Italy’s Cinque Terre region contains a string of jewel-like cities, renowned for their unspoiled, rustic charm. Some of that charm was spoiled, however, last October by a horrific rain storm that caused mudslides and major damage in one its crown jewels, Vernazza.
A lot of information and mis-information was put out there after the storm, so I thought it might be useful to go and see the region myself in early February.
The region had just been blanketed by a major snowstorm, which made Vernazza’s ongoing clean up more unpleasant than ever. But, in the exquisite Cinque Terre, the bad is usually soon out-weighed by the good.
A long stretch of good weather that followed the snow cheered everyone.
But what was to be expected in Cinque Terre, as its 2012 “high season” approached? What could visitors expect? What’s left?
First of all, Vernazza is a mess – and it will be for a long time. But the rest of Cinque Terre was largely undamaged by the storm, or in the case of moderately damaged Monterosso al Mare, more quickly and easily fixed. But trip planners: Make sure you have accurate, up-to-date information before you book anything, or decide to just show up. Ninety percent of the info on the internet is outdated, or written by people who haven’t even been there lately. Beware!
A state of emergency was in effect through Easter, 2012! (Read about progress here.)
The smattering of Vernazza’s businesses in the downtown area that were open during my visit were ones supporting the clean-up crews, such as a couple of small cafes.
I suppose a visitor could find accommodations, but the establishments that visitors might have frequented on previous trips are probably not going to be operating during the 2012 season.
Most every ground floor business, apartment, home or restaurant was buried in eight feet of mud; the mud was cleaned out – along with all the furniture, belongings, windows and doors. New temporary doors have hopeful, artful messages of hope for the city’s rebirth.
Generous volunteers have been contributing funds to assist the city in its recovery, but as of my visit, there was still a debate among the area’s leaders about how best to spend this money. (The helpful Rick Steves has some suggestions.)
Meanwhile, most of the river of mud that swept through the town during the rainstorm has been cleared away, although the beautiful little boat harbor is gone – obliterated and filled by leftover mud and debris. But Vernazza’s famed pastiche of pastel-painted buildings looks as if they were all mud-blasted to depressing shades of grey.
The paths along the ocean that connect the main Cinque Terre towns have been intermittently damaged or destroyed either side of Vernazza. So there is no hiking to Monterosso al Mare on the north, or Corniglia to the south. (Mr. Steves’ reports the trail from Monterosso to Levanto was repaired and reopened.) Although local residents say there is still one high trail open between Corniglia and Manarola, all we found were locked gates at some point on every trail. So we had to take the train to Corniglia and climb the infamous 382 steps to the town.
The railroad still connects the five main towns, and so does the winding automobile road high above the 5 Terre.
The famous Via Dell’Amore (the “Love Walk”) remains open between Manarola and Riomaggiore. (Be sure to bring a padlock, if you are visiting with your lover or significant other!) An entry fee of a few euro is often charged, if you enter from the Riomaggiore end, but the booth near the Manarola train station is often unmanned. If there’s no one collecting the fee, consider it a freebie.
South of Riomaggiore, there are some breathtaking trails that eventually wind up in La Spezia or Portovenere. But locked gates sealed those off at Riomaggiore. Those who are tempted to climb over the gates should be advised not to; the trails are in frightful shape, and the danger of falling down the steep mountainsides is high.
As for facilities in Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Monterosso, most everything that travelers are familiar with in these cities should still be operating normally this season.
(Update: The small passenger ferries that ply the Cinque Terre coast are only going to be operating during “high season”, which is April to September. Don’t expect a stop in Vernazza, as its harbor really is gone.)
My stay at Affitacamera alla Marina, in a 13th Century “high-rise”, in Riomaggiore (read Melinda’s cityscape blog) was particularly delightful, and I would recommend it highly to anyone visiting the area. The proprietor, Sandro Pasini, was a wonderful host, eager to please and a real asset to the visit – as is true of just about everyone you are likely to meet in Cinque Terre.
Here’s hoping things get back to “normal” in this wonderful little refuge of peace, beauty and basic values along the Ligurian Coast.
March 12, 2012