Cinque Terre Recovering

“Are you going to Manarola?” I asked, as the first mate ushered passengers onto the boat. “Not today,” he replied.  “Just Vernazza.”  Becky and I looked at each other and shrugged. “We will go to Vernazza. But we don’t have tickets.” “Well,” he said, “Give the captain a kiss and it will be okay.” 🙂  We had barely situated ourselves on the boat for the less than 10 minute journey from Monterosso to Vernazza when another member of the crew brought us a handful of sweet little yellow grapes. So we steal boat rides and are rewarded with a snack?!?! Only in Italy.

The wind tousled our hair and drank in the sun, spitting grape seeds over the side of the boat into the sea. Before we knew it we were navigating a tiny gangplank bobbing in the choppy breaking water, disembarking at what some consider to the be the heart of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza.

In October 2011 deluge rains had caused flooding and landslides across the region and one slide in particular nearly destroyed Vernazza and  Monterrosso. When we first visited in April 2012, six months after the disaster, only two restaurants and one gelateria were open while the community continued to dig out. Now, nearly a year after the slide, the recovery is remarkable. Nearly all of the businesses were open and the tourists are flooding in. Becky and I were both actually quite overwhelmed with emotion to see how much this beautiful town changed. We grabbed gelati at Il Porticciolo, home of the most incredible cinnamon (cannella) gelato I’ve ever tasted, sat on a bench near the main piazza and took it all in.

On our last visit, nearly every door to businesses and homes were boarded up, although most were brightly painted with murals. This was my first impression of Vernazza, beauty and art overshadowing the ruin. Today, only a couple of doors on Vernazza’s main street remain boarded but the city is no less colorful.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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Paradiso Rustico

Sometimes you just need to crash someone else’s vacation.  And enable them to drink heavily.  And calm them down when you miss the last train back to your town…

GoodTravelerKarma readers know that I am completely fascinated by Positano in Italy’s Amalfi Coast.  I have a beautiful picture I took of Positano on my computer desktop and I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked, “Is that the Cinque Terre?”  and then gone out to tell me a story about this beautiful place.  Both of these idyllic destinations lie on Italy’s western coast, one south and one north respectively, and are built into the hillsides.  When I found out via the power of social networking that my best friend from college’s sister, Becky, was heading to Italy and Cinque Terre, I had to invite myself along to see them.

Cinque Terre is part of what is often referred to as the Italian Riviera, the jewel of which is Portofino.  We didn’t make it to see the glitterati in Portofino but we did explore all five towns in the Cinque Terre, a much more rustic and humble place than the Amalfi Coast that lives in my heart.

“Cinque Terre” means “Five Lands” and the region is actually a national park encompassing the five towns and the surrounding hiking trails.  In years past, most tourists to the region hiked the trail that connects all five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Tragically, on October 25, 2011, floods and landslides devastated the two largest towns, Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, after days of torrential rain.  The trails are now closed between Corniglia and Monterosso and the towns are busy rebuilding.  When we visited at the end of April, there was still a lot of work left in both towns, Vernazza in particular.  But this is a hardy region and one that I have no doubt will come back from tragedy.  A tribute to the spirit of this beautiful place is the art that now covers so many of the boarded doors of business, pensiones and apartments in Vernazza’s main drag.  There were two restaurants open when we were there and a gelateria with the most incredible cinnamon gelato I’ve ever tasted.  To find out more about the region and how you can support the rebuilding effort, visit http://savevernazza.com/.

Becky and I stayed in Riomaggiore, at the opposite end from Monterosso, in a little apartment run by the fabulous Ugo.  Our favorite feature was the tiny bathtub that we affectionately called “the birdbath.”  Needless to say, after a few days in the birdbath, the power showers at our chic hotel in Milano enthralled us. 🙂

One day as we explored Corniglia, the smallest of the five towns with a population of only about 300, we discovered the epitome of paradise. At the end of the main drag of the town, there was a huge terrace with a panoramic view of the sea.  We sat, drank red wine from gelato cups and watched the sun go down until we again had to hike it back to the station to catch the last train to Riomaggiore. 

That was the night we did make it back.  The last night, we weren’t so lucky… or maybe we were. 🙂   More on that later.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2012.