Although I’ve been back in Rome for nearly a week now and am settling into some semblance of a daily routine, I’m still slowly transcribing the scribbled notes from my notebook and posting them here. This is the second part of my four-part trip around Italy and France…
By the time the train screeches to a stop in Riomaggiore, the first of the Cinque Terre’s five tiny villages, I can feel the heat and humidity pressing in on me like a hot washcloth held over my face. The Mediterranean sparkles, turquoise and tempting, next to the train tracks, and for a moment I’m tempted to fling myself over the low stone wall and into the water.
This is the part of Italy I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for: the heat, the humidity, and the fact that the entire town – all the towns in the region, for that matter – are perched on hillsides and cascading over cliffs, which translates to main streets steep enough to qualify as mountains and side streets disguising themselves as twisting stone staircases. The Cinque Terre is Italy’s equivalent to the Stairmaster: Cruel while you’re moving, rewarding at the end.
Here is how to get the most picture-perfect, postcard-worthy view of Riomaggiore: First, put on your bathing suit. Make your way down to the small harbour, past the restaurants, past the colourful rows of fishing boats lined up along the edge of the street, and off to the side, to the massive black rock where sunbathers lay their towels in a patchwork of bright fabric and bronzed skin, and where the local teenagers show off to each other by performing increasingly daring backflips into the sea. From here, carefully climb down the side of the rock and into the water – it will seem, all at once, both warmer and colder than you expect it to be – and swim out into the harbour so that your back is to the Mediterranean and the village rises up all around you.
From here, low in the water and floating effortlessly, the colours of the buildings seem brighter, the sunlight more intense, the vineyards in the nearby hillsides even greener. This view, this little slice of village and mountain and ocean, is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
One day at noon, my mom and I buy a container of freshly made pesto sauce, a sizeable wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, a loaf of focaccia bread and a pile of thinly sliced cured meat called coppa. We take this, along with a bottle of wine, some fruit and a slab of torta di nocci – nut cake – down to the harbour and eat it sitting at what appears to be a stone bench directly next to the ocean but turns out to be a small and very active dock for fishing boats. As we’re eating, several boats pull up directly in front of us, people disembark, a bucket of fish is handed up to the shore, and more fishermen arrive. They eye the picnic with a combination of suspicion and approval: We may have bought good ingredients, but no Italian would likely be caught dipping a wedge of parmesan cheese directly into a tub of pesto, then taking a bite of it.
You can view more photos from the Cinque Terre in my album on Facebook