Having taken a windy little road down through the mountains, switchbacking through ramshackle villages, we stopped for lunch with a view down through pine trees and vineyard-strewn mountains to the azure-coloured sea. With the plan to find a wild-camp in the village of Monterosso al Mare, the first of the five villages that make up Cinque Terre (“Five lands”), we were instantly thwarted when we met an intersection with prominent no-motorhome signs — damn!
So, we turned back and drove back the way we had come, looking for those “camping” signs. We found a caravan park outside of Levanto, and drove up their driveway. Walked up to reception and greeted the two women there, one of whom was presumably the mother of the other. The younger greeted us; we started to ask if they had space for us for the night when we were interrupted by a blood-curdling screech, and our heads snapped over to where it came from — a little boy stood there, to our surprise, a defiant look on his face. Frequently interrupted by further piercing screams (what the?), we agreed to stay the night and checked in.
We took a walk down to Levanto (more screams echoing through the hills from the caravan park), through a fairly messy and detritus-strewn part of the town, putting us in mind of spoiled Phi Phi Island in Thailand, which we visited a couple of years ago. Looking for wi-fi so we could get in touch with Tim, Jen and Annie, we were happy to find an open network straight away in town with a convenient seat nearby. So, we took a moment to send them an SMS over Skype, then walked to the foreshore, which was packed with people, the beach a mass of pink and olive bodies, then had some very tasty local gelati and shared a pizza. Found our way back to the caravan park in the dark.
The next morning we set off for the caravan park in Deiva Marina that Katherine had researched earlier. The route took us through Levanto and switchbacking up the mountain over the town, with spectacular views over the coastline, then eventually down again to Deiva Marina.
We checked in, then caught the free shuttle bus into Deiva Marina to meet up with the trio. With a little time on our hands, we walked the beach for a little while then, happily, found the guys at the train station!
With some time to go until the next shuttle bus, Timmy, Katherine and I scouted for somewhere to get some food. We spotted some movement in the riverbed beside the town, and realised there was an emu standing out there. An emu! No idea what’s going on there.
We took a seat outside at a nearby pub and had some satisfyingly cold Italian beer until it was time to get the shuttle bus to the camping ground. A quick drop-off of their things, and we headed back to the beach. The three girls sat on the beach and stood in the froth while Timmy and I floated off-shore a little and tried a little body-surfing in the energetic waves, the afternoon sun bringing out highly saturated colours in the buildings and surrounding mountainsides. Sore feet from banging into the pebbly beach, and scratchy sinuses from salt, but very satisfied. Also very cold once we got out, with the heat of the day quickly over and a cool breeze replacing it.
Back at Nettle, we cleared some room for our new travel-mates, and we cooked us all dinner. It’s excellent and very exciting to have them with us! Quite fun to introduce them to Nettle; somehow, we managed to all fit, choreographing our movements inside carefully. No snorers, luckily.
The next day, we bundled into the free shuttle bus to the Deiva Marina train station, then caught the train, a minimalist clunking affair which listed slightly to one side, to Monterosso al Mare, the first of the five villages making up Cinque Terra. The sea was glittering turquoise beneath a pure blue sky and scorching sun, the foreshore a mass of colourful umbrellas.
We had some very tasty coffee at a café by the foreshore, then wandered through the town while Annie had her internet fix talking to her man, Ads, back in Australia. The town was mostly narrow alleyways between three and four storey buildings in ochre and yellow colours, green or blue window panes sticking out here and there, with washing hanging on lines strung between them. Bananas from a fruit market to stock up on energy, then we were off up the mountain above the town and by the sea, giving us a view over the startlingly clear blue water dotted with pink swimming bodies.
The walk to the next village wound up and over the mountains, in and out of glades tucked into the mountain, alternating with fantastic views over the sea. We climbed many steps and walked along some quite precarious paths, less than a metre wide with a metre or two drop-off into brambles. A very hot, dry and exhausting walk but very rewarding as we turned a corner and spotted the next town, Vernazza, bright pastel-coloured buildings trailing down to the sea, where a harbour full of multi-coloured boats sat atop clear turquoise. There’s a postcard right there.
Another beautifully quaint town, this one too crawling with other tourists — these are most certainly tourist towns, all craft and gift shops, cafés and restaurants, but there’s still plenty of charm there.
Having worked up a hefty appetite, we dined on pasta at a waterside restaurant underneath brightly coloured umbrellas; pesto pasta for me, very minimal, a good dollop of bright green on spaghetti — garlicky, tart and tasty; with some chilled, sweet local white wine served in a big jug.
After lunch, Tim, Katherine and I swam in the harbour (after covertly watching a large woman in a bathing suit rub the dirty grey sand of the beach all over herself, including in her hair, and lie on the waterline — odd), floated around and watched the village. Then, after curiously observing a plume of smoke coming from over the mountains, we were ready to head off again, to the next town.
Twenty or thirty minutes later, after heading directly towards the smoke plume, its source became apparent — a bushfire ahead of us. Unsure of where the path lay, and picturing the headlines (“Five Australians, present during Melbourne’s Black Saturday, killed in Italian bushfire“), we figured the best idea was to backtrack, but we watched a plane and helicopter ferrying water from the sea and dumping it on the fire.
On the walk back we watched the plane swoop down to the sea and skim along the surface, collecting the next load of water — an amazing manoeuvre. Late afternoon light cast a golden glow over Vernazza.
We took the train from Vernazza to the next town along, Corniglia. The shuttle bus took us from the train station into the town proper, and we got a different view of the fire on the hillside above the town, as the sun set over the sea, coloured deep red from the smoke.
We sought out some dinner, and settled on take-away pizza, sharing the thin crispy and very lightly-topped pizzas while sitting on a ledge overlooking the sea. Now night-time, the fire on the hillside took on a new appearance, glowing red spots in the dark with flashing lights of emergency vehicles on the road below.
A final dose of gelati from a nearby shop, then we called it quits and took the train back home. Very satisfying to get to bed finally.
The next day we decided to see the final two towns — we took the train to village number 5, Riomaggiore, and wandered up from the station. Another very pretty town, sprawled on the rocky coastline and reaching up a valley leading away from the water.
We had a tasty but disappointingly tiny brunch of crepes at a café in the town. The waiter/owner snatched up our cash as we were organising the right change and didn’t return with change! When we confronted him about it, he made don’t-understand-you gestures!! The nerve! Our first tourist rip-off experience! We counted it as a 5-10-euro mistake and moved on.
There was a pretty, narrow harbour with glittering clear green-blue water and a few people swimming. We watched a very cute, scraggly-looking dog running around with boundless energy for a while, and were startled by a little bulldog running around making the most bizarre growly breathing noises as it ran — hilarious.
We took the train to the 4th village, Manarola, also very cute with a picturesque rocky harbour. We had lunch at a restaurant there; tasty ravioli with pesto for me. Brilliant, but always the small portions!!
We headed back to Levanto, and make a beeline for the open wifi network we found a couple of days before. We spent a good hour or two there, researching museums and galleries in Florence, our next stop, trying to book tickets in advance — with, in the end, no success whatsoever, due to odd credit card handling by the booking agency. Daah! Some funny looks from people walking past, with us sitting on the bench huddled around our iPhones.
We finally moved on and returned home, and got ready to head off the next day. Next stop, Tuscany!