Today it's not raining, but there is a light mist. It's humid, but not cold. I must be off early. I am visiting Cinque Terre, on the Riviera di Levante in Liguria. The trip will be quick as I am expected to arrive in Zurich this evening on the 9 pm train. I could easily forgo this out of the way stop, but that would be to miss what I am told is breathtaking scenery that has inspired many a poet. I must go. I make my way out of town following yet another narrow road that snakes its way up the mountain side. I hope I am going in the right direction.
I stop at the crest of the hill to ask an elderly man for directions. The exchange is short as neither of us is quite sure what the other is saying. However, after a series of jests and pointing at the map, I'm pretty sure I am on the right track. I sneak one last peek at La Spezia before continuing on.
As I get further and further off the beaten path, the fog thickens. I wonder if I'm perhaps wasting my time. But I'm hoping the fog will burn off by the time I arrive. I travel through dense forest mastering one hairpin turn after another. Tiny, sleepy villages cling to the mountain side. I can't but wonder how people first came to such remote out of the way places. It's hard enough to get here by car...
I can feel the coast approach, the smell of salt in the air. The forest abruptly breaks open and the sky opens up above me. Then suddenly I see it. Nestled on the coast, where steep cliffs and hills drop precipitously into the Mediterranean, is the first of the five villages. It is stunning and I take a few minutes to breathe it all in: the terraced hillsides, the vineyards, the rocky cliffs, and the colourful houses.
I continue to make my way down the mountain side until I reach the city gates. There is no car traffic in the villages and all vehicles must be parked at the entrance. The village is tiny but bustling with a flurry of activity as the locals make their way through the narrow streets, or greet each other from the front of their shops. There are few tourists at this time of year so I am a noticable oddity. The locals, however, are quick to say hello and show their wares.
When I reach the coast, I realize that I can look in both directions and see all five of the villages. It's supposed to be a nice walk from one to the next, but I only have time to take a brisk walk to the one neighbouring village on this trip. Unfortunately my time is short. I will have to come back on another trip to more throroughly explore the coast that links these five charming villages. But right now, I have a train to catch.
Cinque Terre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.