Italy’s Cinque Terre took my top spot in our power rankings and top three overall. While Spain has a firm grip on my soul, and I fell in love with Budapest, the Cinque Terre managed to claim a piece of me as well. My one and only journal entry, scribbled in brief, while exploring the coastal trails between the five villages:
I don’t know what to say. I am utterly in love. More in love than anywhere, ever. So much, it pains me. The sounds, sights, tastes, feel and smell…I can hardly stand it. This is my happy place – the happiest of happy. I could grow old here. I never want to leave.
Can you really blame me…
We spent four sun-drenched days in the Cinque Terre, and easily could have stayed more if time allowed. (Time…that mischievous trickster.) We based ourselves in the village of Corniglia, the only one without direct access to the sea (unless you count the 382 steps up from the train). Rather Corniglia is set high above the Mediterranean surrounded by vibrant, terraced vineyards. You can see our appeal.
We stayed at a quaint, clean and spacious hotel, Il Carugio di Corniglia. It was in the center of town, featured a stunning rooftop deck available only to the hotel guests and even offered guest parking – a necessity for us road trippers. Aside from the rooftop terrace, the highlight of the hotel was its owner, Lidia. She provided us with treats in the room, helped us navigate our way through the one road town to our parking space (which may seem trivial, but believe me, this was crucial), and she also spent time sitting with us, sharing maps, books and suggested routes for our hikes. Her insights allowed us to make the most of our brief time.
Now the drive up to Corniglia is not for the faint of heart. Honestly if I ever live there, or even go back to vacation, I will only use the trains. They are a much less dramatic way in and out of the five villages, and extremely efficient. That said, Mike did an excellent job navigating the narrow, windy roads and dodging the on-coming traffic that often appeared barreling at you from around a blind corner. The trip up and down were the only things I didn’t love about our stay, but we managed to see a few phenomenal views (when I stopped panicking for a moment anyway). And once settled, we only traveled by train and trails to make our way between towns.
The Cinque Terre itself is a group of five villages along the Italian Riviera: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterossa al Mare. The coastline, villages and hillsides are part of the Cinque Terre National Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villages are centuries old and brimming with vineyards, cafes, harbors and stunning views. I cannot describe the utter amazement I had looking in every direction. It was almost more than I could handle; it was visually overwhelming.
I never imagined a place this picturesque could be real. And not only real, but endearingly humble. This is not a showy seaside destination where people come to see and be seen. While not lacking for tourists, the Cinque Terre is somehow less touristy. It’s relaxed. Mellow even.
Each village has its own distinctive draw, but all were friendly, welcoming and moving to a familiar, yet uniquely beguiling rhythm. It was strange to pack into these small trains with hundreds of people, all hot and smashed together, speaking a handful of different languages, only to emerge to relatively quiet towns where the clanking of dishes and the ringing of church bells were the most notable sounds.
The hillsides of Corniglia
The trails were also peaceful. Despite drawing an increasing number of tourists, we found the hikes much less crowded than those in Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone. We would occasionally pass (or be passed by) other hikers, most of whom would offer greetings, but much of the time we happily marched along, just the four of us, with unobstructed views and Miss A’s chatter.
We hiked every day despite the exhaustion from our travels. We couldn’t help but be pulled back out each morning to see what new views we could uncover. Besides, when you can end a hike resting by the sea, why not?!
But it wasn’t all about the sights and sounds. We did spend a fair bit of time enjoying the splendors of the area’s food and wine. Among the highlights: seafood, gelato, pesto, local white wines and even a red from our home village of Corniglia. We also had the good fortune to partake in the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul! I have a hard time believing we were only there for four days. With much thanks to Lidia’s recommendations, we were able to deeply immerse ourselves in the Cinque Terre’s culture.
Aside from having the most beautiful hikes we’ve experienced anywhere in the world, there is no other place where I have had such vivid images and feelings of spending my golden years. Perhaps it was the way the Cinque Terre overtakes all of your senses, but I honestly could see myself waking up with my cup of coffee as I looked out over the village, before setting off on my daily hike. I’d then return home, to Corniglia, stopping to chat with neighbors along the path into town, spend my afternoon writing or reading, and my evenings among friends in the cafes, the square or even my own kitchen. And I would most certainly fall asleep to the comforting sounds of dishes being cleaned and sorted, the last of the church bells singing their prayers, and the eventual silence and still of the Cinque Terre night. The scenes, all imaginary, were almost tangible.
We are hardly alone in our high-esteem for this beautiful slice off the earth. The Cinque Terre has wooed many a traveler, and no doubt will, for all of time…
Time, that trickster that seems to move even more mysteriously in this wondrous seaside paradise.
La vita è un sogno.