Postcard 9 & 10 – Lucca, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia

Florence is a fabulous city and I’ve added a few more pictures to illustrate the astonishing beauty of the snappily titled ‘Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore’ and the astonishing bridge, Ponte Vecchio, that I referred to in the last post.

We’re now on our way to Lucca.

Lucca is wonderful and our accommodation is quaintly beautiful. It’s in the heart of the town and run by a delightful gentleman who advises us on eating establishments and gives us the choice of any of the rooms. After hitting my head on the rafter in the toilet of the larger room we opt for the marginally smaller one with a higher ceiling in the loo. It’ll reduce the need for a lexicon search for new swear words through the night and help preserve what little is left in my cranium.

It’s a walled city that was a bit sensitive about attacks from Pisa and surrounding towns. There’s no evidence of any large scale action so maybe the walls put them off.

The walls are significantly wide but not that high. Clearly, they’re bigger than a bloke with a ladder but not high when you compare them with the likes of the Vatican etc. They’re excellent for walking, biking and are completely wheelchair friendly so no one needs to miss out. We walk most of the way around in the sun and it’s lovely. Two thirds of the way around and we break off to go into town for a bite to eat and climb a tower that’s been a bit of a draw since we got here. It stands way above the roofs of the surrounding buildings and at the top we meet a couple and the gentleman hails from Middlesbrough! – they get everywhere ?

So now we’re on our way to Cinque Terra towns in the North West passing through Pisa and with a change of trains in La Spezia. The journey is extraordinarily beautiful although the towns and railway stations do suffer from the Italian disease of graffiti which is everywhere and nothing is sacrosanct. They’ll spray a wall or a sculptural masterpiece, they’re all rendered equal by these secretive vandals. Later I’ll tell you about a technique that the Swiss have adopted that might have a bit of a chance of inhibiting them.

Cecilia is in charge of accommodation and manages to bag a lovely little apartment in Vernazza although with the weekend looming, it’s only for one night and we’ll need two for no other reason that this region and these towns are captivating.

I’ll tell you about the region in the next postcard.

Enjoy the snaps. G x

PS: There’s a lot of snaps.

Postcard 10 – Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia

The Pilgrim had been talking about the Cinque Terra part of Italy for some time. I can’t describe my expectations as I’m not sure I had any but the one thing that I did have was a desire to go there for no other reason than the enthusiasm of C.

The literal translation is ‘Five Lands’ and that just about describes the fact that it is five districts attached to five villages that cling to the cliffs or nestle in ravines on the North West Coast of Italy.

What it can’t describe is the exquisite beauty of this craggy if unforgiving area.

We’ve managed to bag a lovely apartment with a balcony at a good price but it’s the end of the week and holiday season so, if we intend to stay for another night, we’ll need to move. It’s a fact that as we walk through Vernazza village it becomes increasingly obvious that we will be staying. After the initial walk and bumping into a group of Irish ladies followed by a group of Ozzies it’s confirmed but more of that later…

The forecast is variable so we’re dressed in shorts but carrying supplementary gear for a shower. We’re walking to Monterosso al Mare along the cliffs and there’s a fair amount of up and down but it’s not a big distance and should take two to two and half hours. We’re on the steepest bit out of town when we meet a group of lovely Irish ladies who we become quite friendly with over the next couple of days. One of the wonderful things about walking is the time it affords to talking with new acquaintances and stopping for more than a day in one places enhances the possibility of meeting up for a beer or a meal. We hit it off well and I love the Irish sense of humour as well as their wonderful warm nature and charm.

We leave them, for now, and make our way along the winding and severely switch-back-track (which will become one-way this weekend) but stop to take photographs from time to time as new bays or more spectacular cliffs reveal themselves. There is a lot of birdsong from the bracken and trees that cling to the thin layer of soil that is wedged in the cracks and crevices of the cliffs. God knows how they manage to survive in such an environment but they do so the birds and reptiles along with other creatures that we’ll never know about are able to live with them and in them, it’s all magical.

The maps suggest we’ll top out at about six hundred feet (200 metres) and some parts of the track are entirely without fence although the people who maintain them are doing a sterling job keeping it walkable without making it like a path in the high street. There was a time when I was deeply affected by height but I’m not as twitchy now and I put that down to the help and encouragement that I’ve had with my walking friends and C who’ve enabled me to push against the fear. I’m not a mountain climber and never will be but at least I’m better than I was.

By the time we reach the highest point we’re breathless but happy and the weather has been very kind with the forecast being 30% likely we manage to remain in the 70% with a few blue bits thrown in for good measure.

The track down to Monterosso zig-zags rather than meanders and the stones that represent steps are uneven so concentration is necessary. The act of walking downhill pulls at the back of the legs so it borders on relief when we reach the bay and the draw of a cafe is magnetic where we soon find a seat and top up with coffee and juice.

We return by train which would be disappointing if we hadn’t been aware of the fact that whilst it clings to the coast most of the trip is through tunnels so you don’t see a lot of it; however, there are short breaks where you get a fleeting glimpse of what will be your view when you reach the next village.

Vernazza is a beautiful town with magnificent views and we’ve been recommended a restaurant that has the best of all. The Bell Tower sits on a promontory overlooking both the bay and town. We dress to suite but have our precautionary ‘big coats’ with us just in case the evening gets chilly.

We arrive early and it proves quite fortuitous as we’re led to the best tables in the house. They’re in the tower itself and any of them will be wonderful; however, the luck continues as we’re given the choice of any and with nod and smile to C we bag the best. It sits at the wall edge and affords outstanding views in all directions so we have the delight of a masterful meal, a bottle of wine and the sun going down on the bay. What’s not to like?

In the morning C identifies a place for an extra night. It’s near the station so perfect – or is it?

We’ve repacked our rucksacks and begin to walk to the new property but it’s not where we expect. It turns out that it’s three kilometres (2 miles) out of town at a height of about 300 metres (1000 feet).

The downside is the walk which is fine in the morning with fresh legs but might be a challenge tonight when we return from our second walk to Corniglia.

The upside of this remote house is also the walk because it’s beautiful. There is a small river with waterfalls cascading down vertical rocks and creating eddies in the plunge pools where leaves and the odd bamboo are toyed with in the currents. There are terraced garden plots with vines, lettuce, orange trees and lemon trees and there are unbelievable retaining walls that make it all work. Well, it works most of the time because numerous buildings have either fallen off the steep hillside or they’re in the process of falling off! Even this is beautiful as the vegetation has grown through them and on them as it takes its land back in a kind of natural re-wilding process in which humans have no part to play. There’s a tiny church that turns out to be our marker to turn off the road onto a dusty track and over a wooden bridge to reach the chalet-like house where we have the ground floor complete with en-suite and jacuzzi bath.

We learn later that there are some delightful Dutch people in the top floor and although we don’t spend time with them we do engage in conversation and discover they’ve been walking too but they’re leaving first thing.

The walk back down is better without our bags and after a brief pit-stop for coffee and bacon sandwich we begin the walk to Corniglia. This is a higher walk than yesterday and it could be argued that it’s harder but all of that is moot as it is once more, indescribably beautiful.

We’re just entering Corniglia in a narrow path cum passageway when we bump into the Irish contingent who are walking this route but in the other direction. We spend a few minutes arranging to meet for a meal and orange juice tonight. Then settle ourselves in a local bar for a well earned beer and make a couple of calls home.

There’s a tiny bus that takes people to and from the railway station so we queue for a few minutes when Cecilia decides to walk it and five minutes later rings me to say ‘join me’, it’s all down hill!

The walk from Vernazza station back to the house isn’t as bad as expected and the views are a wonderful distraction. The shared jacuzzi bath is a real bonus and if you couple that with a cocktail… well before we know it we’re heading back (in a very relaxed and happy state) to the village for our assignation with the Irish contingent.

What could be better than sharing an evening with a great bunch of people sitting outside as the sun goes down; oh, and drink was taken! ‘Big coats’ became necessary later on but hey, it’s still April.

The walk up the hill is easy with the added lubrication.

Enjoy the snaps G x

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