Saturday, 20 September 2014

Idyllic Day by the Sea

What is there not to like about this view looking down at Monterosso?
We woke up very early to take our tour bus to La Spezia, a military base by the Mediterranean on the way to Cinque Terre, both in the next door region of Liguria. Not only is it Italy's second-largest naval base, but also produces munitions and is a port of call for small cruise ships.

You might also see Giorgio Armani's yacht moored here, but we were there over a week before Fashion Week so he was probably busy putting his latest collection together...

The hills are terraced by farmers, with the houses down below
This area of Italy on the northwestern coast (the top of the boot) was part of the French empire under Napoleon, and he already had plans to make La Spezia his biggest naval base. But two years later he was defeated by the English. Nevertheless, the Italians took his idea and made it a reality.

There's a panoramic drive from La Spezia to Cinque Terre, known as "The Five Lands" or villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has literary connections, as writers like Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, DH Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway spent time in this area.

Geographically, the hills are very steep, and for centuries farmers have terraced these slopes by hand, without the help of animals. As a result people in this area are not very well off. It was only about 15 years ago when the area became a tourist site and about 60 percent of visitors are hikers. These are also very small towns with a total of 5,000 inhabitants.

More beautiful blue skies and waters to the train station
The houses by the sea are perched on the slopes too and tend to be built right next to each other to act as a defense wall against pirates. Houses also had back doors to escape quickly through the maze of streets.

Originally the houses were the same colour to blend into the natural environment, but these days new owners can express themselves by choosing from their palette. Apparently the going price for a flat here these days is about 8,000 euros per square metre...

It's nice to walk along the small streets -- which involves going up and down inclines, or up several steps to be rewarded with stunning views of sparkling clear waters down below. It was amazing to see how blue the water was!

Seafood spaghetti with clams, mussels and shrimp
However it's also hard to believe that on October 25, 2011 there was a terrible landslide in Monterosso. It was a dry hot day, and then suddenly there was torrential rain for hours, and at the same time one-third of the mountain above collapsed and slid down to the town.

There was a river of water that was one floor deep and cars had to be fished out of the water. Some buildings by the water still show the damage from that day. Residents were evacuated to other towns and it took less than a year to clean up the village. One of the churches displayed pictures showing the damage to the place, and those photographs are the only reminder of the disaster.

By the time we arrived in Monterosso, we were starving and had to eat! Our guide suggested we had to eat seafood, so spaghetti with mussels, shrimp and clams, or pasta with pesto sauce, which originates from Cinque Terre. We were also encouraged to order anchovies, which are from here too.

A memorable salad -- those ripe tasty tomatoes!
And yes the food was delicious! The spaghetti soaked up the bisque flavour of the sauce, and even better with rice. The salad was also fantastic too -- the tomatoes were so ripe, and the lettuce crunchy and fresh... not something one can easily find in Hong Kong...

The anchovy salad turned out to be several anchovy fillets with toast, but they were still delicious despite being on the salty side.

Technically you can walk from one village to another, though the stretch to Corniglia is closed -- according to our guide there isn't much to see there -- but another way to get around is by ferry. It's fun being out on the water, and being someone who loves being by the water, Cinque Terre is a great place to wander and hang out by the sea and chill out.
Love the jewel tones of the water below...

That said I would probably go stir crazy here after staying a day or two. But I can't get enough of the beautiful shades of aquamarine by my feet.

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