For 17 years and counting, Tuscany and the Cinque Terre has been one of our top travel destinations. This spring, it continues to rank near the top of all of our walking tours in 70 regions in 33 countries on 5 continents.
Lately, prospective guests have been asking “Is this year the right year” for visiting Tuscany and the Cinque Terre. Perfectly understandable. Our guests are the kind of travelers who are exceptionally well informed, and they saw the reports of mudslides that hit the region last October. Of course, they’ve also seen the news that the recovery is happening with remarkable speed. Because vacation time is so precious, it only makes sense to be sure that these gorgeous coastal villages are living up to their legend in 2012. Famed London architect Sir Richard Rogers has volunteered his time to Vernazza with the goal to reconstruct and preserve the unique character and authenticity of the village for the inhabitants and tourists. The mantra is: rebuild, restore, preserve.
So we decided to put the mailbag of questions to a panel made up of our founder Edward Piegza, our senior Tuscan guide Luciano, and several of our guests who joined us April 8 for our first trip of the season.
Q: How far along is the recovery in the Cinque Terre?
A: Luciano, Classic Journeys’ guide: “The restoration is mostly complete. There are a few scaffolds, still. But in the ancient villages of Italy, that’s not an uncommon sight! And it’s exciting to witness all of the energy and careful craftsmanship that have gone into restoring and preserving the region’s distinctive charm.”
A: Helen Habbert, Classic Journeys’ guest: …casually laughed and said everywhere she’s traveled in Europe has some sort of construction or renovation going on, “Over the past 20 years, I haven’t been anywhere in Europe that hasn’t had scaffolding! I’ve concluded that it is virtually impossible to visit any city in Europe without seeing construction or renovations. Every community has renovations taking place. There was no more construction going on in the Cinque Terre than in any other city in Europe.”
Q: What should a guest who is considering visiting the Cinque Terre this year expect?
A: Luciano: “It’s important to remember that three of the villages—Rio Maggiore, Manarola and Corniglia—were not damaged at all, so your experience there is unchanged. The other two villages that sustained damage—Vernazza and Monterosso—have been restored very well. So, for example, in Vernazza you can stand in the famous piazza by the sea with a gelato and turn in a 360 degree circle; and you’d see business as usual without evidence of the mudslides. The little boats are in the harbor and the buildings look the same as they have always been.”
A: Edward Piegza, Classic Journeys’ founder: “We’ve always offered three great ways to go among and between the five villages: on foot, by boat and by coastal train. And the great news is that all three of those options still exist. If you want to walk between all of the villages, you can still do that. So for example, there are two trails that connect Manarola and Corniglia, one lower path and one upper path. The lower path is still temporarily closed and is scheduled to reopen in June. The upper path is still open and was unaffected. And if you ever decide that you’d like to opt out of any of the walking and prefer to connect villages by boat or train, those options still exist and are included in our trip pricing.”
Q: Is every area reopened or are there restricted zones still?
A: Luciano: “On our walk with the first group of guests in April we walked from Rio Maggiore to Manarola (the famed Via dell’Amore) and from Vernazza to Monterosso. At the end of the day, the guests told us they were very satisfied and they had had enough, as we walked for about three hours.”
A: Edward: “There are five main villages in the Cinque Terre: Rio Maggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso—and there are two or more trails connecting each of the villages. There are still two trail options open between Rio Maggiore-Manarola, and Vernazza- Monterosso. Between Manarola-Corniglia-Vernazza there is still one trail open.”
A: Debbie Arbogast, Classic Journeys’ guest: “We walked the Via dell’ Amore from Rio Maggiore to Manarola and part way on the trail with the town in the background. Our hearty group then took the train from Manarola to Vernazza, where five tackled the walk from there to Monterosso. They arrived exhausted but exhilarated in the last of the five towns. The rain even cooperated and we had a wonderful day!”
Q: What is the general attitude in the Cinque Terre?
A: Luciano: “I’ve now visited the Cinque Terre several times since the fall and visited with many of the locals I know there. The motivation is high. It feels as if it is not a time to look back, because life goes on and the locals are all working hard. So much work was done during the off season to rebuild and be back to normal life in the Cinque Terre; welcoming tourism, which is very important to them.”
Q: How has this affected the tourism industry there?
A: Edward: “There are actually some amazing opportunities to see history taking place. For example, in Vernazza, the mayor brought in the famed London architect Sir Richard Rogers to partner with the town. Sir Richard is famous for designing such acclaimed sites as the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Millennium Dome in London and the European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg. The goal was to reconstruct and preserve the unique character and authenticity of the village for the inhabitants and tourists. The mantra is: rebuild, restore, preserve. So there is this buzz in the air that it’s a special time to be in the Cinque Terre.”
A: James and Janet Zehner, Classic Journeys’ guests: “For travelers who want to see the villages and the beauty of the area, it’s a good time to go. It was beautiful and I took lots of good pictures. We walked two out of four trails and visited four out of the five villages. It was plenty for me.”
A: Luciano: “Our friends Jolanda and Luciano from Ristorante Al Pozzo in Monterosso say that there are lots of travelers; including lots of Americans already. I think that the general tourism feel in the area was not to give up too easily on the Cinque Terre, and to have some courage and bet on them. With beautiful landscapes, mountains and trails, the general feeling is that tourism is already getting back on its feet here. And we’re thrilled for the locals.”
Forbes Magazine named Classic Journeys’ Tuscany and the Cinque Terre trip a “Luxury Walking Favorite”. The exploration of the villages of the Cinque Terre highlight day 5 as part of three memorable nights along the coast that also include an incredible day exploring the famed coastal village Portofino and its promontory of coastal trails. Before reaching the coast, guests spend three days and nights in Tuscany based in a 16th century villa-hotel, wine-tasting on the grounds of a 15thcentury castle, traversing the streets of towering hill towns like San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, visiting shepherds and potters and artisans, and seeing Florence like a local.
If you’d like to read other guests’ comments about the trip, click over to another blog post where four guests recap their travels with us in Tuscany and the Cinque Terre on TripAdvisor. And if you’d like to speak with any of our guests from the April trip or one of our Guest Services Coordinators about Tuscany and the Cinque Terre, 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.