When I saw a photograph of the clutches of tightly packed houses in their pretty pastel shades clinging onto the steep cliffs above the Mediterranean Sea, I knew that a trip to the Cinque Terre (or ‘Five Towns’) in Liguria, Italy had to have a place on our Europe road trip.
The picture in my mind was ridiculously romantic – puttering along the coast in a small fishing boat, pulling into the small harbours each of the villages and strolling around, soaking up the Italian mood and watching village life go on around us.
Of course the reality was a million miles from this. Instead we were squeezed onto a large ferry, teeming with other tourists who were all single-mindedly elbowing their way to get the best shots of the towns as we whizzed past. The sea was rough and by the time we reached our destination of Riomaggiore I was green at the gills, and had long given up attempting to take photos (we were sat on the wrong side of the boat anyway).
Riomaggiore was lovely, especially when we took a wrong turn to avoid a barking dog by the harbour and ended up lost in the steep back alleys. This was the only time time we were away from the throngs of daytrippers, and I enjoyed the peace, even if it was short-lived.
A train ride (hot and crowded but with exceptional views out to sea in between the tunnels) took us back along the coast to Manarola. We wandered down to the harbour where we ate gelati and watched people swim off the rocks. Leaving the kids with Ben, I took the path around the headland where I was rewarded with the perfect view of the village – its yellow, orange, pink and green houses stacked almost on top of each other in a chaotic but glorious jumble of colour.
The crowded commercialisation of the Cinque Terre did take some of the lustre off the place for me, but there’s no denying the beauty of each of the five villages with their cheerful, upbeat colours. I was left wishing we could come back out of season, and have the chance to explore in the evening after the daytrippers have left for the day. One day we’ll visit again.