Now this is Italy. At least the Italy that’s romanticised in best-selling novels and movies starring Diane Lane.
Welcome to Manarola, a tiny town clinging from the cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the five villages that make up the region known as the Cinque Terre, famous for its spectacular shoreline and the trail that hugs it. Unfortunately for us, only one section of the 7-mile trail that links the five towns was open for hiking, so we made the most of what Manarola had to offer.
Yes, there are crowds, but these crowds come in waves. Generally within five minutes of a train. Here, two cars (primarily delivery or garbage trucks) create a traffic jam on the one hilly, winding road that’s not open to the public. Below our apartment, the same group of four or five people recalled the day at the same two benches every afternoon, shielded from the sun by umbrellas.
Outside of working in a restaurant, a store or a garden, I’m not sure how people here make a living. Maybe they don’t. Most of the people strolling the street looked like us. Like newcomers looking for a sunny escape. And we all apparently looked like we wanted to hear Pharrell on repeat, either from a party boat or one of the local bars. Yes, we were all “Happy” to be there.
Although most of the coastal trails were closed, the same wasn’t true for that led up. A number of paths crisscross the hills and meander their way through the vineyards to other villages, both along the coast and above.
“Above” is the key word. There was nowhere to go but up. Up past the cemetery. And beyond the Jesus statue. Hundreds of steps later, you pop out at Volastra, another tiny spot out of a story book. Stroll west to find a handful of family homes perched with a garden and ocean views. And then, maybe two minutes later, you’re through what appeared to be someone’s backyard and at the top of a hill with tiers of vineyards plunging down to the Mediterranean. Manarola to the left, Corniglia to the right.
It might just be the best view that Italy has to offer.