I find it hard to express words about this place that describe it aptly.
We arrived at La Spezia train station after a long and hot bus ride from Florence. The sun seemed to beam brighter here and the clouds parted to let the bluest of blue skies reign supreme. We had no idea what to expect of the town we were going to, we had heard many reviews from fellow travelers as one does and we took each review with a grain of salt after experiencing the many ups and downs of a long-term trip.
The train chugged off and we stood crowded near the doors with our backpacks on watching out the glass windows. It had been almost 4 months since we had seen the ocean and coming from our home towns on the east coast of Australia where people basically live in the ocean we were missing it dearly. I will never forget when the train rounded a bend and there were some gaps in the underground bridge through which we could see the ocean. Our excitement bubbled over and we were a giggling, jumping mess. When the train stopped at our stop, Riomaggiore, we bolted from the carriage just to stare once more at the blue Mediterranean Sea.
When we woke from our oceanic-trance we set off to find out little pension. We finally located our apartment, propped two (small) storeys above the watery edge of the rocks. The stairs from our apartment door led straight down and onto the water. The inside of the apartment was designed like a share house, we all had bunks, there was a small bathroom and a beautiful big share kitchen with a dining table.
After we put our bags down and scoped out our digs we quickly made ourselves beach-ready, ran down the rocks and plunged into the deep aqua water. I will never forget the sensation of being fully immersed in salt water again after 4 months of land-locked travel. It felt like all my weariness and home-sickness melted away, and a feeling of complete contentment set in. There were three of us at this time, and we swam around like penguins; darting under the local fishing boats, back-stroking out into the deep, bobbing slowly back to the shallows only to climb up a rock and jump off it once again, into that watery heaven we had missed so much.
The nights and days that followed were bliss. We bought home-made pesto from the old man at his tiny grocery shop under our apartment, we sourced local seafood from the fisherman that brought it in each day, we emptied quite a few bottles of delicious local wine as we sunned our pale skin, and felt the burn of it on our cheeks against our crisp white pillows as we drifted to sleep each night.
However, it was not all just lazing around, one day my friend and I harvested enough courage to tackle the testing (6 hour) hike through the 5 (cinque) villages that gave the place its name. We started at our own town (Riomaggiore) and made our way (eventually) through all 5: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia and Manarola. Along the way is the Via del Amore (the walk of love). People put padlocks, jewelry and all sorts of things along the fences of this walk to signify their love. My best friend and I chose to add my watch to the collection as a symbol of our years of friendship, I’m not sure if it is still there…but I’d like to go and check one day,
So…apart from the fresh local food, the waterfront restaurants, the brilliant sunshine, the lovely people, the gelato, the crystal clear water and stunning natural surrounds – this place is also UNESCO World Heritage listed.
Does it get better than that? I’m not sure that it can!