Yesterday we visited Cinque Terre (five lands) and the Gulf of Poets. If you’re visiting this region, these areas come under the category of “must do” attractions, so we did them. Both places get a mention as number 826 in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. In the case of the Gulf of Poets this only applies to the town of Portovenere. You can read the intellectual stuff about why they listed this area on the UNESCO website. You’ll notice that all their pictures are taken between 02:00 and 05:00 apart from one and that’s a shot taken of some buildings where only the top floors are visible to elminate the crowds below!
I’ve noticed there is a pattern to this kind of tourist attraction. In the beginning something really is quite special but hardly anybody knows about it. This is the best time to visit, but it was probably hundreds of years ago. Then more people get to know about it and it becomes an ‘attraction’, more people visit and probably have a decent enough time. They tell their friends who tell their friends and eventually UNESCO get involved and it becomes a World Heritage Site at which point the tourist industry steps into top gear and millions of people visit. None of these visitors see the attraction for what it used to be, not many of them enjoy the visit one little bit, whoever used to live there has been replaced by people running cafes or souvenir shops, the place is slowly ruined. Give it another 100 years or so and it will be back where it started.
The Cinque Terre (pronounced something like “Chinkwe Terry” in Italian) is a collection of what, in the year 1750, must have been a delightful collection of fishing villages where real people lived and fished and complained about walking up and down hills all the time and wondered why their ancestors even bothered building a house halfway down the side of cliff. On Sundays, for a family treat, they’d pop off in the Sardine boat to a proper flat town where people would laugh at them for leaning over all the time so they’d go back home and gut more fish.
Nowadays, in the summer at least, they are a collection of five perfect tourist traps. Hard to get to, hard to get away from and nothing to do while you’re there except spend money. Unless you like walking up and down large hills in blazing sunshine and 33C that is. You do all this cheek by jowl with about 65,000 fellow travellers about 20% of whom are Chinese and carrying large umbrellas. You’ll have already met them when the entire coach load pushed en-masse into the already overcrowded 10:15 train from La Spezia. Oh, musn’t forget the 30,000 Italians as well, whose job is to either do walrus impressions while basking on the rocks or engage in “how big is my penis” competitions by diving off higher rocks.
DO NOT DRIVE to Cinque Terre – they all said and they were right. The few roads there are are 5cm wide and you’d end up parking further away than when you started out. Might as well walk. The trouble is that everyone else has the same advice and there aren’t enough trains to cope. My tip if you really must go there is to drive to La Spezia and take a boat from there. Not crazy expensive far less crowded and much better views. La Spezia is a nice flat place with plenty of parking and good for a wander either before or after your boat trip.
What else can I say? Highlight of the trip was my brave and God-fearing wife confronting the woman stealing all the donation money from the church in Vernazza. This woman had what can only be described as balls! There were I think three places in the church where people left donations. God knows why, the parish is rich enough, but anyway they did. The thief entered and went from one to the other pretending to pray and be generally very religious at each cash point, lots of bowing and kissing and stuff but whilst the rest of her body was praising the lord her hands were scooping up the loot and stashing it in the large bad she was using for cover. My wife, detective that she is, immediately noticed what was going on and as we were leaving confronted the women using some quite stern words. Sadly it had no effect and the money was not returned. She’ll be judged later. Either she’s a theiving cow or her kids needed food more than the church needed donations.
On the way back we skipped as much as we could of the delightful train journey and took a boat all the way to La Spezia stopping for an hour or more in Portovenere. This was a very nice place with almost all the same ingredients of the Cinque Terre apart from the verticality so here’s my #1 tip – get a boat from La Spezia all the way up the Cinque Terre and back down again without getting off. Disembark at Portovenere and have a good wander and a fish supper, then catch the boat back to La Spezia. Sorted!
As for Byron, Shelley and all their mates they can go screw themselves. They were there nearly 200 years ago when I’m certain there were fewer tourists about. Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Poets in 1822, aged 29. They say it was an accident but I’ll bet he was just depressed after losing a rock-diving penis competition with a local.