforte

Sun going down in Vernazza
Two times in the Cinque Terre and we still haven't hiked the trails.  The first time because we were too lazy and the second time because of the gout.  Keith's foot problem really forced us to slow down and relax.  There is always an urge to get out there and see all there is to see but this time we just couldn't and I think that the slow pace really was a blessing because I felt we were actually "being" there instead of rushing through it.  But, a person really should hike those trails.  I guess we will just have to go back

Mesmerizing surf in Vernazza

1 comment:

  1. A lovely spot, hopefully they get back in business soon.