Menton, our base on the French Riviera, is but a few miles from the border between France and Italy and the Italian, seaside towns of San Remo, Rapallo and Portofino. I had watched a PBS series describing the so called Cinque Terre or five small cities along the Ligurian Coast of Italy and linked by a series of walkable trails, ranging in difficulty from easy walks on fairly level ground to very difficult hikes up and down steep mountain sides to test the skills of the best hiker. Due to heavy rains and landslides these trails were unfortunately closed during our visit but we decided to explore the 5 towns anyway using the excellent and frequent train connecting all of the towns. Our drive from France to Italy was a breeze due to the lack of border controls between European Union countries and our first stop was a short exploration of the seaside town of San Remo where we had an excellent lunch at the aptly named “Glam” restaurant. You will see a photo of my delicious strawberry dessert composed of layers of delicious custard and almond lace cookies supported by pillars of sweet, succulent, local strawberries. Incidentally, I LOVE locally grown strawberries in Europe so much sweeter than the pulpy, relatively tasteless, varieties that we get in my home in California. Following the afternoon in San Remo we proceeded to another seaside resort town of Rapallo and our overnight at the five star Excelsior Palace Hotel recommended by our guide/driver Mr. Patrick Rossi. My daughter Anne and I shared a very nice suite with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea from our second floor balcony, separate bathrooms for each of us and a large king sized bed, which in Europe is really two separate beds placed side by side but sharing a common headboard. For the evening we took a short ride to Portofino, a small harbor side town known for it’s high end clientele
, restaurants and bars, a sort of Italian St. Tropez although the Italians probably wouldn’t appreciate the comparison. After our big lunch in San Remo we decided to split a pizza and we finally found some good Italian gelato for dessert. Our over night in Rapallo was uneventful and the next morning we set out for the Cinque Terre town of Monterosso al Mare about a 2 hour drive away. Monterosso is the most north easterly of the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre and the closest to Rapallo. From Monterosso we took the train to Riomaggiorie, the most south easterly of the 5 towns with a plan to work our way back along the train route, stopping at each town and eventually ending up where our car was parked in Monterosso. To give you a general idea of this region, the mountains come directly down to the sea and form multiple small and larger valleys between the steep mountain sides where the towns of the Cinque Terre are situated but to get from town to town by car one must go up the steep, winding, small roads to the top, cross over to the next valley and then drive down another narrow, steep, winding road to the next town. Consequently, the preferable way to get from town to town is either to use the walking/hiking paths along the seaside or to use the frequent and inexpensive trains which run frequently from town to town. Since the walking paths were closed due to heavy rains and landslides our only access was by train. Each town has some unique features but all share some similarities. Of course, they all lie directly on the Mediterranean Sea but the waterfront areas can differ greatly and include long, curving beaches, fishing harbors, rocky outcroppings and gently sloping access walks. All of the towns are built directly on the mountainsides and the terrain varies from fairly mild to very steep from the seaside below to the top of the town as high as 1200 feet above sea level. The many, lovely, hill side terraces, which date back to the 12th century,support a variety of fruit and vegetable varieties and include grape vines from whose grapes local wines are produced. The rugged beauty of each town and the wild mountain sides in between provide a captivating tableau which is easy to find very appealing. The story of the Cinque Terre is much too extensive to tell here but it is a place where one could spend many days exploring it’s rugged beauty.