After a hearty breakfast at Hotel Cavalieri we debate our route for the day. Our main priority is to visit the series of five fishing villages situated amongst extraordinary cliffs and ravines all mainly assessable by the ocean. If you arrive by car you have to park at a central point and walk into each village as motorized transport is not allowed.
The whole area is a national park and numerous hiking trails and dive sites are available. Since we are no longer at sea we will have to drive from village to village and walk into each one. We decide to approach them from the harbour city of La Spezia. Known for hosting Italy’s largest naval base it is frequently just a thorough route to the Cinque Terre. The amazing view we see from the top of the city however makes you wonder if it is not worth a visit in future and the naval war ships and submarines lying in the harbour is not a sight you see every day.
Our little Fiat Panda makes the climb to the road, which leads to the entrance of the first of the villages slowly. The road is narrow and in some places becomes only one lane. The view is worth the effort though. From the top you can see nearly all 5 villages speckled along the shore with shear rock faces dividing them from each other. Riomaggiore is our first stop and the road winds down steeply again to come to an end in a communal parking lot. From here you walk. The village is spread out on either side of the pedestrian walkway and is laid out on different terraced levels with vineyards, olive- lemon trees alternating. It is a steep drop to the little harbour and we are reminded that we still have to climb the whole way back up later on.
We feel as if we are part of an Italian countryside movie scene as village live goes on around us and multi-coloured houses are classically draped with the morning’s washing. Tiny little fishing boats bob up and down in the harbour and on the key side a man with a long wild white beard is tying some knots. On the nearby rocks a couple clearly in love sit with bare feet in the crystal clear ( and freezing cold) water. Somehow you feel like an intruder in this easy-going laidback lifestyle.
After making our way back up laboriously we decide to skip the next three villages and head for the last one that is easily accessible by car- Monterosso. Here we get a lesson in Italian logic. We drive about 20 km along the only road that connects all the villages. In defence I have to say one of the most beautiful scenic rides you can do. However as we approach the last village there is all of a sudden a big road sign saying the road is closed for repairs. The construction worker waves feverishly: Definitely NO ENTRY. Fair enough we double back on the way we came, that settles it then we will visit the previous village Vernazza, the road winds down beautifully just to be greeted by another closed sign indicating road works. By now we are not surprised to see that Corniglia the neighbouring village’s access road is also closed and being repaired.
So much for the villages then. At least we saw one and got a good view along the ocean’s edge of the rest. We are getting hungry and since recommended seafood lunch in one of the harbours is not an option we dash for one of the inland villages. To add insult to injury we arrive 5 minutes before siesta time (an institution the Italians take very seriously). The only meal we are going to have is a focaccia with either turkey or cheese assembled by the irate Italian mama that had locked her shop door already and reluctantly opened for us to serve the last 2 focaccia sandwiches in a radius of 20km!