The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure
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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare
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Monterosso- play time!
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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

Portofino, Italy

Well Portofino is probably the most photographed fishing village on the Italian Riviera! Whatever you have in mind, relaxing is in store since there is not much to actually DO here! Be prepared to just stroll around the boutiques, the harbor and walk up to Castello Brown maybe and of course, don’t forget people watch!

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The yachts that grace this picturesque harbor are luxurious to say the least but it is also full of small fishing boats.  Don’t forget this was always a fishing village!

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It is worth the short hike up to Chiesa di San Giorgio and Castello Brown.  The views from both spots will not disappoint you!

Chiesa di San Giorgio has had a commanding presence over Portofino and the Ligurian Sea since it was constructed in 1154 or perhaps even earlier.  This Romanesque church was sadly bombed during WWII and then reconstructed in 1950.

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Chiesa di San Giorgio
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Chiesa di San Giorgio

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Castello Brown was well suited as a defensive site and was used as such since the 15th century. There are 2 methods to ascent to the Castle. You can walk up the steep staircase or take the winding path up.  We walked up the stairs and down the path which opens up the best panoramic views of this town.

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Castello Brown

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Don’t miss a chance to walk around this picture perfect town!  The brightly colored buildings just beckon you in. Sit and sip in the Piazzetta or at a seaside bar in the U-shaped harbor or grab some gelato, always a favorite.

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Don’t miss the Chiesa di San Martino in town with its beautiful bronze doors is just up the hill off the Piazza.  Note the mosaic on the landing made from rocks gathered on the shore.

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Portofino is a very convenient day trip from Genoa, Milan, the Cinque Terre or the towns just above it of Santa Margherita Ligure and Rapallo.  We made Santa Margherita Ligure our home base to travel the Riviera heading to The Cinque Terre, Portofino and exploring the wonderful town of Santa Margherita Ligure.

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See Santa Margherita in the distance

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If you are looking for luxury; look no further in Portofino than the Belmond Hotel Splendido.  This is a luxury hotel built in the 1920’s and sits on a hill overlooking the sea and its lovely gardens.

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Vicenza

Do you love architecture? Then you will love Vicenza a UNESCO World Heritage Site! This city is a successful blend of old and new and the city of Palladio!

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Andrea Palladio

Vicenza is a very old city dating back to pre-Roman times before it was absorbed into the Roman empire in 157 BC. However, it is the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked in this city that it is associated with. Located in the Veneto region of Northeast Italy it was basically known as mainland Venice being situated between Venice and Verona and 120 miles east of Milan. Situated at the base of Monte Berico it straddles the Bacchiglione River. It’s known for the elegant buildings designed by the 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio who lived and worked here.

Lovely old neighborhoods along the river bank

Many of Palladio’s buildings still survive today including the Palladian Basilica and the Palazzo Chiericati, a Renaissance palace dating back to 1550, now home to an art gallery. His Palladian window was a source of inspiration for architects an designers around the world.

Basillica Palladiana
Basilica Palladiana

Basilica Palladiana, the most symbolic building of Vicenza is a very impressive building and one of the architectural highlights of the city. Constructed in the 15th century it is renowned for its loggia consisting of a series of ornate arches that run along both sides creating perfect symmetry and is opened in the warmer months where you can sit and enjoy an aperitivo or just take in the Piazza. It is one of the first examples of a Renaissance building to feature the Palladian window design.

In the center of Vicenza, the Piazza dei Signori is a historic landmark city square surrounded by Palladio’s masterpieces along with the Palazzo del Monte di Pieta, Chiesa di San Vincenzo, Loggia del Capitanio, Torre Bissara and the Lion of St. Mark and Christ the Redeemer columns. The leaning clock tower the Torre Bissara is from an old building previously on that site.

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Piazza dei Signori with Loggia dei Capitanio (on left)
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Torre Bissara
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The Lion of St. Mark’s with the Christmas lights still strung
Chiesa di San Vincenzo

The Cathedral of Vicenza- Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata, a Gothic style facade Roman Catholic church by Palladio in the 15th century built on the foundation of three earlier churches.  The bell tower dates from the 12th century and has 5 bells. The beautiful dome is a signature of Palladio.

Cathedral of Vicenza

 

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The portico surrounding the city is 700 meters long and has 150 arches for the 150 Hail Mary’s it is said.
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Vicenza

Palladio built more than 20 buildings at the eastern end of Corso Andrea Palladio one of the main streets in the historic old town center.  Like many main streets it is lined with palaces and other structures he designed. There are many fine shops and restaurants in this retail area. Of course, we stopped to enjoy my favorite an Aperol Spritz!  Which is your favorite Aperol or Campari!  I even discovered a new option called a Hugo Spritz made with St. Germaine!  Love IT!!!

 

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  1. THE QUINTESSENTIAL APERITIF

    Start by adding ice into the glass then pour in the Prosecco, the Aperol and add a splash of soda, top with a slice of orange. This serving avoids the Aperol settling at the bottom.

    Preparation Time: 5 min

    • step 1FILL A WINE GLASS WITH ICE
    • step 2COMBINE PROSECCO DOC FOLLOWED BY APEROL IN EQUAL PARTS
    • step 3ADD A DASH OF SODA
    • step 4GARNISH WITH AN ORANGE SLICE

Recipe Courtesy: Aperol

The city was redeveloped after its devastation during WW2 with industry becoming the major economic drive of business.
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Always take a minute and look back you never know what you’ll see! Chiesa di San Lorenzo

Nearby, also by Palladio, the Teatro Olimpico replicates a classic outdoor theater, indoors. Considered one of his most magnificent buildings. The interior is constructed entirely of stone, stucco and wood. The stage has stone statues on its facade, archways and plaster work.

On the outskirts of town, one of the most influential of Palladio’s buildings on a hill overlooking the city is the Villa La Rotonda with its 4 identical facades. This was historic as architecture was now being adapted to residential living. It’s amazing design and symmetry make it unique. Each side has a portico resembling the Pantheon in Rome which Palladio was inspired by.  If you are a fan of architecture I highly suggest you check this out on the internet as I could not get there as it was not in walking distance to the walled central historic district.

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Ponte San Michele
Did you miss the last few blogs on Verona?  Here is a link: Romeo, Romeo, where fore art thou – in Verona?  Feel free to sign up so you don’t miss a story.
I try to educate my readers just a little on the history of the locales I visit so you are not just seeing pretty pictures but truly experiencing a city thru my eyes.  You can search for the city of your choice on the home page or by topic.  There are stories on gardening, landscaping theory and of course, my favorite Italy! Enjoy and feel free to share!

MATERA: a UNESCO World Heritage Site

SASSI di MATERA- Ancient cave dwellings

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This is a true walk back in time but amazingly people inhabited these caves until the 1950’s. Before the Sassi (historical center) were abandoned this was one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

These natural caves dot the steep ravine and were first occupied back in the Paleolithic Age.

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Sassi di Matera
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Notice the Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli standing tall in the background

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There were approximately 1,500 Sassi and they were expanded into living spaces as these peasant dwellings were occupied. Many of the caves had their ceilings extended to make a vaulted ceiling to expand the available living space so it was not so cramped.  This was a typical Sassi that we were able to tour and is open to the public. The rooms were dug into the soft limestone.  These were very poor people sadly.

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Casa Grotta di vico Solitario – kitchen area
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Even the animals lived in the Sassi notice the Bread on the table

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To tour this ancient city is a fascinating experience.  We walked down into an underground area where deep cisterns collected rain water for drinking.  There were 8 deep interconnected cisterns throughout this ancient city.  This 16th century cistern complex is right under the main town Piazza surrounded by historic buildings!

Check out the water lines on the walls!

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Piazza  Vittorio Veneto – Palazzo dell’Annuziata

This is a popular city for shooting movies like the remake of Ben Hur  starring Morgan Freeman which began shooting in early 2015 (below) and Passion of The Christ.  It is one of the oldest living cities.

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Right out of the movie Ben Hur

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Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo
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Love the ancient doors

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The Matera Cathedral.   Magnificent!

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Pane di Matera

Bread is this city’s symbol.  It’s form and unique taste are symbolic of a tradition that is still strong today. The bread’s shape is reminiscent of the hills or a mountaintop range. Each family had a brand on their bread using a wooden stamp so they could recognize it in the shared ovens. It has a slightly salty taste with a crunchy crust.  This traditional bread goes back to the Kingdom of Naples in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The wheat which is grown in this area has a unique and distinct flavor and the preparation of the yeast uses fresh fruit!

Again, we had a wonderful guide who regaled us with all sorts of history and stories. Thanks Giovanni! Next up Lecce! Follow along as our journey continues!matera-18

Alberobello – a UNESCO World Heritage site

alberobelloA small Town within the City of Bari, in Apulia’s region of southern Italy known for its Trulli buildings. The area is part of the coastal plain to the Mediterranean where olive groves are everywhere.  It does snow here in winter but only occasionally!

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The Masseria, the largest farm houses, have mostly been subdivided now but many are still working farms.  This region was once filled with oak trees that were only found here in Puglia until in 282 B.C. this valley was crossed with elephants and the oak trees were leveled. This was farmland, cows everywhere! Believe me the burrata and mozzarella here are amazing as is the white wine! Wine! Did someone say wine?

The Trulli have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.  There are more than 1500 Trulli in this non-farming environment.  Trulli are also found throughout the countryside but the largest collection is right within the Town of Alberobello.  A single house in known as a Trullo.  The popular central town area is Rione Monti leads up to the top of the hill to the main church – Chiesa di Sant’ Antonio.

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Trulli have conical roofs constructed of limestone from the region.  These are ancient stone houses some dating back as far as the Bronze Age c.1350.  They were constructed by peasants using a dry wall construction method made without mortar, a prehistoric building technique still in use featuring domed or conical roofs.

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Today some are used as stores, restaurants, lodging but most are homes. They developed as temporary structures that were easy to demolish and an efficient means to evade taxes at the times to the feudal lord. They are and were incredibly durable so this was not at all accurate.  They are warm in winter and cool in summer.  The roof is composed of horizontal limestone slabs in concentric circles and typically have a central room with additional living spaces in arched alcoves.

The keystone is often decorated and is a very important structural element individualizing each property and is something of a status symbol.

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Keystones on the rooftops
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Conical roofs
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Wandering the streets

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The roofs are often decorated with fanciful symbols supposedly having religious symbolism or superstitious significance.

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Fanciful roof symbols

This is an area of Italy I will return to someday.  Fascinating history and architecture and oh yeah the WINE!!!!

Again I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our fabulous guide Michele who gave us all sorts of history, stories and shared more than a few bottles of wine with us before jetting off to spend the weekend with his lady in Russia!

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Ready to continue our tour of the Puglia region. Next up is Matera!  Come join me.

 

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