2-3 May 2022
One can ride a bus, train or ferry; I chose to ride the ferry from La Spezia to Riomaggiore. To say arriving at the Cinque Terre by ferry is spectacular is a vast understatement.
The sea was calm, winds mild, and coastal views some of the best in the world! The ferry established a leisurely pace – I had all the time I wanted to just get there. Sailing into the Gulf of La Spezia, the boat rounded the southern promontory past its fingers of beaches and capes, then turned west between the mainland and the Porto Venere Natural Park.
First port of call was Portovenere and there can be no better approach than from the sea. Its long row of tall, skinny houses, all in calming shades of pastels, appearing to lean against each other for support like tipsy friends. Above town is the Impressive ramparts and towers of Castello Doria, several flags of the city flying from its masts. Just below is the striking bell tower of San Lorenzo church. I feel a pang of regret that I am not spending a day in Portovenere.
Continuing our journey, the ferry rounds a rocky point and above is the historic Chiesa di San Pietro. The boat pauses for a moment near the beach where the poet Lord Byron used to swim, but then Lord Byron tended to get around a lot.
It is but a few more minutes, past rocky shores, fishermen, and steep cliffs before my destination comes within sight. The views from the sea are unforgettable.
I arrived into Riomaggiore’s tiny harbor and immediately fell in love. Well, except for the step climb up to the town but then this is probably a fair introduction to what I should expect from this time forward. Four of the five villages of the Cinque Terre are clinging to the cliffs above the sea. There is no other way to reach or see them but climb. When my pedometer speaks of steps, it is unfamiliar with the steps of Cinque Terre.
Riomaggiore is known for its pastel-colored homes climbing the hillsides. The small village, population about 1,500 lucky souls, is a huge attraction for tourists who want to do a bit of hiking along trails spanning the five villages of the Cinque Terre. I look forward to that. (I will soon loose my naivety about the steps of Cinque Terre!)
But for now, once my backpack is left at my hotel, located up two steep flights of narrow stairs, I am ready to explore.
Leonardo was a solo traveler.
What to do in Riomaggiore, one might ask? I fill my day wandering the streets of its historic old town which really is about the entire town, visiting the beautiful church of San Giovanni Battista, and climbing to the Oratorio di San Rocco, and, of course, the medieval fortress of Castello di Riomaggiore. Again, that “climbing” terminology: absolutely everything involves steps and climbing.
The stone quadrangle Castello was built in 1260 and is well preserved. There are two circular towers, one with a huge clock and bell. During Napoleon’s time, portions of the fort was used as a cemetery for the locals. Expanded in the 16th century, it since has been completely restored. The spectacular views are more than worth the climb up from the village. On good days along the Cinque Terre, one adjusts to the sparkling colors of blue from sea to sky. And today is a good day.
Everywhere there are steps weaving in, out, around, up, down, up and up. And the constant pungent smell of citrus blossoms fills the air.
Riomaggiore is a place to just stroll, stop at any interesting site, weave one’s way into the hills for views or along the rocky beach, and pause when the urge comes to sit in a café and enjoy a refreshing aperitivo. I am enjoying the afternoon ritual of Prosecco; it also is a great excuse to avoid steps for a time.
The village pretty much empties in late afternoon as the day trippers depart. The goal is to find a pleasant café to enjoy the sunset, of which every village along the Cinque Terre claims to have the best. I find a quiet cliffside restaurant, the biggest decision of the day being do I enjoy a glass of local white wine or a Prosecco. Both are exceptionally good in this region.
Tomorrow, I challenge my first hiking path. After viewing the trail which will lead to the next village of Manarola, I have determined not to let the vertical terrain intimidate me. However, I have a new respect for what looks to be a challenging climb!