Travel Journal

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy, 10/5-10/10

(Friday 8 October 2010) by Joanne Chang
I arrived to Cinque Terre on Tuesday, by train from Nice. Cinque Terre is on the Ligurian Sea just east of Genoa, a string of 5 tiny winemaking villages connected by a national park trail that hugs the coast and takes you through gorgeous lanscapes of rugged cliffs, vineyards, olive trees, and covered streams. I found a last minute apartment in Corniglia, the smallest and highest of the villages, on the top floor of a newly restored building with a terrace overlooking hillside vineyards and the sea. My first reaction was WOW. AWESOME. YAY.
View from Jo's place, Corniglia
View from Jo's place, Corniglia

I absolutely adore Cinque Terre. I've spent the last few days exploring the trail, walking from one town to the next and experiencing the differences between them. Today I hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso, which was quite steep and narrow but worth every step. There's something so satisfying about doing these walks, then relaxing with a glass of local wine and a bowl of spaghetti (yes, I'm eating spaghetti!) I love it here so much I've decided to stay for awhile...at least another week. On Sunday I move from Corniglia to Manarola, the next town over. I fell in love with Manarola as soon as I got there, and made friends with a local who helped me get a place right above the square.
Here You Can Drink Home Wine, Cinque Terre
Here You Can Drink Home Wine, Cinque Terre


All of the villages in Cinque Terre make their own wine and it's fun to try them all. It's delicious, and amazing to see the hillsides upon which they grow these grapes. Baby plots of land terraced into the hillside, up and up and up; I can't imagine the labor involved. Pretty much every restaurant proprietor also makes his own wine and/or grappa, and it's beautiful and inspiring to see people living out their passions in these little towns by the sea. I'm happy to be able to stay awhile and relax...awesome awesome awesome. Happy Jo...:-):-)

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My last couple nights in Corniglia are spent hanging out with two men from Switzerland, Urs and Jureg, who I meet at the local wine bar Enoteca il Pirun, and two boys from Seattle and Australia, Ian and Matt, who I meet eating dinner at Mananan, arguably the best restaurant in Corniglia (I ate there 2 nights in a row. Whole grilled branzini, mmm). Urs and Jureg are long-time friends who over the past 15 years have developed programs bringing music, cinema, and laughter yoga - something I'd never heard of - to their communities. All not for profit, all to enrich the lives of others and create new, positive experiences for people. So inspiring! Did you know that 10 minutes of laughing is equivalent to 40 minutes of jogging? That we use 300 stomach muscles when we laugh? On top of that the endorphins released through the physical act of laughing is an instant happy-pill. I decide to learn more about laughter yoga.

Ian, Jo and Matt, Corniglia
Ian, Jo and Matt, Corniglia
I meet Ian and Matt at dinner with Ian's parents, an incredible couple with 3 children, almost all out of the house. Their spontaneous energy and welcoming spirit make me feel anything but alone. They share their food and wine with me while I wait to be served, and cheers my forthcoming adventures, and are another inspiration...to see the possibility of a long, prosperous marriage, grown children who become travel buddies, and excitement about spending the next 30 years exploring with your best friend. After dinner, Ian, Matt and I meet Urs and Jureg, and take the train to Manarola to listen to music at the Cantina (del zio Bramante), where two nights ago I'd heard two Italian guitar players sing and play. As we head out of town, I realize that I've rallied up a crew here which has never been me, and it's kind of funny and awesome to see myself doing new things and attracting good people who want to come along with me. Unfortunately, when we get to Manarola the Cantina is closed, the owner is sick, and the town is quiet. No matter. Ian has a bottle of wine and we get some cups and enjoy overlooking the marina and being in Cinque Terre.
Jo enjoying breakfast, Corniglia
Jo enjoying breakfast, Corniglia


My last couple mornings in Corniglia are spent making breakfast for myself! Which I never, ever do, but I have this little kitchen and a terrace to eat on so I have to. I go to the store and buy eggs, parma prosciutto ('parma' distinction is important, I learned they are not the same thing; prosciutto is just ham), fresh pesto, yummy cheese, olive oil, an apple, and a baguette. I make over easy eggs on toasted baguette with pesto and Parma and it's one of the best things I've ever eaten. I think about becoming a chef :-)

Hills and vineyards, Corniglia
Hills and vineyards, Corniglia
My last hike in Corniglia is 7a, which goes up, up, up. I pass several people who verbally scold me for my outfit-- in typical Joanne style I'm in a white skirt and sandals, but nobody's going to tell me I can't go up this thing. It's steep and unruly and mostly covered by trees, and I think many times about turning around and I'm trying unsuccessfully not to think about what it's like going back down, but I'm curious to see what's at the top, and after awhile you figure you've gone this far, you might as well go a little bit farther. So I go, nervous yet determined. And I get to the top, and it's... a road. A main road that takes you between Corniglia and Vernazza; a bit disappointing for the hiker, but the views from up there are absolutely spectacular. And, as soon as I reach the road, an old Italian man drives by and stops, and offers me a ride down. Ahhh, the relief! I don't have to go back the way I came. I (try to) chat with him in Italian, he stops on the way so I can take a photo, and lets me out a couple miles from town so I can enjoy the rest of the walk through the vineyards. I am extremely grateful for his kindness, and my perseverance. Yay.
Grapes drying for Sciacchetrà
Grapes drying for Sciacchetrà


And just before I leave Corniglia I meet a local who shows me his wine cellar and the cellar where they hang-dry grapes to make Sciacchetrà, the local dessert wine. The grapes take 2-3 months to become raisins before being pressed, producing a yummy, concentrated, honeyed wine. So many people here make their own wine and catch their own fish. Earlier in the day he'd gone spear fishing with full body suit and harpoon. He shows me that too. Then he wants to kiss me, which is funny. I might have babysat him when I was twelve.

On Sunday I head to Manarola, excited to experience another flavor of Cinque Terre. I try to have one more frozen yogurt with lemon, honey and nuts (so simple, soooo good) but the yogurteria is closed. I'll have to come back for it!

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A good article I found about winemaking in Corniglia on about.com:
Grape tractor, Cinque Terre
Grape tractor, Cinque Terre
http://italianfood.about.com/library/weekly/aa011497.htm

The vineyards are on terraces chipped out of the hillsides. They're everywhere, but the best place to see them is around Corniglia, which is perched on a knob above the sea - the road winding up to the town from the station goes through them (as does the trail down to the mostly nudist beach), and you can only marvel at the patience and energy of the people who built them: The terraces are about 10 feet wide, and the retaining walls are 3-6 feet high, while the vines are grown on trellises about three feet above the rocky ground to allow the grapes to absorb all the heat reflected from the soil (most of what passes for soil between the retaining walls is actually rock fragments from the terraces above). Picking and pruning are done on hands and knees, and the trails are so steep that during the harvest the pickers used to negotiate them on their knees with baskets of grapes on their backs. Now they have little tractors on monorails to carry the grapes down, but having seen one in operation, I'm not sure that I wouldn't prefer to go on my knees. The men who drive the tractors deserve medals.

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