Cinque Terre is a beautiful area along the Italian coast as it heads west toward France. It is named for the five villages tucked into ravines: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. On the map it looks like the armpit of Italy. In reality it’s like romance.
Daniela and Paolo planned a two day vacation for us in Cinque Terre. We drove through Tuscany and had to stop to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No one in our family had ever been there. Gigi had never been there either. Of course, we had to take a few of the classic photos. At first Hank refused, but Gigi was willing.
Monastero San Croce sits up on a hillside looking over a river as it opens to the sea. Across the river are the mountains white from marble. Here we were the only Americans. Dinner began standing as the monks prayed in Italian. We stood and waited as our kids experimented crossing themselves.
The food was simple and tasty home cooked but Italian. Risotto with chopped frozen vegetables, a salad bar with raddichio, regional cheese and cold cuts. It was as if our mothers had suddenly become Italian and were cooking for us. It was tasty and satisfying.
In the morning, Paolo piloted a boat he had rented to take us on our tour of Cinque Terre. The ride took all day and was amazing. As we motored between the penisula and an island we watched a town and then fort go by. We anchored in a turquoise bay and jumped in to swim. It was effortless to be in that water. The temperature was perfect. The salt in the water kept us floating. It was hard to get back in the boat.
As we headed toward the villages of Cinque Terre, Bill and I remembered our first trip to Italy together shortly after we started dating. We spent a few nights in Riomaggiore, eating pesto, drinking grappa, madly in love. We really wanted to head back in there and relive the romance. As we headed toward the dock, our motor got entangled in the lines of other boats. We had to watch Riomaggiore and our nostalgia disappear as Paolo backed the boat away.
We were able to reach the town of Vernazza by boat, however. Here, like the other villages of Cinque Terre, the main street winds up steeply into the ravine. Stores and restaurants line the road. Few if any cars have access to the main road. Instead it’s packed with people, mostly tourists.
To the sides of the main road small alleys, often made of only stairs, cut into the hillside with tall stucco homes on either side. I snuck the kids into one of these narrow alleys, and within 10 yards we were away from the tourists and into a unique part of Italy.
On the boat ride back from the village we again anchored to jump into the water. We swam and floated. We climbed onto the rocks and sunned. We returned to the monastery to listen to the prayers, eat, and recharge for the next day of adventure. Recharging only after the disco below the monastery had finished a loud rendition of ABBA’s Mama Mia. I still have that song stuck in my head. Maybe that’s my way of praying.