Cinque Terre (chinck-way terr-eh, more or less) is a one of those magical places on earth that can hardly be believed. Five villages connected by footpaths, ferries (except for Corniglia), a winding road and a railroad make up the official region, which has been designated an international heritage site by the UNESCO. The terraces that surround the villages were built as many as a thousand years ago, the villages until World War II had no access except by foot or boat. Now, with eco-tourism filling the towns and train and trams (providing ecologically sound transport) with visitors, they manage to retain their magic and Medieval qualities. We stayed in Corniglia, the smallest and least developed of the five town, due mostly to the fact that unlike the other four, the town clings to the cliffs 370 or so steps above the train station.
Our "beach," (unlike the one above in Rio Maggiore, I think) was a stony cove, another set of 400 steps down, but its quiet, near-deserted aquamarine peace, was well worth the climb.
What else? Fried anchovies, the best pesto I've ever eaten, crunchy hot farinata (a kind of chick-pea pancake or pizza crust), a fizzy light wine kind of like Portugal's Vinho Verdi, and lemon "slushy," a granita made with fresh giany Myers lemons, sugar syrup and crushed ice. Five days in Cinque Terre was our reward for museum-eyes (that state of not being able to take in one more painting) and what the German's term reisenfieber -- that experience of standing in a train or bus station and being unable to understand anything whatsoever with a total panic that one has missed the last train to one's destination of the next 24 hours.
We hiked, kayaked, sat and drank coffee, wine, sat and ate and ate, walked around eating, carried a picnic down the cliff, swam at the "free" beach (ie clothing free) that was reached via a rabbit warren of cliffside paths straight down the rabbit hole (and fortunately exited via a post swim discovery of a access-by-fee abandoned train tunnel back to Corniglia -- 10 euros was never better spent), took a ferry, climbed and climbed those stairs and slept under the bell tower of a church, between peals, at least. This place, dispite its protections, has a fragile path to tread between economic stability --even prosperity -- for its population, so historically poor and a disneyfied version of itself, with just a few too many polishings of its rouch edges. I wish them all prosperity AND sustainability.