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Posts Tagged ‘Cinque Terre’

View from Room 220 La Perla

As I write this article, I am sitting in a small hotel in the village of Vocogno di Craveggia (VB) in the Valle Vigezzo of northern Italy. Located a mere two hours by train from the intensive noise and traffic of Milano, you will find peace, quite, tranquility and rest in this lovely area of Italia. Frequented by Italian and Swiss travelers, this particular valley has been overlooked by all but knowledgeable international visitors for centuries.

The Vigezzo river valley meanders through the Lapontine Alps in Italy, bordering the Swiss Canton of Ticino on its northern perimiter.   It is known, among other things,  for its annual celebration of the chimney-sweepers, “spazzacamini” in Italian. Each September, the village fills with those who come to honor this special and much honored traditional work.

Spazzacamini Santa Maria Maggiore

A Time Honored Tradition – Chimney Sweeps – A Spazzacamino during the Annual Celebrations

The buildings here are mostly stone and stucco. Granite and slate roofs top barns and homes and the sense of this place is as much Switzerland as it is Italy.

Santa Maria Maggiore Val Vigezza

Town Square, Santa Maria Maggiore

The Hotel La Perla occupies a marvelous site above the village. Mattei, the owner, or his son Francesco, offer to pick you up (and return you at the conclusion of your visit) in Santa Maria Maggiore. The hotel is located some distance, uphill, from the station so this is a much appreciated service. Without a car, you should plan to walk; special requests for pick-up and drop off can be made with the owners.

The three-star hotel La Perla offers very simple, clean, uncluttered rooms. If you ask for a mountain/valley view you will not be disappointed. Some rooms on the second and third floors offer terraces and stunning vistas of the valley and villages below. Don’t expect fancy; expect clean, friendly and well-managed accommodation.

Sunday Morning sunrise Vocogno di Craveggia

The View from Room 220, Hotel La Perla

The restaurant in the hotel offers memorable meals. Dinner last evening was a Caprese salad, followed by some baked potato gnocchi prepared with a special regional cheese. The sliced local beef was beautifully prepared with some patate fritte to accompany the secondo. Francesco, the son of the owners, is the chef. His capabilities are more than evident in a flavorful and well-prepared “cena” (dinner). The restaurant also offers a good selection of local and regional wines. The views from the dining room are spectacular, as well.

Your days here can be filled with rented electric bicycles, hikes in the foothills of the alps, easy strolls through the valley villages. Not unlike the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast of Italy, the chain of small towns are linked by the “Centovalli Vigezzina“, known locally as the Centovalli train. You can purchase tickets to/from various villages and walk back or just enjoy time in each one, returning to Santa Maria Maggiore at the end of an easy day. (Click on the map for easier reading).

Image result for mappa centovalli and vigezzina

Be sure to plan a few days in this region of Italy. Hotels are not plentiful, so reservations are strongly recommended. Most accommodations are three-star with a few four-star available.

If your time in Italy is limited, you might enjoy the full day excursion  known as the Lago Maggiore Express. Our blog article provides details and information.

IF YOU GO:

Trenitalia offers regular service from all over Italy to Milano Centrale and from there on to Domodossola, the last large city before entering Switzerland. Those coming from Brig, in Switzerland, will find trains available on either the Italiarail or Swiss Bundesbahn web sites.

From Domodossola, you can purchase tickets for the Centovalli train (though online purchases in advance are recommend, as this will guarantee you seats especially during the busiest months of August, September, Christmas Holiday, January and February).

Valle Vigezzo Tourist Information

Train Information, Valle Vigezzo

Hotel La Perla

28852 Vocogno di Craveggia (VB)

Via Belitrandi, 2/A

Tel: 0324 98 071

Fax: 0324 98 88 98

 

 

 

 

 

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Monterosso al Mare View

Fragrance of lemon blossoms, the taste of salt-tainted breezes and the wash of persistent sea greet me when I descended to Monterosso al Mare, the northernmost village on the Cinque Terre.

Lane, Monterosso al Mare

This is the largest of the five villages and I find that what the local’s refer to as Old Town and New Town are not substantially different. As I walked through the tunnel which now links the two areas of town, the arc of a sandy beach stretches before me from the breakwater to the small peninsula which juts into the sea on the southern end of the village.

Unlike the other towns along this stretch of coastline, Monterosso is easily reached by car. From the A12 autostrada that connects Pisa with Genoa, and beyond, there are well-marked exits that will lead you to the largest of the villages on the coast.

Please read the “IF YOU GO” section below regarding driving to Monterosso as well as parking challenges near the village.

Historically, the story of Monterosso is not dissimilar to those of the other Cinque Terre Village. Genoa subjugated the residents along the stretch of sea for centuries.

Long on the Italian summer holiday list of popular places to get to the sea, the narrow streets and beaches are always busy in the ‘high season’.

Monterosso Umbrellas

It seemed appropriate that my articles about the Cinque Terre would end in town with two huge statues.

In 1910 the sculptor, Arrigo Minerbi of Ferrara created a nearly 45 foot tall statue of Neptune, complete with Trident and Nautilus. As a result of  bombings during World War II, the “Gigante” was heavily damaged. Still, it stands at the southern limit of the beach, looking over the sea from whence he came.

Neptune of Monterosso

In 1962, Silvio Monfrini, a sculptor who was born in Milan, created a large bronze statue of St. Francis petting a dog. The statue occupies a gorgeous terrace high above the village near the Conventi del Cappuccine. While the steep stairs may tax your muscles, the view from the terrace is breathtaking. Well worth the effort!

Statue of Saint Francis above Monterosso al Mare

As I departed the village on my way north to Genoa, those two statues haunted me. Neptune, who no longer holds his Trident nor Nautilus, hunches armless over the cerulean blue Mediterranean. The five villages that cling to the shores of the Cinque Terre were for many decades falling in to disrepair, nearly forgotten save for the thousands of tourists who descended before and after the war.

Monfrini’s 20th Century work stands high above the village, an ever present reminder of the role of faith and church in the lives of the men and women who have, for centuries, survived on the richness of soil and sea.

The villagers have created bountiful lives through the gifts of faith, sea and soil. Statues may suffer, even disappear, yet the beauty of this precipitous coastline remains to be enjoyed and shared by visitors in years to come.

IF YOU GO:

Driving to Monterosso al Mare:

From the A12 Autostrada, heading either north of south, the exits for Monterosso al Mare are well marked. Follow the signs toward Levanto and, from there, to Monterosso. The road between the Autostrada and the village is treacherous and narrow, so I advise extreme caution especially if you are driving a large rental car or van. Parking in the village is challenging. There are a few public garages, most notable above the ‘new town” , where you enter the village.

Some hotels offer temporary parking for registration and/or departure. Do NOT park if  you are not sure you are allowed to. The local police do ticket and, believe it or not, the tickets always catch up with you.

Diversions:

Angelo’s Boat Tours

My first experience with Angelo and his lovely wife, Paula, a few years ago. Clients I was traveling with were just leaving the port on Angelo’s boat and Paula invited me up to her incredible hillside garden where, from time to time, she leads small group cooking classes. The roses, the oleander, the lemons all conspired to make me want to sit and never leave.

The tours are available through pre-booking on their web site – see below. For information on Paul’s cooking classes, you can contact her directly, via email, on angelosboattours@yahoo.com.

Angelo’s Boat Tours, Monterosso

These are incredible journey’s along the coast and I highly recommend, as part of your visit to the Cinque Terre, to enjoy one of their unforgettable boat tours.

Hotels Monterosso al Mare

A brief word about the Hotel Porta Roca. This would be the splurge of your time on the coast – but the views from the sea-facing rooms, the level of service and the comfort are simply unmatched in any other hotel on the Cinque Terre. This is one gorgeous hotel!

Hotel Porta Roca 

Località Corone, 1  19016 Monterosso Al Mare

Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.502

Hotel Pasquale 

Via Fegina, 4  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.477

Hotel Villa Steno   http://www.villasteno.com/

Via Roma, 109  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.028

Restaurants Monterosso al Mare

Given the size of the village of Monterosso, your options are varied and numerous. These are only a few where the food and fair pricing have brought me back numerous times. Enjoy!

Ristorante Miky (web site, as of this writing, not linking)

Via Fegina, 104  19016 Monterosso Al Mare Province of La Spezia, Italy

Tel: +39.0187.817.608

Ristorante L’Alta Marea (no Web Site)

Via Roma, 54  Monterosso al Mare, Province of La Spezia, Italy

TeL: +39.0187.817.331

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Beach, Vernazza, Cinque Terre 

It rises from the sea, a fortress of multicolored buildings.

The history of Vernazza is centered around its hook of a breakwater, and its geographic proximity to Genoa. Early 13th Century documents indicate that the townspeople swore allegiance to the authority of Genoa. In the mid-1500’s, to provide additional protection from pirates who plied their trade against all forms of merchant and private shipping, the town erected a large stone wall and fortress which still dominate the promontory above the harbor.

The Church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia (pictured to the left) has served as the duomo of Vernazza since the mid-thirteenth century. The bell tower that now dominates the village was completed in 1750.

There are no roads to Vernazza. In the late 1800’s its singular isolation was broken with the arrival of the rail line that now connects Genoa to La Spezia and, from there, to the entire Italian peninsula.

The sense of isolation still exists, though during the high season visitors fill the hotels and restaurants to capacity.

Still . . . of a warm summer evening, as I explore the many narrow “carruggi” alleyways and straight, steep stairways that lead to the sea, the sense of those who labored here for centuries comes easily.

As glasses and dinnerware clink in the sultry air, I already hope to return to  the beautiful, historic and unforgettable town of Vernazza.

IF YOU GO:

Hotels Vernazza

For numerous reasons, accommodations in Vernazza are nearly non-existent. I recently had a client recommend the Inn – Villa Cinque Terre, but

Headlands of Vernazza with
Monterosso al Mare in the distance

note that it is 2.4 miles (app. 4 Km) above and away from the village itself.

Also, you can check accommodations in the relatively nearby villages of Levanto or Monterosso.

Restaurants Vernazza

There are not many restaurants in Vernazza. Cafes offer prepared sandwiches and drinks – an easy picnic if you are so inclined. If you arrive early in the morning during a hike along the trails, you can enjoy espresso, cappuccino and fresh hand-made rolls in any of the towns small coffee bars.

Il Pirate delle Cinque Terre

Via Gavino, 36 – 19018 Vernazza – La Spezia – Italia

Belforte  

Via G. Guidoni, Vernazza, SP 19018  Italy

Tel: +39.0187.812.222

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Cinque Terre Sunset from the High Road

As sunset settles upon the Cinque Terre, the sky becomes a curtain of gold, the sea an undulating sapphire veil.

This is a place of poetry.

Visually stunning, breathtaking in its scope, musical in its winds, poetic to the soul. Cinque Terre, the Five Lands, have long captured the imaginations of artists and travelers alike.

In his poem about a Sunday morning in a village along the coast, Edoardo Firpo captures all that is magical about the coast and villages in his Cinque Terre.

The slope rises rapidly
in the shadow of the houses;
amid the eaves and gutters
appears a limpid sky…

The mule clambers up the hill
in the tinkle of harness bells;
two or three jingling together
make a slow melody
but one with a lower tone
gives a ring every now and then.

The hens scamper down and peck
at pebbles along the ground.

Today is Sunday, and
all of the women stand
before their half-open doors,
all dressed in black because
of vespers still to come.

Withered by years and sun
they chat softly now and then,
saying things already said upon those ancient steps.

Sometimes there comes the hum
from behind the quiet houses
of the young ones in the sun.

Today’s the first day of autumn
and the heat of summer lingers;
the grapes are still on the vine
and not one cloud in the sky.

And I who am passing by
pause on the height, all alone,
in the midst of the sunny vines
close by the silvery veins
that warble as they run down
to lose themselves in the sea.

Edoardo Firpo – Cinque Terre

Along this stretch of Ligurian coastline (the Cinque Terre is within the political boundaries of the Province of Liguria) is a photographers and romantics playground. From the early morning mists that wrap the cliffs above the sea, to the long rays of sunset that shimmer the surface of the sea, the views are ever changing, the memories imparted unforgettable.

In my next five posts, I will focus on each of the villages that encompass the Cinque Terre with information about hotels and restaurants, along with recommendations for a day’s visit in each.

The area now known as the Five Lands encompass a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1998 and 1999, the Italian Government passed legislation to protect the natural environment and to further encourage ecological balance in the water and on the land.

Hiking trails, in all manner of upkeep, crisscross the land. From paved walkways suspended above the sea to rough steep gravel pathways, there is something for everyone who wishes to experience fresh air and views above and along the coast.

IF YOU GO:

Most visitors arrive by train. Between Genoa and Pisa, and easily reached from Florence, this is truly the preferred way to arrive. For those with cars, you might consider parking at the lot at the train station in La Spezia and taking the train from there. Driving into the villages is impossible for some of them. Monterosso al Mare, on the northern end of the Cinque Terre is the most easily reached by car, and that proves difficult with very narrow roads and precipitous drops to the sea. Parking can also be a challenge even in Monterosso, often requiring a good 1/4 mile descent (and ascent!) to walk from the garage or road side parking to the village.

Train passes for travel between all five villages are available at the train station in La Spezia, and in each village’s train station. Here are prices and information about the passes. For most current information, visit: Cinque Terre Train Passes

  • One day, adults: 10 euro
  • Two day, adults: 19 euro
  • Children under 12: 6 euro
  • Over age 70: 8 euro
  • Family Card (2 adults and 2 under 12): 26 euro

For those of you not familiar with ticket validation, you will need to locate a yellow box in the station before you leave, place the ticket in the slot and print a validation stamp on your ticket. Failure to do so will result, if you are asked to produce a non-validated ticket, of a fine from the conductor.

For summer excursions along the coast, click on this link: Gulf of Poets Cinque Terre

Hotels:

This is one of the most popular places to visit in Italy. If you arrive with no hotel reservation, you will probably discover how busy it is! I recommend reserving at least sixty days in advance of your visit. It is always possible to find last-minute accommodations in one of the villages, yet it is always best to book early.

In the next five posts on our blog, I include details about hotels and B&B’s in each of the five villages along the coast.

Hiking Map:

Map, Cinque Terre

This map provides general orientation to the Cinque Terre. For those interested in hiking the trails in the park, or along the coast, maps and detailed information are available at hotels, train stations and at Tourist Information offices in each village. Please note that you should wear very comfortable walking shoes or boots if you intend to attempt any of the trails and walkways in the area.

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