After a month in Rome, we picked up a little Fiat (though not as little as most Fiats on the road here) and headed north. Five years ago a friend and I had explored the Italian Riviera (Liguria) for a few days, walking the Cinque Terre trails, sipping vermentino in a wine bar, exploring rainy Genova, and dodging wild boar in the hills behind Portofino (and wild bores elsewhere). I had fallen in love with the immaculate Santa Margherita Ligure, the coves and cliff-hugging villages of the Cinque Terre, blue sea and sky, and had always wanted to bring the husband back. So we planned a stop for a few days on our way north, between rental accommodations.
Last time I was here, it was late October/early November, cool, and out of season. August in Santa Margherita Ligure is very different. The heat is obvious, the streets are packed with tourists from Italy, France, northern Europe, Russia and beyond, and every single restaurant and wine bar is open and touting for business. I managed to find my favourite wine bar from my trip with W, which had good, reasonably priced wine, and a complimentary antipasto platter. Unlike my previous visit, we sat outside as the sun fell, and enjoyed the summer buzz. Just up the street every night was a public jazz concert. Sitting there, sipping our vermentino and nibbling on prosciutto, listening to the jazz, I could see the appeal of a Mediterranean beach resort.
Having walked some of the Cinque Terre with W, I was keen to try some of the trails I hadn’t already done, and to see the other two beautiful villages that make up the 5 Terre. So we set off early, taking the 8 am train from Santa Margherita, arriving early to Riomaggiore, the furthest of the towns. It was a beautiful village crammed into a little cove and the steep hills around it, with fishing boats in the cove, and laundry hanging from the windows.
We planned on starting before the heat rose with an easy walk to Manarola, then deciding afterwards if we (and my feet) were up to the heat and the more difficult terrain between the other villages). I had read that the trails had been closed last year over winter after rains and landslides. I had then researched and saw that the trails were all open again for the summer. Perfect! Except they weren’t.
Both trails I was keen on doing were closed, it turned out, so we lost valuable walking time sorting out what we would do, and waiting for the next train to get to the other villages where the trails were open. Still, we were determined to do the climbs, to capture the views in and out of the gorgeous Vernazza in particular. And the husband was suitably impressed. How could you fail to be?
But Liguria is all about the sea. And we were surprised to see the constant stream of visitors arriving and departing form the Cinque Terre villages by sea. Surprised, and in the end rather envious. So the next day we took the ferry to Portofino for a little taste of summer on the Mediterranean. We passed some magnificent private yachts, and we imagined how it would be to pull into a beautiful cove, or anchor out in the bay enjoying the view back to the hills, pour a glass of something cold and tall, and dive into the Med whenever you needed to cool off. We aren’t, and never will be, on that kind of budget unfortunately, so joined the swimmers of all ages, shapes and sizes down at one of the public beaches, teetered across the hot stony beach to the sea, and plunged in. And I’m sure it felt just as good to us, after a hot day sightseeing and walking, as it did to those on their superyachts. (Well, maybe …)