Timeline: October 1st – 5th
We arrived the afternoon of the Wednesday the 1st at Camping La Sfinge (Sphinx in Italian), just outside of the small town of Deiva Marina at the northern end of the Cinque Terre. From this point on during the remainder of our stay in Italy we would be blessed with fine weather including warm days, blue skies and little, if any rain. It would be a great way to run out the balance of the trip.
We set up camp and then ventured down to Deiva Marina and tried to drive up the coast to discover that the roads don’t go that way; indeed you have to use a train or a boat to travel up and down the coast. Or go miles inland and then back to reach the next town. Our short drive involved going through a couple of one way traffic controlled tunnels designed to strike terror in the heart of a timid driver, but certainly not in the guy who tailgated me all the way through one of them.
We drove back to Deiva Marina, parked, walked the few scant blocks of the downtown area and settled on a small pizza/focaccia joint where we consumed two focaccia and a beer for 7 Euros. We returned to camp, had a good night’s sleep and arose the next day for our first excursion, a day trip to the two southernmost towns of Cinque Terre, Riomagiorre and Manarola.
Our original intent was to hike the coastal trail (Via dell’Amore) between the two; it is now closed due to a landslide though and so we made do with a walking tour of each town with a shuttle boat ride in between. These are picture postcard beautiful towns and although each is distinct, they are similar enough that to describe each in great detail would be self-defeating. For the balance of this retelling, I’ll just mention some highlights from each.
Riomaggiore’s (local dialect for “river” and “major”) river once ran through this valley. As in the other Cinque Terre towns, it is now paved over. One is impressed by the lack of aerial antennae on the rooftops; in the 1980s, every residence got cable eliminating these unsightly hindrances. We worked our way up one side of the town to a viewpoint, and then started back down towards the harbor.
Our first stop was for a quick bite to eat at the pizzeria/focacceria (located at #62) and then a bit further down the street stopped at the recommended Pescato Cucinato shop, where today’s fresh catch is fried up and served in a paper cone for just 5 Euros. A hot and crispy mix of seafood, fresh from the sea this morning; it doesn’t get any better.
We walked down to the Marina, a picturesque location with a tight cluster of buildings framing a small square and vest-pocket harbor. Because Riomaggiore lacks a naturally protected harbor, when bad weather is expected, local fishermen pull their boats up to the safety of the little square.
Given the infrequent and inconsistent nature of the trains required to traverse the coastline, we hopped on a shuttle boat to the Manarola, the next town up the shore. Bookended by its little harbor and a diminutive hilltop church square near the top of town, Manarola is popular among Europeans for its low-key atmosphere.
Its harbor is probably the town’s best feature, with a breakwater built a little over ten years ago. The town’s swimming hole is here; though it has no sand it offers the best deep-water swimming in the area. We promised ourselves we’d come back later in the visit to take a swim, a desire we did not get a chance to act upon.
We rode the train back up to Deiva Marina. Riding them is fun, but adds a whole level of time commitment and uncertainty to your planning. Running an hour to ninety minutes apart, if you miss one you are stuck for a couple of hours. Timing was also tricky as our campground offered a free shuttle once an hour to and from the train station, miss it and it is a long walk back to camp.
We connected this time around (this would not always be the case) and stopped in at the camp market to pick up a package of frozen creamy mushroom pasta and a bottle of wine for dinner. Yet another simple but satisfying camp meal to end our day.
Our plan for the next few days would be to hike as many of the trails between towns that we could, visiting the remaining three as we went along. A pleasant night’s sleep prepared us for a good walk the next day. We’d see what type of adventure that would bring.
Camping La Sfinge: http://www.campinglasfinge.com/en/
Deiva Marina: http://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/deiva-marina
Cinque Terre: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinque_Terre
Pescato Cucinato: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187821-d3534176-Reviews-IL_Pescato_Cucinato-Riomaggiore_Cinque_Terre_Italian_Riviera_Liguria.html