Placing our visit to Cinque Terre at the end of our Italian tour was a stroke of genius. The National park and medieval villages afforded a cadence to life that was restorative and deliciously self indulgent. After a sharp ascend from the train station (there are no cars in this 20 mile long paradise) we emerged out of the mountainside tunnel into the town of Manarola . Our host greeted us in the courtyard of the village and escorted us to the gorgeous little rooms we had arranged to let over the internet. There were no disappointments. Although accommodations are small by modern travel standards, the immersion into the culture was so heartwarming that one scarcely noticed the inconvenience. After all who wanted to stay in the rooms? Cinque Terre is simply teaming with adventures and quickly rewards the wanderer.
For us rushing to take in the whole region was not on the agenda. We wanted to stroll, enjoy the people, and bask in the Mediterranean climate. Oh to be sure we walked to Corniglia and Vernazza because who could resist the splendor of these walled and steeply staired villages? But utopia was found in Manarola. Reading books on the stone walls of the dozen or so little courtyards buried into the architecture of the village. Enjoying dinner every evening in the same restaurant so that we developed a beautiful repore with the waiters and the owner. Bottles of wine, loaves of olive bread, wedges of cheese, my wife and I holding hands on the rocks as the youthful Germans goaded me into stripping and taking a plunge into the not quite yet warm enough waters of the Mediterranean . Rarely in my travels have I seen a town that seemed to honor and embrace my quest for rest and peace. We found friendly smiles, appreciation for tips, kind words, and a willingness to let a stranger sit and become a temporary piece of their world.
Typically people on European vacations are franticly pressing ahead to check off yet another attraction. Indeed for the energetic who need to conquer the next mountain, Cinque Terre offers plenty of physical activity. However if you are incline to engage in a restorative retreat that preserves the pleasures cross-cultural entertainment, then fly into Firenze, enjoy the train ride through Tuscany, (first class please, you deserve the leather and the window) and string up your hammock in Cinque Terre. Here you will a find a place where your body can slow down enough for your soul to rejoin your life once again.
Dr. William H. Chadwick
Portland , Maine