Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cinque Terre - The Five Cities

The Five Cities are located along the Italian Riveria south of Genoa. They were first described in medieval times as the five lands.  Each city was watched over by a protective castle.  This area was prone to attacks from Turkish and North African pirates.  Locals were kidnapped and ransomed or sold into slavery.  The last attack was in 1545.  When pirates were no longer a threat the villages thrived on fishing and growing grapes.  They have been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997.  Today they enjoy a thriving tourist industry.  They are connected by train, boat, and a hiking trail.  Many tourists come to enjoy hiking the trails.

We left Milan on a drizzly morning.  When we stepped off the train in the northernmost city of Monterossa, we were surprised by a warm, sunny day and the wonderful sound of the Mediterranean waves washing against the shore!

We caught a taxi up to our hotel which was recommended by our good friends Debbie and Randy Foster - the lovely Porto Rosso!  It sits atop the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean and the village.

Our room was on the top floor - and we were surprised to discover that our private terrace was at least as large as our room! Here's the view:

It was hard to leave this beautiful view, but eventually we unpacked and headed back down to town to do a little exploring and find some lunch.  Monterosso is the oldest town of the five villages - founded in 643. It has two parts, the old town and the new town.  They are connected by a walkway and road that goes through a tunnel.  Our terrace view shows a bit of the old town and the hill that the tunnel goes under. After lunch in a little sandwich shop, we walked down to the breakwater where the boats pull in.  From there we could see a Nazi pillbox built during World War II where gunners hid.  Monterossa was bombed during the war.

Here's George standing on the breakwater:

The new town:

While walking around the village we entered the Oratory of the Dead.  After the Counter- Reformation of the Catholic Church, brotherhoods of great works were created.  One of the brotherhoods in Monterosso had the mission of arranging for funerals, taking care of widows, orphans, and the shipwrecked.  It dates from the 16th century.  Membership passes from father to son.  Below is one of the decorations in the oratory.

We had originally planned to take the trail from Monterosso to Vernazzi, the next city over, in the afternoon. When we checked into our hotel; however, they told us all of the trails were closed.  Here we are at the trailhead wishing we could make the hike.  (Okay George is wishing we could make the hike and Penny is thinking just climbing up that hill behind us to the hotel is a pretty good hike and that private terrace is pretty nice!)

Last year at this same time, there were torrential rains that resulted in terrible flash flooding.  The main floors of the shops on the main streets in Monterosso and Vernazza were filled with mud.  Most of the shops are open again, but there is still a lot of work being done to repair the terrible damage.  We could see how high the mud and water was on the walls of the church. This poster gives you an idea of how bad the mud was:

Most of the trails had been reopened, but about a week before we arrived they were all closed again.  There had been some rains, and I suppose the authorities were being very cautious.  So we changed plans and spent the afternoon lolling around the terrace.

That evening we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the hotel.

Here is the view of the town from our table:

The next morning after a lovely buffet breakfast at Porto Roco

we took the boat to Vernazza - just a ten-minute trip

Here we are at Vernazza's harbor:

We climbed to the tower on the south side of Vernazza to get a good view. 

And here is the view looking back from Vernazza to Monterossa.  George was hope to catch the beautiful blues of the Mediterranean - and I think he did a pretty good job!

After a nice pizza lunch at the harbor, we caught a late afternoon boat back to Monterosso.  Here's our last view of Vernazza:

We spent a few pleasant hours wandering around Monterosso's new town.  Look at this giant up on the rocks.  Il Gigante.  It's 45 feet tall.  It looks as if it's carved from the rocky cliff, but it's actually reinforced concrete.  It was built in the early 20th century and originally supported a dancing terrace.

After a little gelato (my motto - always leave room for gelato) we walked back up to Porto Roco and sat downstairs outside the bar while we waited until it was time to catch our train home.

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