• By: Susan Van Allen

    2/10/2014

  • By exploring with an expert local guide, Classic Journeys’ guests see much more than the average visitor during a day on the Cinque Terre. 

    “Up on the ridge there’s a gentle breeze, the smell of lavender; and below us the sea crashing against rocks,” says our guide Luciano, as he describes a single moment of a single day on Classic Journeys’ Tuscany & Cinque Terre walking tourAmo questo giorno! “I love this day!”

    The string of five enchanting villages perched on Italy’s northwest coast produces a sensory symphony, and Luciano is the walking tour impresario who reveals its rhythms and melodies to his visitors.

    Cinque Terre
     

    For thousands of years, the Cinque Terre villages were isolated, accessible only by boat or mule trail. To survive, natives ingeniously developed ways to cultivate grapes, olives and vegetables on the steep cliffsides. Fishermen used natural coves as their harbors. During medieval times, residents built Gothic churches and stone houses into the irregular mountainsides and painted them with tantalizing pastel colors that add magic and contrast to the rugged landscape.

    Today, a local train runs through the Cinque Terre, and it’s popular with tourists who come for the Sentiero Azzurro, or Blue Route. The trail that connects all the villages can be—and usually is—hiked in a rushed six hours.

    But with Luciano as their guide, guests on Classic Journeys’ walking tour of Cinque Terre
    sidestep the masses and experience the Cinque Terre much more completely.

    Luciano in front of Cinque Terre

    “We never would have had such a leisurely experience on our own,” says Nancy Stade, who joined this trip in June 2012 and also traveled with Classic Journeys to the Italian Lake District. “We covered it every way possible—by foot, ferry and train. We took in the stunning views; walked through lush stretches of wild thyme, sage and roses; and meandered through olive groves and along pebbled beaches. Luciano even knew all the this-is-the-moment spots for the best photos. Best of all, everywhere we went, he knew somebody, so we were always personally welcomed.”
     

    Starting in the cool morning in the southernmost village of Riomaggiore, Luciano leads travelers down a hidden stairway to a port where they meet weathered fishermen unloading their abundant catch—including the sea bass that’s popular in many of the local, waterside restaurants. From there, a leisurely hike along the flat Via dell’Amore, or lover’s path, takes them to the village of Manarola, where they’re treated to cecina, a traditional Cinque Terre snack bread made from chickpeas. Some guests opt to take a ferry ride for a wondrous view of coastal coves; others head uphill to the hillside village of Corniglia, encountering farmers tending terraced vineyards or, at harvest time, carrying grape baskets on their heads.

    The guests reunite for an alfresco lunch in Vernazza—often called “the Gem of the Cinque Terre”—an awe-inspiring spot with a natural curved harbor and a castle.  “My friend from my hometown in Tuscany owns this restaurant on top of a medieval tower,” Luciano says. Andrea, the waiter, brings out the region’s signature primi: pasta al pesto made with the same basil the guests saw growing along the trail earlier that day.

    Next comes the secondi: fresh, whole sea bass pulled from the water this morning by the fishermen in Riomaggiore, and crisp, white wine from the nearby Luni region. No meal in the Cinque Terre is complete without Sciacchetrà, a sweet dessert drink made from dried grapes.

    As dusk falls, tour guests hike or take a boat to a pretty beach in the final village of the day: Monterosso al Mare. Glowing, as though the golden light that sparkles on the cobalt sea rubbed off on them, they reflect on a day immersed in the nature and traditions of the one and only Cinque Terre.

    Cinque Terre at dusk

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