Love in Cinque Terre

Friday, March 18, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Venice, Italy to Cinque Terre, Italy.
Reluctantly we boarded a train in Venice on Thursday (day 17) and rode to Florence, where we changed trains and went on to the Ligurian coastal city of La Spezia.  On Friday, we took a day trip by train to Cinque Terre (CHEEN-kwa TEHR-reh) National Park.
Along a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera, the towns of the Cinque Terre string out along the Mediterranean coast like a strand of luminous pearls.  The Cinque Terre, or Five Lands, comprises five small villages:  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola (pictured above), and Riomaggiore, clinging to the cliffs along the Mediterranean shore.  
Terraced vineyards scale the mountains behind the villages, and the towns are largely unspoiled by modernization.  Most have little or no car traffic, although all are served by train, trails, and boat.  All the villages date back to the 1200s or earlier, and before the last twenty or so years, their economies were based on fishing, olive oil production, and winemaking.  In more recent times, the villages have been discovered by tourists, both Italian and foreign.  Now young locals who would have grown up to work in the vineyards or olive groves field requests at internet cafes and coffee shops.
Known for their beauty, the Cinque Terre were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an Italian national park at the end of the last century.  Explaining why the area was selected as a cultural highlight, UNESCO cited the way humans have transformed the steep cliffs into agricultural fields with the use of terracing.  Also noted were how the people have adapted to the inhospitable geography by constructing compact settlements directly on the rocky cliffs, incorporating winding streets to navigate up and down the hills.  
The five villages are connected by a series of trails, some lower along the coastline and others climbing the steep hills above the towns.  The trail from Riomaggiore, the farthest village south, and its closest neighbor Manorola is a flat easy path carved into the side of the cliff in the 1920s.  Known as Via dell'Amore, or the Pathway of Love, this level trail was especially appreciated in its early days by villagers from the two towns experiencing their first opportunities to court and fall in love with someone outside their isolated village.  Over the years both villagers and visitors have contributed to the lover's lane graffiti that covers this stretch of the trail.
Via dell'Amore
A more recent trend has been the addition of "love locks" along the rail, fences, and even the steel netting bolted to the cliffside to prevent rockslides.  In this custom, whose popularity has been spreading through various countries around the world, sweethearts affix a padlock, often adorned with their names or initials and perhaps some special date or place, to a public fixture such as a bridge or fence. 

Bridges are popular spots for these locks because the lovers then throw the key into the water to symbolize the permanence of both the lock and their love.  Hundreds of these locks decorate the structures along the Cinque Terre's lover's lane.
Love locks along lovers lane
Though our visit to these magical villages was brief, we were charmed by their tenacity and the beauty of the pastel humble homes clinging to the rocky cliffs.
Travel writer Rick Steves has played a large role in popularizing the Cinque Terre, which he ardently promotes in his guidebooks and includes on his tours.  His impact on the area is described perfectly in a story we heard from a local restauranteur.  

"I love Rick Steves," he gushed.  "He has brought the tourists here that have saved my business.  I have a photo of him in my house.  Every morning when I get up, I kiss Rick Steves' picture, then I kiss my wife."

  • Villages:  5
  • Population:  5,119
By our count:
  • Love locks:  23,481
  • Olive trees:  8,264
  • Grape vines:  34,117
  • Rooms for rent (signs posted all over):  4,609
  • Gelato cones consumed:  15,873

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Italian unification
Vernazza Clock Tower and vineyards
Via dell'Amore
Quaint Cinque Terre street scene
Cozy restaurant in Vernazza
On the Pathway of Love in Riomaggiore