Close your eyes and picture a place so full of colour that it must have been painted by the rays of a rainbow. The colours of the rustic houses sit akin next to an endless blue sea and the deep green of the olive grooves of the mountains. Picture a place alive with antiquity and tradition. A place that shows the harmonious relationship between nature and human need. A harsh terrain, that over many years, a collection of five fishing villages were rustled out of the rock and provided settlement for those fleeing the expanding Roman empire.
Much of the traditional lifestyle of the first inhabitants of Cinque Terre is still alive today. If you go in season, hiking along the cliffs of the mountains from one town to the next, men sit in their work gear pulling olives and lemons from trees and plucking grapes from vines. Near the shore men gather lines in their small fishing boats and cast them out into the waters to bring the freshest produce back to their villages. In the shops you can buy preserves, pickled vegetables, olive oils, vinegars, pasta, pestos, sauces, gelato and sorbet, all made from what is harvested on the coast.
The energy of this place seems special and different than the popular Italian cities we are used to hearing of. With much more history and natural beauty, Cinque Terre might be Italy’s most well kept secret.
Although nowadays tourism in the area has grown increasingly popular over the past few years Cinque Terre remains charming in it’s keep to integrity. The earth here is protected from monopolization – local businesses, small groceries, and markets are plenty. The country also recognizes the treasure of the land and has marked the region as a nation park, keeping it safe from exploitation.
On May Day – the first day of the month – you can take part in a local tradition and celebrate the approaching Spring. Italians gather at the local church at nightfall with lanterns, guitars, and scripts of written songs and walk throughout the broken cobblestone streets, ruined with age, and sing songs to other locals who are sleeping behind closed doors and windows. They sing until eventually someone comes into view and tosses from their window chocolates and candy, or passes you a bottle of handmade wine through the door. The wine is passed and shared, the chocolate and candies are eaten, and the night goes forth like this until all is quiet save for the few echoes of falling songs.
I feel in love with this place. It was as if I was walking in a dream. Cinque Terre was my first introduction to Italian culture and its authenticity was far from lost. I felt so much energy from the people musing around the streets, from the chefs who prepared my food, from the feeling of being separate from the rest of the world, and the satisfaction of living in a place where nature was so respected.
If treasure is still something you have to find from a map, circle this piece of heaven on the Liguria coast, and find yourself lost amongst the purest of Italian culture and lifestyle. Looking back at my pictures now it is hard to believe that I was actually here – it doesn’t seem real.
A perfect escape into serenity, calamity, and authenticity, my memory of Cinque Terre will always remain warm and vibrant.