Cinque Terre


Mural near train station
Mural near train station

I have a terrible memory for names. That includes place names. While in Cinque Terre, I tried using a memory trick to remember the name of the eastern-most town, Riomaggiore. I thought of the somewhat out-of-date and, in my opinion, greatly underused word rigmarole.

The trick worked—sort of. I still had trouble remembering Riomaggiore, but I was able to remember that one of the towns in Cinque Terre reminded me of the word rigmarole. I just couldn’t remember what the name really was.

Fortunately, I’m a pathologically shy person who finds it difficult (by “difficult,” I mean “impossible”) to strike up conversations with strangers. This likely saved me considerable embarrassment and, possibly, prevented my being beaten up. I don’t think the locals would have appreciated me accidentally calling their town Rigmarole.

I’m joking about being beaten up. People there seemed friendly. At worst, I likely would have only been cursed in Italian. That wouldn’t have bothered me in the least. Regrettably, I know only a few words of Italian. Surprisingly, they don’t include swear words.

But I digress.

If you come into Riomaggiore by train, one of the first things you’ll see is a large mural on a wall that commemorates the workers who built the sea walls in the Cinque Terre area. There are also similar murals on some walls throughout the town.

The normal walking route into the main part of town from the station is an uninteresting pedestrian tunnel. Being a painfully normal person (by “normal,” I mean boring), that’s the route I took.

At the end of the tunnel there is a pedestrian street snaking uphill. The uphill part of the last sentence raises a point. Except in Monterosso, the main section of which is fairly flat, pretty much everything in Cinque Terre is either uphill or downhill from where you are standing. It’s hilly. That’s part of its charm. If that’s a problem for you, you’re probably not going to like Cinque Terre unless you restrict yourself to the main commercial and seafront section of Monterosso, which would be a shame because it offers so much more.

Skyscrapers in Romaggiore

Skyscrapers of Riomaggiore
Skyscrapers of Riomaggiore

The streets in the lower part of Riomaggiore are lined with stores and restaurants. Some of the buildings there are higher than what I saw in the other towns of Cinque Terre. If I counted correctly, some rise as high as a sky-scraping seven stories.

(Yes, that was tall for Cinque Terre. Monterosso had some hotels that I think were four or five stories tall, but I don’t recall seeing any that topped out at seven. And, yes, I was being sarcastic about seven stories being sky-scraping. I’m from Toronto. There’s been a construction boom on in Toronto for the past few decades. If a new building is less than 50 stories tall we typically don’t pay attention unless the developer is proposing to build it next to bungalows.)

There is a small, charming church a ways up the street from the end of the tunnel. By that point, the street had both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, but I also began to think that the whole street might have allowed mixed traffic. Overall, there was so little traffic in the Cinque Terre towns that I wondered if it was simply that no cars happened by when I was on the lower part of the street.

A little more walking showed me that I was sort of right about the lower section being a pedestrian-only street. A few steps past the little church brought me to an automated barricade across the street, supposedly allowing only authorized vehicles through. Above the barricade the street was lined with cars parked perpendicular to the edge of the street.

By the way, if you’re looking for paeans to the car-culture, Cinque Terre is not the place to find them. Despite being (or, probably, due to being) a committed urbanite (or an urbanite who should be committed; I’ve been called both), I think that’s a good thing. I own a car, but it mostly sits in the garage.

View from upper Riomaggiore
View from upper Riomaggiore

As a reward for the effort of walking to the top tier of the town and then along a level street near the rim, I was treated to some breathtaking views of the town below and the sea beyond. (Note to sticklers: Yeah, yeah. I know. It wasn’t literally breathtaking. As the fact that lived to write this proves, I had some breath left in me after taking in the views.) The one negative was that the views were, for much of the way, beyond parallel-parked cars and a chain-link fence. However, if you’re up there, don’t get discouraged. Keep walking along the road. There is a strategically placed viewing platform along the way.

As I continued my walk along the road at the top of the town I discovered that there is a public elevator that travels between the upper and lower parts of town. Being an old, not terribly in-condition guy who was sweating profusely by that point, I kicked myself for not checking that out earlier. That is, I kicked myself until I got to close enough to the elevator to read the sign on it. It wasn’t functioning when I was there.

Castello di Riomaggiore

Walking further up the road, past the recalcitrant elevator, I came to the small Castello di Riomaggiore. (Castello is the Italian word for castle.)

The front door was closed and looked thoroughly uninviting. Instead of trying the door, I walked around to the back and found some stairs that took me to the top of the Castello. From there, I got a terrific view of the lower portion of the town in the valley.

In front of the Castello, there’s a small patio with some benches that provide a great view of the sea well below. The benches also provide a great place to sit, take a load off the tired feet that, unless you have a car—I didn’t—likely did quite a bit of walking to get to that point.

Church of San Giovanni Battista

Babbling brookish waterfall and vegetation
Babbling brookish waterfall and vegetation

On a middle tier of the town, there is a church, Church of San Giovanni Battista, that is larger, slightly more decorated and in a quieter, less visited section of town than the church I mentioned above. It contains about a dozen rows of pews.

I don’t know if they’re a permanent fixture, but, when I was there, there were also some wooden chairs against the back wall of the church. I assumed that the chairs were for us tourists of the atheist or pagan persuasion to sit on. Being tired, I took advantage of them and hoped I was right about atheists being allowed to sit there. I guess I was. Lightning was not cast down upon me from the heavens. So, that was good.

Heading back to the train station, I took a route that avoided the pedestrian tunnel. That was a fortuitous choice. In my walk, I came upon a babbling brookish, short waterfall surrounded by multi-hued tropical looking flowers. The picture of it on this page doesn’t come close to doing it justice. It was a beautiful way to end my visit to Riomaggiore.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.