Date:  September 2004     Reaching the Cinque Terre was not difficult - we based ourselves in La Spezia, so took the airport shuttle from the airport at Genoa into the city, to the train station.  I didn't find the Genoese very smiley; an old woman took violent exception to our suitcases on the airport bus and I never found out why.  I couldn't get a word in edgewise in the torrent of abuse in Italian, and obviously never got my point across that you would expect suitcases on an airport shuttle as that would appear to be its function.  So I retreated behind my sunglasses and aloof Britishness whilst she muttered aggressively at my profile the entire journey.  The train station was a lofty busy place, and we found our train for La Spezia - one which had a double decker observation carriage and did not object to suitcases.  There are glimpses of the coastline along the way, although the journey seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, stopping at every available halt along the line.  

Our hotel was the other end of the town from the train station at La Spezia, near the waterfront and we took a taxi.  The following day we took a boat to Porto Venere to check the times of the boats to the first of the villages, Rio Maggiore and have a look round.  It's a lovely town, and with brilliant blue sky, sunshine and crystal clear sea, it isn't hard to do research.  The tall narrow houses were all painted with different faded colour washes and huddled together along the waterfront.  It was very busy, boats coming and going the whole time, even in late September, but there was room for everyone.  We explored La Spezia in the evening; although not a tourist resort per se, it had a lively pedestrianised street that led up towards the train station from the waterfront with street cafes and restaurants, but they did close early - end of the season perhaps?

We started filming the next day, under glorious skies.  As the boat approaches Rio Maggiore, you get a wonderful overview of the village, clinging precariously to the land, built around an inventively covered ravine.  It was busy and colourful and lots of different accents on street level; up above you heard the native Italian amidst the washing lines and open casement windows.  The first part of the walk is the Via del Amore, which is easy and paved and takes about 40 minutes to walk around the edge of the land to the next village.  It was busy, but there was plenty of room and wheelchairs and baby buggies shared the path with the walking boots and flip-flops.  I wasn't fooled though; I knew this was the easy bit and that it would get progessively harder as we walked through the vineyards and along dry stone walls.  We chose the lower coastal route because it offered (we thought) the better views and more linear route - but there are plenty of other walking paths of varying degrees of difficulty higher up the cliffs, and through the higher terraces.  All along the top of the cliffs there are sanctuaries and villages that you can visit, and the National Park green buses also run between them.

All of the five villages are picturesque and lovely and walking between them was a treat.  The sun was hot but the breeze from the sea kept me comfortable, and on this trip I had opted for sandals rather than boots to keep my feet cool.  It was busy everywhere, and the coastal trains were frequent, passing for the most part within the mountains as they plied between the villages and La Spezia and other large towns.  I can't imagine what it must be like in high season - that's when the locals apparently leave for their holidays, many renting out their properties for tourists.  The history of the Cinque Terre is interesting and unique, and the National Park is doing a terrific job of maintaining it's heritage and promoting it at the same time. I think I liked Vernazza the most because it was the only village with a piazza, which was wonderful at sunset; but Monterosso had the beaches, and is bigger altogether with a virtual aquarium and shops.  We interviewed a local family that owned a waterfront restaurant, and I was particularly charmed by Santina, the tiny matriarch.  The food was truly excellent and the wine very drinkable, which is why we caught the train back to La Spezia.  

We took longer to walk the paths because we film at snail's pace, but it is possible to do all of the villages in one day, but why would you want to?  One young lady passed us running - think of what she missed in her quest to spend the least amount of time on those paths overlooking the unbelievably blue sea?  True hikers from any country uphold the international etiquette of walking, but there were coachloads of in this case American college kids, who had the impatience of youth and barged along single tracks over dry stone walls with a substantial drop without a by-your-leave or an excuse me, or waiting for the walker actually on the path to reach them before starting out.  The beauty of our pace is that everyone just passes us by and leaves us behind so there were times on such a highly popular route that we were on our own.  We spent a week in the region, which is probably enough for a normal tourist who actually gets to shop and go into museums!

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