Opening my eyes on that second day is easier than the previous morning. Upon opening the blinds, the views we hadn’t been able to admire the previous night spring up. Our room is perched high on the mountainside, the clouds are tainted orange and layers of hills are undulating like waves on the horizon. I go out with Jazz, walking up the very steep country road. Paveto, where we had dined last night, was a stone throw away, and the mountains with their dense forest looks like an invitation for long walks. Jazz is enjoying some off-lead time, chasing his ball and posing for a few photos. Before the biting cold gets hold of us, we are back for breakfast.The plan for the day is to visit Cinque Terre, we have seen gorgeous pictures of this bunch of villages for years, so it is exciting to know we are almost there, and the weather seems ok too. We swiftly finish breakfast, pay the bill, load the car and start rolling down the hill again. We fill up with petrol somewhere on the way to Genoa before taking the E80. The tunnels the previous day were impressive, but the E80 is on a level of its own, almost all the road is made of tunnels and bridges! I mean literally you drive through a tunnel, exit on the other side of a hill on a short bridge, from which you might see the sea, just to enter another hill through a tunnel and so on for miles. In about 1 hour we are near our destination.
Obviously, given the fairly tight deadline, we haven’t prepared very well for that trip, and our original plan was to drive through Cinque Terre. Once we are close enough though, we realise that this is far from a good idea. First of all, the roads are as twisted as the ones at the place we spent the night, so a distance that looks like a few miles on the map, is often 10 times longer in reality, going up and down steep hills, hairpin after hairpin. They are also narrow, making it virtually impossible to overtake the slow moving local trucks, and often require tricky manoeuvres if there is oncoming traffic. To top all this off, Cinque Terre is a National Park, and driving through it is restricted to locals in most areas! Ok, the weather is weird, with heavy clouds above our head suddenly, so we head straight to Monterosso al Mare.Monterosso al Mare is the westernmost and biggest settlement of Cinque Terre and probably the only one by the coast you can drive to fairly easily. It is less cute than the others, with the biggest beaches in the area and an ugly parking, bang in the middle of the waterfront, where we can drop the car next to all the other tourists that chose this way of transport. We step out of the parking with Jazz on a leash and heavy clouds above our head.
The sea is ever-present during our stroll, gusts of wind bring the smell of the Mediterranean towards us, sometimes with hints of spray, accompanied by the constant sound of the waves crushing against the coastline. We walk to the end of the beach just to find out that the Il Gigante, a supposedly impressive statue of Neptune adorning the side of an imposing villa, is nothing more than scaffoldings nowadays. Luckily the sailing club is a scenic little harbour tucked under the cliffs while the narrow alleys above it are as cute as they are steep.The skies seem to be sunnier further down the horizon as we head to the train station to plan our next steps. After a quick search we find out that this is the best way to visit the area, the small trains follow the coastline between Genoa and La Spezia, stopping at all the Cinq Terre villages along the way. The stops are all just a few minutes apart from each other, the tickets are pretty cheap and well-behaved dogs are welcome too! After a very quick brainstorming, we decide to get a ticket to Riomaggiore and then start walking back along the coastal path; so we can make our way back by foot to Monterosso al Mare if we have the courage or get the train back at any village along the way if we feel like it. The sun makes its appearance as we finish our sandwiches on the terrace of the station café, and we hop on the train.
The actual train journey is beautiful. The tracks follow the coast, alternating views of the sea a few metres away with passages through tunnels when the cliffs are too abrupt. Roughly 20 minutes later we come out at Riomaggiore under a glorious sun.And then new deception: the Via dell’Amore, that scenic path along the cliffs linking the coastal villages is closed for security reasons. It’s frustrating as the weather is just brilliant, with a nice sun dispelling the winter cold while the agitated sea gifts an impression of wilderness to the setting. Not ones to give up easily, we use the opportunity to visit the colourful village, where there are clearly more tourists than this morning. The steep alleyways wind up the hill, and then across it to the biggest part of the village which was invisible from the station. The multicoloured houses literally flank the combe, either way of the small watercourse in the middle, bringing out that distinctive aesthetic Cinque Terre is renowned for.
As the time goes by, we head back to the train, destination Manarola. The train station seems to be in the middle of nowhere under the cliff, but pass the pedestrian tunnel through the hill, and we find ourselves in what is arguably the cutest of the Cinq Terre villages. The main road, above the watercourse, winds down the narrow valley towards the small harbour. The house colours are the most vivid so far and look even more magical as the sunset approaches. There is a fair number of tourists as well, making us wonder how busy this little jewel might be come high season, but at the same time making it a lively place.At this time of the year at least, the place feels very welcoming, there are shops aplenty for food or drink, a small fountain just for dogs to drink and a complete lack of motorised vehicles. The fishing roots of the village are obvious with small boats on trailers parked on either side of the main road as we go down towards the sea. A great feature of this particular village is the park on the little peninsula on the north side of the port, giving a fantastic viewpoint from which to admire the scenery. It provides a great view of the village tucked into the small valley and onto the cliff overlooking the small bay that shelters the fishing boats. If you are only visiting a single village in Cinque Terre, this is the one to aim for. As the sun drops, so does the temperature, so we sit for a quick warm drink at Aristide while waiting for the next train to head back.
From Monterosso al Mare it takes about an hour and a half to get to Pisa where we had booked accommodation for the night. There is a small misunderstanding with the booking so we spend a good half hour waiting for our host before we can get to our room, but the place is all warm and clean, and with no other guest present, the shared bathroom is all to ourselves. The location is spot on as the main attractions we were planning to visit are just a few minutes away by foot. We feed Jazz and leave for a quick night visit around the Pisa tower and dinner before it gets too late.The Dome, Cathedral and Tower look gorgeous under the bright moon, and given the late time we are virtually alone in the Piazza, enjoying the intimate feel of the occasion. We quickly explore a couple of small alleyways in the old quarters south of the Tower before sitting down for a pizza in one of the touristic restaurants on via Santa Maria. We managed to visit some locations we had dreamt of for ages today, and despite the wintertime, holidays in Italy always convey hints of dolce vita.