Friday 23rd September
With the cookery course booked (See Scuse! Part One), we skipped down the rocky path that led to the village of Monterosso al Mare, the most northerly of the five villages.
Until about forty or so years ago the main business of the Cinque Terra was mainly the cultivation of vines and olives. Ligurian olives are supposed to be the best in the world. It must have been a tough life, eking a livelihood out of the rocky soil. The paths we walked were once the trails that folk took from the village to their vineyards and olive groves and they were steep enough without having to carry tools or produce back and fore. It is no wonder then that they embraced the tourists’ dollars and euros so avidly. Now the Cinque Terre regularly feature in the “Top 20” of places to visit and it’s not hard to see why; the achingly beautiful pastel coloured houses cling to almost vertical cliffs, making each village look like Ballamory on steroids.
The villages are almost inaccessible by road, certainly for visitors as, if you do brave the narrow lanes, parking is very scarce, so the preferred ways to travel are either to walk, catch the train or take a ferry. We chose the ferry as this gives you the best views. It was easy to buy a ticket that would allow us to visit four out of the five (Corniglia doesn’t have a harbour), by hopping off one ferry and then catching another later.
Our plan was to stop at each village on the way out and then take the ferry all the way back. The trouble was that plenty of others had the same idea. Vernazza was the first stop and like us it seemed that everyone in northern Italy had decided to come here for lunch. It was heaving. A German guy next to us on the ferry joked that it was a good thing that there were no cruise ships in at La Spezia, otherwise it would be even worse! After a couple of failed attempts, Andy dived down a side alley and found us a table at a fine place that was all the better for being inside away from the crowds. It got even better when our seafood platters arrived. It was a warm dish, with various fish and squid served with tomatoes and potatoes, so there was none of that messy, using your fingers, malarkey.
Then it was a battle, back through the crowds, to join the queue for the next ferry. Time for a change of strategy, this time we would head straight for Riomaggiore, the last of the villages, and try and shake off the crowds. No luck! There were already plenty of folk there waiting for us. By the time we had forced our way along the rocks from the ferry stop to the town it was time to turn back and catch the boat to Manarola.
By a quirk of the timetable, we had a bit longer to spend in Manarola and from the boat we had seen a very picturesque restaurant on the cliff top, overlooking the village. We got there in better than even time, leaving only a few American tourists lying in our wake, only to find that there was an electronic system in place. By the time Andy had scanned the QR code, downloaded the app, registered on the app and then refreshed we found that we were 78thin the queue! By this time we had already heard a bloke play through his very soothing repertoire on the hand pan (look it up. It’s good) and so we gave it up as a bad job and went to find some gelato instead.
The queue for the ferry was now snaking its way all around the harbour, and our spirits fell from their post ice cream high, until we realised that this was actually the queue for both our ferry, going north and for the ferry going south. The southward ferry was due first and when it arrived we all started shuffling forward. All was going well until a very officious and unpleasant tour guide pushed past us waving her umbrella and telling us we were in the wrong queue. This managed to rile pretty much everyone around us, so we didn’t have to point out to her the error of her ways, as others did it quite well enough. The queue was now down to manageable proportions and we were soon on our ferry heading for our starting point. We dropped Andy and Lesley off at Vernazza so they could hike back to Monterosso. Wendy’s knee was sore, so I manfully volunteered to stay on the ferry with her (sometimes I think that my chivalry is overlooked?).
In Monterosso, Wendy and I were tasked with finding a bar to wait for the Fozzies to arrive in. This was easier said than done, because as we walked up and down the Main Street all the bars were turning themselves into restaurants, the tablecloths were coming out, and cutlery was being laid. We found the only bar in town, that didn’t have an alter ego, back down by the station and the ferry stop. And a very good bar it was too. There were plenty of nibbles with our drinks. We had another round when Andy and Lesley joined us and Wendy rang the campsite owner as she had offered to drive down to pick us up when we got back. The ‘girls’ went to find some bread while the ‘boys’ finished their drinks (try as we might, we find it very hard to avoid falling into these stereotypical roles!). On the way back to our rendezvous point at the top of the village, Andy and I walked up a side street that ran parallel with the main one. What a surprise! It was full of bars! So next time you are in Monterosso, looking for a bar; after you go through the archway, (you can’t miss it) take the right had side street.
Later in the evening, as we were relaxing in the Foskett’s van after dinner and chewing over another great day, Andy’s phone pinged. The app told him he was now 25th in the queue for the restaurant in Manarola!
(Thanks to Andy for all the photos in this post)