Cinque Terre

We have had a wonderful time staying at the Buranco winery on the edge of the northern most Cinque Terra town, Monterosso. The vineyard was paradise for the children with chickens, fruit trees, terraces and a large lawn for playing on. Monterosso was by the sea and at the edges of the paying beach ($30 for 2, $8 for each extra person) you could swim in beautifully clear water after hiking along the coastal paths that join the villages of the Cinque Terra. But excursions beyond the town were fraught with chaotic and intense tourist crowds.

We were so close and thought we'd take a day trip to Portofino, needed to see what all the fuss was about. At $7 for a small espresso and $50 for a glass of wine, we knew things were going to hurt as soon we arrived. Well actually things were hurting before we arrived, the process to get there was a killer, we could get to within 5 km pretty easily, but then needed to take either a bus or boat around the peninsula to Portofino. We opted for the bus and everything seemed ok when we arrived at the bus stop with a 20 minute wait. As the minutes whiled away the crowd grew and grew, to well past the capacity of the bus. Fortunately this must be the norm because as one bus pulled away well over capacity, a second arrived to ferry the less pushy folk to Portofino. Same thing happened at the other end for the return trip, there was mad panic rushing to get on the first bus, we stood back waiting for the second but the crowd was growing at such rate we were a little worried we wouldn't make the second bus too. One of the local lady's wanted to get the policeman to stop the crowd at the door so we could get on the bus with the kids, she said we would never get on with a crowd of Italians, but we did. It was interesting for the vast numbers of people coming and going from Portofino, there wasn't that many in town. I think maybe they keep the prices so high to scare off the riff raff and everyone makes a hurried retreat. It is very beautiful but has lost any resemblance of a functional township.

By contrast Monterosso, while still busy, was large enough to support a permanent community through the winter, about 1800 permanent residents, it's not just a tourist destination. It has schools, vehicle access (if a little hairy), play grounds etc. It felt much more alive and our host at the winery ensured we got to experience the life of a local. We were invited to participate in the local annual procession were the local children walk down to the ocean and deliver floating candles into the water. The procession involved the two local Catholic Churches, one the white church and one the black, as determined by the colour of the crucifixes at their respective alters, if you lived on the southern side of the creek you belonged to the white church, wore white robes and carried the white crucifix. And vice versa if you lived on the north. The procession followed a Madonna surrounded by candles and circled the town, starting at the large central square and finishing by the water. The kids really wanted to see if the Madonna floated, but she was returned safely to the church without getting wet. Watching the floating candles gently wash out to sea was mesmerising. It will be a treasured memory.