Tanya Mohn from MSNBC.com called in last week to interview me for a report she was writing on the reopening and restoration of the Cinque Terre villages and footpaths.
Her timing was perfect, as Sunday, March 25, marked a major milestone for the residents and visitors of these five seaside villages along the Italian Riviera. After months of work to repair damage caused by mudslides in late October, the locals paused for a celebratory walk along the Via del Amore (“Lover’s Path”) and to officially commemorate the opening to the season.
If you’re considering traveling to the Cinque Terre, Tanya’s article offers a great recap of what took place on October 25, and what’s been going on since to rebuild, restore and preserve these magical UNESCO World Heritage sites.
To provide Tanya with the most up-to-date information of what’s happening right now in the Cinque Terre, I called in a Classic Journeys’ all-star team, consisting of two of our most experienced and popular local guides: Luciano and Francesco, as well as our friends Gino and Jolando who own a restaurant in Monterosso called Al Pozzo (“At the Well”). (As I’ve often said, “It’s not what I know, it’s who I know!”). And having exceptional local guides in each of our 70 regions in 33 countries on 5 continents has been key to providing our guests timely knowledge on each of our trips.
A 5 sentence history of the Cinque Terre
At Classic Journeys, we’ve been exploring the Cinque Terre since Easter 1996, when we first walked the footpaths that connect the villages of Rio Maggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso with our local Tuscan guides who told us the only place they loved more than Tuscany was the Cinque Terre.
Of course, we weren’t the first to discover the Cinque Terre! The Romans used the area as a shelter for sheep. And in the 8th century, people sought protection there from the invading Barbarians coming from the north. These original Ligurians (so named because they live along the Ligurian Sea portion of the Mediterranean) quickly realized they would need to carve out a life tucked between the sea and the mountains. And so they did; terracing the land to provide space for olive groves, grapes and vegetables. They quickly found that their orientation to the south made for great growing conditions, and their grapes made for a wine—Scicchetra—that traveled well and brought enough wealth to the region so that they could build their beautiful villages.
How the Cinque Terre villagers are responding
From my own travels there, I’ve found the Ligurians to have a sunny outlook that goes well with their hard-working approach to life along the sea. I love some of the examples Luciano, Francesco and Jolanda shared with me last week from this winter’s restorations. If you’re like me, you might see the testament to the human spirit in the industriousness of the villagers:
– While work was being completed on the most popular seaside trail, an old footpath that had not been used for nearly 100 years was immediately cleared of brush and opened between Levento, Monterosso and Vernazza to add to the walking options along the northern part of the Cinque Terre.
– Jolanda and Gino’s family and friends worked from sun up to sun down from the end of October till March 2 in order to reopen their restaurant in time for Easter (opening a month early!).
– The mayor of Vernazza brought in acclaimed international architect Lord Richard Rogers to help in their reconstruction to preserve the unique character and authenticity for inhabitants and tourists.
Travel to the Cinque Terre now…
What does it all mean now for those of us wanting to get back to the Cinque Terre or see it for the first time? Easter marks the traditional opening of the tourist season in the Cinque Terre. The little coastal boats that connect the villages begin their summer schedules. The train that connects the villages continues to provide an additional backup for anyone wanting to skip some or all of the walking. And very good estimates are that 90% of the restaurants in Vernazza will be open.
When I asked Luciano, Francesco and Jolanda what travelers to the Cinque Terre can expect now, Luciano may have said it best, “Edward, since none of us were around from the 8th to 18th centuries when the villages were being built, this is a very unique opportunity to see the locals rebuilding, restoring and preserving their villages.”
I agree, Luciano. And in a world where we are often traveling a million miles an hour through our daily lives, walking 2-3 miles an hour along the Cinque Terre footpaths offers us a wonderful sense of authenticity in our travels; where we can stop and talk to the grandmas hanging laundry out of their windows, the shopkeepers selling gelato, and the farmer tending his little plot of shimmering green olive groves.
Forbes Magazine called our Tuscany and the Cinque Terre trip a “Luxury Walking Favorite”. And if you’d like to read our guests’ comments about the trip, feel free to click over to another blog post where four guests recap their travels with us in Tuscany and the Cinque Terre on TripAdvisor. If you’d like to speak with one of our Guest Services Coordinators about it, or any of our other trips in Italy or worldwide, give us a ring at 800-200-3887 or drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.