Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.

Continuing with my Italian trip from last October:

After leaving beautiful Florence, we drove to the Italian Riviera, specifically to see the “Cinque Terre” region, which I’d never heard of before. It’s a National Park and is a proclaimed heritage of mankind UNESCO site. You may remember that on October 25th 2011, this area was hit by torrential rain and flash floods, which caused massive mudslides and devastated many towns and villages there. This tragedy happened only about a week after our visit.

Our coach dropped us off at Manarola, a medieval hamlet perched on a rocky outcrop, and the second smallest village of the five which make up the Cinque Terre. We were met by our local guide, who steered us through the narrow streets and up and down many flights of stone steps. I don’t know how some of the older, less fit members of our group managed it, but “hats off to them,” they all did it without complaining, and it was certainly worth the effort.

Here are some of the houses of Manarola, many of which used to be old mills.

The houses all seemed to have been built on top of one another, a bit like rabbit warrens, with narrow, vaulted passages between them.

Here is a beautiful 13th century church of San Lorenzo, named after the patron saint of the village.

The original inhabitants created terraces for vineyards on the very steep slopes, but because it was such arduous and gruelling work, many lie abandoned these days, as the younger generation are not willing to carry on the tradition.

Although this is a seaside town, many of the inhabitants are farmers because there is really no access to the sea or beach. The sheer cliffs protected the villagers from pirates in Medieval times.

The main street in the town is not very long, and one can walk all the way up and back along it in less than 15 minutes.

Coffee, cake and a sit down were very welcome after all that climbing around, and then we boarded a train to the picturesque town of Monterosso at the opposite end of the Cinq Terre.

This medieval town has wonderful architecture, and is now a thriving cultural centre with very pleasant beaches. Here the locals fish for anchovies and also grow lemons. Their famous Limoncino drink is sooo delicious.

This beautiful town hall, was badly damaged in the terrible floods which swept through the Cinque Terre.

The L’Alta Marea restaurant where we had lunch, served the most delicious seafood.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, the principal church in the town, is built of black and white Italian marble in a Romanesque style. Next door to it, is the Oratory of the Dead (also black and white), was built by a brotherhood of good works.  Their good work consisted of arranging funerals, taking care of widows, orphans, and the shipwrecked.  Their symbols were a skull and crossbones, an hourglass, and the inscription “death awaits us all.” There is a skull and crossbones above the door.

The inside is very ornate indeed,

with jolly skeletons decorating the cornices.

They certainly did “preach to death” in that church. 😉

We then boarded a boat for the return journey, in order to view the towns from the sea.

At the end of the boat ride we rounded the promontory on which stands the medieval Andrea Doria castle built in 1161, overlooking the Gulf of La Spezia. This is known as the ‘Poet’s Gulf’ because the town of Portovenere was a favorite haunt of writers and poets, such as Lord Byron, Shelley and D H Lawrence.

You can see here, how close to the edge of the sea, some of these dwellings are.

Then it was onto the ferry, which took us to the town of La Spezia, which used to be a fishing village, but now has a large harbour and is the military training base. Fabulous, luxury yachts are built here. *sigh*

We were told that the largest one, which has six decks and four pools, is owned by a very wealthy Russian.

Back on the coach again, we were taken to the Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte, an historic and prestigious hotel in Viareggio, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, where we had a sumptuous dinner in the most beautiful surroundings.

There was no time to explore the town unfortunately, as we left the next morning for Pisa, but that’s a story for another day.