There are three types of people in this world: those who have been to Europe, those who want to visit, and of course the natives. For Americans especially, Europe offers a taste of the old world. It has a history and richness in culture that puts America to shame. The recent past, however, has thoroughly modernized Europe to the point that it only contains some relics of the past that exist in the modern world like pieces in a museum. Where does a European go to experience a world that existed hundreds of years ago? Does such a thing exist?
P A R A D I S E
It does and it's paradise on earth. Italian villagers work its land and lace its cliffs with winegrape vines. Old men walk its vistas searching for the elusive peace that old men desire. It's constructions are built with unmortared stones that are the product of hundreds and hundreds of years of labor. You walk its cobbled streets with a salt tinge in the air always half expecting the clouds to come back to swallow up the entire village for another hundred years.
Wonder upon wonders, the Cinque Terre is not one but five villages on the Italian coastline that exist nearly exactly as they did 300 years ago. It's newest modern technology is the train that connects them all since the 70s. It carves through the mountains, briefly escaping the black maw of the tunnel to transport its passengers like a locomotive out of a children's book. Each village has it's own fort that used to be protection against roaming pirates, and now they offer a spectacular view of the entire "5 Lands" while dolphins fling themselves out of the ocean below.
W H E R E
The Cinque Terre are on the eastern coast of Liguria, the Riviera di Levante, a land of ancient flavors framed by spellbinding vegetation. Here, sea and mountains live side by side in intimacy around five small villages on a rocky coastline that stretches from Mesco Point to Montenero Point, ten kilometres or so from La Spezia. Each town is unique but they all are set on a beautiful coast, suspended above the sea, almost defying gravity.
The Cinque Terre represent one of the best preserved natural and semi-natural areas of the Mediterranean. Historical and geomorphologic reasons have forbidden excessive housing development and the creation of major roadways. Its history of involvement with man has created a unique landscape in which its assembly stone walls is extensive enough to equal that of the Great Wall of China. The combination of a crystal clear sea, architecturally interesting locations, and a varied and extensive network of paths (one of the most enviable in the whole Mediterranean) makes the Cinque Terre an increasingly desired location among Italian and foreign tourists. This is not so much the result of a successful promotional campaign but rather the spontaneous recognition of the uniqueness of the place, its beauty, and the enjoyment one gets from staying in or visiting it.
N O 5 S T A R H O T E L S
Do not go to the Cinque Terre if you're looking for an all-inclusive paradise where all your needs are catered to. Some of the villages have small quaint hotels, but you're just as likely to rent a room from one of the local villagers. You can, however, enjoy some of world's best wine that has been sought after for centuries. One of the most popular activities is to walk through all five villages by way of the ancient path system. Before the train arrived this was the only way to get from village to village. Much like Japan and the Galapagos Islands, it's isolation has fostered its characteristic uniqueness.
P E R S O N A L E X P E R I E N C E
I visited Vernazza for New Years 2001-02. We arrived late in the day, and as the sun headed for the horizon we attempted to find a place to sleep. My best-friend's girlfriend had visited a year prior and she told us to see the town's local innkeeper/bartender. Amazingly, he remembered her and knew someone that would let us rent a room from them. Staying in the house with us was a Swedish cowboy that spent his summers in Italy as an artist. He also spoke 4 languages, a truly unique and thoroughly interesting individual. Also, a New Years party in town means every last soul, visitor and local alike, congregating to ring in the New Year with every ounce of revelry they have. After only a day in town a majority of the people will know and greet you.