Cinque Terre Ruined by Rick Steves

In response to my request for a 3-day apartment rental in Vernazza, I received the following email:

“Mrs. Villa is an 80 year-old woman. She uses no technology. You may have trouble finding the house because there are no street signs. To meet Mrs. Villa, get out of the train station and walk until you see a pharmacy and a mall square. You will see a sign for Stalin Ice Cream. Mrs. Villa will be waiting for you there. Bring cash.”

We met Mrs. Villa but the mission was far less exciting than it sounded. Stalin Ice Cream is just a strange name for a gelateria. And little Mrs. Villa was no communist spy, but she was pure capitalist.

Mrs. Villa and her son Pino contribute to the price gouging of tourists, and who could blame them? The town is swarming with all types of foreigners—from grungy backpackers to the white sock-and-sneakers set straight from the cruise ships.

I had looked forward to coming to the Cinque Terre for many years. Even when I heard it would be swarming with tourists, I did not care. I still wanted to see the place first hand and at least visit the area once in my life.

I can safely say now I have no desire to return in the near future, but am exceedingly glad this dream came true. The first time I laid my eyes on Vernazza’s teeny harbor, I swooned.

Later I would be pushing through conga lines of visitors who, admirably, decided to go hiking even when you could see hiking was not their strong point. They all thankfully stick to one main trail, the No. 2. The No. 2 trail theoretically links all 5 of the towns, but only 2 of the 5 legs of the path have been open over the past several years since some major flooding and landslides.

Later that day, we ditched the masses by hiking on the Number One trail, which is much harder and higher into the hills. The first part of that trail was a lot like the Grouse Grind in Vancouver–directly up to about 800 meters in a kilometer or two. Nice and steep, to keep away the riffraff. We were the only folks on this trail, and thus treated to a panorama without the urge to push the idiots off the cliff.

No one with any taste goes to Cinque Terre for the food. We rented Mrs. Villa’s apartment so we did not have to eat out, and even cooking at home was a challenge given the dearth of good ingredients. Whatever is available is grossly overpriced.

We did have a decent lunch out at a restaurant in Portovenere. But Portovenere is technically outside of the Cinque Terre.

We took a boat from Vernazza to Portovenere. It cost about €13 one way, and was worth it for the views.

Three nights in Cinque Terre was enough to do a few days of hiking and exploring the five little villages of this UNESCO area. If you do not like hiking, even a day or two would be sufficient. Personally, I loved leaving Cinque Terre as much as I liked arriving. When we were in Pisa, the owner of our guesthouse said, “Do you know why Cinque Terre is horrible now?” I asked him why he thought so. He took a book from his shelf. The Rick Steves guide. Since it was published, hordes of Americans fill every nook and cranny of the already tight geographic space.

Better yet, return in the winter when peace will be upon you, even if that means fewer accommodations and no swimming.

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