Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy...
I sort of hate to write about Cinque Terre but thankfully it has its own self-protecting mechanism in place – allowing only so many people at a time into the area so as to minimize the human impact, controlled by a limit on ticket passes sold.

Cinque Terre sits on the coast of the Ligurian Sea - the northern Mediterranean in the western upper curve of the Italian coast. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site which affords it recognition and protection as a unique and extraordinary spot on earth. The five villages that make up the Cinque (five) Terre (land/villages) are Rio Maggiore, Manarola, Carniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso spread along 12 km of spectacular Mediterranean coast. The villages are built into the hill/cliff-sides and footpaths (sentieri in Italian) connect the villages as well as an underground train. Cars can only access the upper parts of some of the villages. Maps are available from the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre - - as well as the "Carta" - ticket you purchase at the local train station which allows you to walk on the footpaths and ride the train between the villages. A word of caution - do not plan a tight schedule - every train was between 15-30 minutes late when we were there.

There are a number of path options - along the coast,or up through the olive orchards, or through tiny paths between grape vines. Be prepared for trail closures – mudslides, downed trees – nature at work. Whatever trail you take, be assured that there is no shortage of photo opportunities no matter the weather.

The combination of the ancient, the necessary and the modern is breathtaking – dry stone walls, terracing, bountiful food, the brilliant turquoise mixed with olive leaf silver, the yellow of the lemons and the pastel rainbow of the buildings stacked into the hillsides all illuminate the magnificence of humans and nature together - rather than spoils, riches on every level.

While we were there - we had to make an impromptu route change as there had been a mudslide on our path, closing the trail. Our unmarked path brought us to the back of one of the towns where we serendipitously found a wonderful, unadvertised hostel (Ostello in Italian) - - off the beaten path where we could bed down for the night at 17 Euros per person and for an extra 5 euros have a large bowl of pasta and organic local basil pesto. It doesn't get much better than that!

In Manarola village there is one of the best smoothie and fruit drink places I have ever found - we had one that was apple,cardamon and lemon - divine! and another that was mandarin, melon and lemon. They also had drinks with an almond milk base. Everything we had was delicious and with wonderful combinations of flavors. They are up the hill on the right - can't miss them - and don't.

The local people were open and friendly. In a little ceramic shop in Manarola, run by people who have lived there all their lives, I purchased a huge, round platter hand-painted in pastel colors depicting each of the five villages. They were so delighted that I was buying the huge platter that they gave me 2 other hand-painted dishes - all of which I have hanging in my kitchen at home.

The official, local organic Pesto is made with the Parco Nazionale label on it and is incredible - made with local lemons, olive oil, and basil (basilico). Remember to buy a few jars to savor once you are home.

Cinque Terre is heaven for the eco-conscious traveler - you will not want to leave.

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