We catch the tube (subway) to Heathrow and find out that our flight to Genoa has been canceled. We rearrange everything and head to Paris to catch connecting flight to our destination, Genoa and then on to the Cinque Terra of Italy.
As we arrive via train from Genoa the rest of the tourist world is quickly checking off their lists the places to see and things to do….throughout Italy, Rome, Napoli, Venice, etc. We’ve chosen to spend a few solitary days in the Cinque Terra’ and try to get to know this special spot that is nestled along the Medditerian in Northern Italy. It is a curious region in Italy because it has few cars or motorcycles, the streets are to narrow and steep. The 5 cities were in existence long before the advent of cars and motor scooters. Residents simply take the train or walk from to town, they are nestled in the creases of this mountainous coastline. We disembark and wend our way up the steep city streets of Manarola looking for our lodging for the coming days. At the very top of the street we find our lodging,Casa Capellini it has a high and grand view looking directly through the center of town and then back dropped by the Mediterranean.
Its late in the day, the seagulls catch the final updraft off the Mediterrean sea coastline…as the sun sets on the horizon. The gulls use it to their advantage and glide another kilometer or two with very limited wing movement to their evening perches. The voices of people coming home from work can be heard on the streets below. The next morning we go to get our National Trail-Hiking Pass and are wide eyed and shocked when we are informed that they have just shut down all the coastal hiking pathways because of flooding and landslides. I get a bit bleary as I think of two years worth of planning, only to find out that this recent flooding has made the lower trails unsafe and the country has elected to close them for public safety. I feel thwarted and realize that I need to muster some positive perspective, its a sunny day on the coast of the Medditerian Sea and I’m fit and able. There are numerous high mountain pathways that lead to the five other communities and perhaps we’ll access them…..over the top, through the mountain vineyards. I’m not completely sold on this idea….the mountains are very, very , steep and I don’t have an alternative plan.
As we dither our circumstances, we stroll into a street side business and visit with a gal that long ago came from Minnesota! Christina (Godfrey) Bordone’ and her husband operate a beautiful little business called Cinque Terra Trekking. Her smile and confidence tell me all I need to know about my circumstances…she confidently states “Take the high pathways! They are more scenic and require more effort…but you will be rewarded!” I forget that five minutes ago I was crest fallen and this Cinque-Terrian arc-angel has just caused me to NOT despair! The heaviest of our back packs are left at our bed and breakfast and we elect to hike with simple day packs.
Christina is from Proctor Minnesota and 15 years ago she arrived in Manarola and fell in love with her husband Nicolo Bordone’. Christina’s generosity of spirit made me realize that nothing is lost by this landslide that has shut down the coastal walkways of the communities along the coast. These are the people I want to visit with and understand their community. I ask Nicolo how long his family has lived in Manarola and he makes a puzzled face…”We have always lived in Manarola” and indeed they have…for the past 1300 years everybody in this town of 400 have been right here! They know no other place, they have no other roots. They fish, they have vineyards and now they accommodate tourists.
1300 years ago the people that lived here realized that if they raise grapes on these incredibly steep hillsides and then ferment them, they will be rewarded. Today we have all but forgotten the reason for the fermentation process. The fermenting process creates a liquid that is void of water borne germs and parasites. Today much of our society thinks of alcoholic beverages as a means of losing touch with reality, when in fact it was a perfect way to avoid the deadly germs and water borne illnesses that came from the village upstream.
Today the terraces are 75 to 80 % vineyards and the other 20% has gone fallow. The romance of a vineyard wears thin when you come to understand how much work is put into these narrow terraces. We watch as workers scoop small shovels full of rocky soil upon to the next terrace and then start to rebuild the dry stone masonry walls. All of this is done to keep the limited amount of soil from continuing is downward migration toward the sea. This is simply to hard of work for many people and though most of the land still stays within local family structures, the land that is not currently in vineyards quickly accommodates various species of juniper trees.
Christina met Nicolo when he managed the local youth hostel , a place into which he had put his heart and soul. Over the past 15 years tourism has become serious business and politics then entered the picture. They lost their lease on the hostel and found themselves without. Their entrepreneurial spirit arose and they recently started a business called CINQUE TERRA TREKKING. Christina and Nicolo unofficially remain the good will ambassadors to this beautiful community. Christina takes some of her precious time to tell me about their store. It is small by American standards, but it is well stocked and they have a brilliant marketing plan. They are selling high quality hiking shoes and gear. Everybody else in town is selling post cards and tee shirts. I look down at my fairly new hiking boots and realize I can’t oblige them, but realize that they carry some of the highest quality Italian designed hiking boots and products in the region. What a great functional souvenir. I regret not buying a 2nd pair of hiking boots!
It is mid morning and tourists are jumping off the local train to sprint around town and check Manarola off their list and then on to another. They haven’t taken the time to do the things that Christina suggests to us. We climb up the steep pathways into the terraced vineyards and hike the upper pathways. Vintners are still pruning a few of the vines, even though the grapes have been harvested. The morning haze lifts and leaves a small amount of dew of the ground. I suspect it is the dew that makes the Italian grapes legendary. Each step we take is an effort on these steep terraces, yet each step allows the traveler to see more of the Cinque Terra’. The stone steps were placed in these precarious spots, creating footholds for hardy vintners and tourists alike.
Christina and Nicolo embue the rebirth and entrepreneurial spirit of this beautiful place. Christina forsook the mighty shores of Lake Superior to embrace the warmth of the Medditerian. The community of Manarola is all the better for it. Christina once again tells us “take the high pathways, you won’t be disappointed.” We believe her, this expatriate has made us believers in the welcoming spirit of the Cinque Terre’.
From Minnesota to Manarola – Cinque Terra Trekking!