Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Portofino and the Cinque Terre

I cannot believe how blessed I have been with the weather.  The Italian Riviera has been bathed in sunshine, hot, but not too hot, and with the gentlest of sea breezes.  Perfect weather for a cruise along the coast to Portofino.  My small grandson loves boat trips, I think there is more than a little of his grandfather in him, and smiled benignly the whole time we were on the boat. We called into a small isolated bay which contains nothing more than a now abandoned monastery and a restaurant.  It is accessible only by sea, the idea being that the monks would not be tempted by worldly things.  We wandered around the monastery, and sat for a while on the stony beach before catching another boat to Portofino.  Portofino is the home of the "beautiful people" and there were plenty of them parading around the tiny village when we arrived. It is wonderful to approach the village by sea as its harbour is concealed behind a headland and the bay suddenly opens up before you as you turn the corner.  It is truly picturesque with it is beautifully painted apartment blocks surrounding the boat harbour and a church and fort, nestled among cypress trees, high on the headland overlooking the bay.  The scene is reminiscent of the background to some of the great classical paintings. We wandered around the bay, had drinks at the same bar on the waters edge that John, my late husband, and I had been to ten years ago and caste a cursory eye at the shops....we didn't shop...the prices are for the "beautiful people" on the luxury yachts.  Portofino is, there is no doubt, lovely and, as tends to be the case, lovely places get over run by tourists so we were happy to scuttle back to the tranquility of Camogli at the end of the day.

The next day we visited the Cinque Terre, the five tiny fishing villages which cling to the cliff sides and are a popular hiking route.  John and I also walked this ten years ago so I was more than happy to just get to whatever villages we could, given that we had a two year old with us.  In the end we were thrilled to make it to three of the villages, including my favourite, Vernazza.  It was about an hour on the train from Camogli to Rio Maggiore, the southernmost of the villages.  We spent quite a while walking around the village and climbing some of the steep paths away from the crush of tourists.  I love observing village life and the way the villagers quietly go about their business.  They must all be incredibly fit having negotiated steep staircases through the villages all their lives.  We walked to the next village, along the via dell amore, a spectacular pathway hanging out over the cliffs with cloister like arches in some places. The sea was calm, smooth and crystal clear. The tradition along this part of the path is to place a padlock on the wire netting covering the cliffs to show your true love for someone.  There are thousands of padlocks displayed.  The path to the next village, Vernazza, was washed away and closed.  This must be very disappointing for some who come here specifically to walk the five villages but it certainly looked dangerous and  and impassable so we caught the train to Vernazza.  I love this village.  The path is a gentle slope down to the fishing harbour, old men sit comfortably chatting in the square, fisherman go about their business ignoring the tourists.  The church is stone, like a cave, and right on the edge of the water with windows along the side looking out to sea.  We bought some drinks at a bar and sat admiring the scenery....gorgeous!