Friday, July 12, 2013

La Dolce Vita

Hi, I'm back from a lovely vacation in Bella Italia. Every time I visit I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the great amount of cultural treasures to see, there's so much beauty to behold!
We travelled further than we originally planned, distances are dwarfed by the speed of the autostrade (that, and a furious Alfa Romeo:-) The only fixed plan we had before we left was visiting Cinque Terre national park, which we have long been wanting to see. What was supposed to be a drive a little bit further down the ligurian coast, ended up including both Tuscany, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.

It's a lovely region of Italy. Rome, Siena and Florence are just short drives away. However we decided to stay out of the big cities, and enjoy the coast and smaller towns, except for our point of departure- Milan and a couple of hours in Pisa (the kids really wanted to see the reclining tower). My husband and I have been to Rome and Florence and would love to take the kids, but it's too hot and crowded in the summer. Their motivation to see heaps of old stuff only go so far... The youngest one, the little thrifter, proved a stayer, though, and followed his mom around with his camera:-)

We flew to Milan and drove down to the Golfo di Lerici, where Shelley and Lord Byron both stayed for a period of their lives, which consequently nicknamed it Golfo dei Poeti (of course, our hotel was named The Byron...) The gulf is just south of The Cinque Terre. The national park does have a few hotels and rooms for rent, but the villages are very secluded. The kids preferred staying where there was a little more going on.

After Cinque Terre, we continued south to Viareggio, Pietrasanta and Lucca, we then took the ferry out to the island of Elba for some lovely, relaxing days in beautiful scenery. Back to mainland Italy again, we had a brief visit to Pisa before heading north to Milan again. I took around a zillion pictures, and thought I'd give you some of the highlights, starting off with Cinque Terre:-)

The five secluded fishing villages that make up Cinque Terre national park are (from south going north) Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. They have churches and structures from the middle ages, but signs of settlements from as early as roman times have been found. Until modern age, they were only accessible from the sea. 

Cinque Terre was added to Unesco's world heritage list in 1997, due to the spectacular and inaccessible landscape and the way it's inhabitants has managed to adapt to it, by terrassing the landscape for cultivation (vineyards and olivetrees) and building compact villages that cling to the cliffs where the harsh landscape permitted. The houses are high, narrow tower-houses, which worked like small fortresses and protected the inhabitants and their belongings from pirates. The villages are accessible by train or by boat (our choice), not by car. Arriving by sea was truly spectacular and gives you the most beautiful first views of the villages. The boat service is frequent, and you can get a full day ticket with unlimited rides.

The area was known already in roman times for the great wines. Cinque Terre vineyards are planted on perilously steep slopes, close enough to the sea that the spray from the breaking waves forms a fine mist over the vines. No wonder it's good. The awkward, inaccessible topography means that most vineyard management must be done manually, without the aid of heavy machinery.

Coming from the south, Riomaggiore is the first village you encounter, and perhaps the most spectacular one. Founded in the 8th century, it develops vertically along the Rio Maior stream, which gave the name to the village. The stream has later been covered (as you can see in the two last pictures) and is now crisscrossed by steep stairs, running among the typically pink and yellow coloured ligurian houses. The narrow main road extends down to the ocean where the fishermen have built a ramp to pull up the boats when the weather is bad. The church of San Giovanni Battista was built in 1340, while the castle date back to 1260.

Going north, Manarola is the next port of call. It's the second largest of the villages. It starts up on a cliff and stretches down to sea level. There's a "Lover's lane" connecting it to the neighbouring village Riomaggiore, it's a 20 minute hike. Manarola is developed along the Groppo stream. The stream has however been covered (like in Riomaggiore) and is now the meeting point of the many narrow streets and the centre of the village's life.
The gothic Church of San Lorenzo, founded in 1338, is on the top of the village, next to the Disciplinati oratory and bell tower on the Piazza Capellini. The marina has a natural dock, and thanks to its clear waters and steep rocks, is the perfect place for a snorkelling tour.


Corniglia is next. It is not directly by the sea, but lays on top of a 100 m high cliff surrounded by terraces of vineyards, citrus- and olivetrees, and the church of San Pietro (1334). The village dates back to Roman times, and has developed along the main road, which leads to a wonderful terrace with views to the other four villages. Corniglia is actually mentioned in Boccaccio's Dekamerone (that I have sitting on a shelf, unread, I'm afraid... I have to see if I can find that reference).
The Sanctuary of Nostra Signora delle Grazie in San Bernardino can be reached with a one hour walk. Not even tons of gelato could convince the boys that such an excursion was a good idea... At the sea level, Corniglia has a long rocky beach on one side and a small dock on the other.

We decided to have lunch in Monterosso, the most northern of the five villages. It's slightly larger and easier accessible as the rest of the five, but the shoreline is less dramatic and spectacular. We arrived just in time to have a stroll through the market before they wrapped it up, which consisted of delicious fruits and veg, as well as clothing and colorful ceramics in the shape of every kind of seashell and fish imagineable.

 Lunch... Local catch, local wine...truly delicious

The lunch craving got to us hurrying north, so we decided to save Vernazza for dessert. We passed it going north and saw that it was very beautiful and not to be rushed through on an empty stomach:-) We were right about the beauty part, and spent some time there before continuing south. We had our gelato while watching the local kids doing crazy dives from the surrounding cliffs. I was so scared they'd get thrown into the rocks by the force of the waves, but they must have spent their entire childhood practicing.

Vernazza has a natural harbour with the shape of an amphitheatre and was founded around 1000. Vernazza became an important centre during the Maritime Republic of Genoa, thanks to the ability of its shipbuilders.   The Doria tower, the defence tower built by the Genoese, overlooks the village from a rocky hill. The church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia, built in 1318, is on the village's main square and is characterised by its octagonal belltower. Like the other churches of Cinque Terre, it's in the typical ligurian gothic style. Loggias, colonnades, portals and other refined architectonic elements, witness that the economic and social development of Vernazza has been higher than that of the other four villages of Cinque Terre.



Heading back from Cinque Terre, we jumped off the boat to spend some the late afternoon in Portovenere, the first port to the south of the national park, right across the bay from where we stayed. the village is beautiful, with a dense "wall" of brightly colored houses as a backdrop to the harbour, which is guarded by the church up on the cliff, San Pietro (13th century). There were so many lovely boats, and it was very much the place you would expect to meet Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren by the table next to you, sipping a glass of the local wine.

I'll leave you with some pics from the reception at The Byron. I quite liked the dark wood with the white furniture and lamps, and the wall decoration was smashing (as well as the complementing trash can:-)

Stay tuned, more pics of bella Italia coming soon:-)


  1. This reminds me of how long it's been since I've been to Italy! Soooo beautiful, the landscape, the town, oh and the food looked devine! Definitely going to put Cinque Terre on the list of places to go! So glad you and your family had a wonderful time.

    1. Thank you so much, Francine, we really had a great time! It's such a beautiful country, I had to pinch my arm when we sat there with that delicious seafood and wine overlooking the roaring ocean and the beautiful colored houses. I really recommend Cinque Terre, I haven't seen anything like it!

  2. Fascinating post, I look forward to seeing more. We've been going to Italy several times a year for the last 10 or so and still so much to discover. Having said that we love staying in our own place in our little village enjoying the food, wine, sunshine and people. Bella Italia indeed.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it, Jenny, and thank you so much for visiting my blog! Lucky you, going that often sounds dreamy:-) I took a peak at your blog, what a great title, and would you believe, we share a passion for flip flops:-) I see that you live in Scotland, I'd love to go to the Orkneys some day. Thanks again for stopping by, do come by again!

  3. Such beautiful scenery! I am a big fan of Shelley and Byron, so I would love to see the Golfo di Lerici. Thanks for a look inside The Byron. I also love the brightly colored buildings at Portovenere.

    1. Thank you so much Dana, it really was beautiful! If you get a chance to go, I know you'll love it! Yes, Portovenere was gorgeous, very stylish. There were lots if these little Italian wooden speedboats that I love, polished to perfection. We just hung around admiring it all, with some delicious wine involved, of course. What I also love about Italy is that they love children, and nobody minds if a football is being kicked around or someone runs, it's very relaxed.

  4. How did I miss this post? So homesick for Italy! We were lucky to live near Milan for 3 1/2 years. Cinque Terre is one of our favorite places to visit. We always hiked between the 5 towns. Spectacular views!

  5. Oh, wow, I remember reading that you've lived in Italy, but I had no idea we were right there in your former "backyard":-) What a coincidence. We really loved that area, the scenery was truly amazing, I have no problems understanding that you miss it!

  6. oh this looks and sounds so wonderful. one of my guilty pleasures are arm-chair travel books about Italy! i was such a philistine when i lived in europe, all i ever saw of most countries, Italy included were the ski resorts!

    1. Thank you Max, it really was great! Oh yes, I'm often arm chair traveling, there are some pretty gorgeous books on the market. You're a skiier, you sporty you:-) Believe it or not, although being Norwegian, I'm not! But then again, I come from the southwestern, flat beachy part of the country... No hills, no snow:-)


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