Wednesday, March 23, 2011
the cinque terre
the picturesque Manarola by night
Ah, the Cinque Terre. Five pristine, gorgeous towns along the Northern Italian coast. If you read any Rick Steves, at some point you're going to come across several gushing passages about how very wonderful and picturesque this place is. The towns are so small, he'll tell you. It's relaxing. It's so picturesque (get ready, I'm going to be using that word a lot)!
cat lounging picturesquely
Rick Steves is telling you the truth. It is small. It is gorgeous. It is relaxing.
And it is so heavily touristed that it's hard to tell where the Disneyland tourist stuff ends and the actual "local culture" begins.
This isn't a slam of the Cinque Terre. I really did enjoy my time there, I really did appreciate how beautiful it was. What I'm saying is, if you have a high value for your travels to include something picturesque (yes!) and to be able to get by on English because most people speak at least a little, the Cinque Terre is your spot. I want you to listen carefully: I think that's totally valid. It's just that I discovered that...
...If you place a higher value on, for example, "authentic local food," such as it is, the CInque Terre should perhaps be a day or two stop only on your itinerary. With the exception of one very good focaccia (don't worry, a focaccia greatest hits post is coming), every meal we had out was - there's not really a nicer way to say this - mediocre tourist food. I'm talking the same quality frozen pizza you get in the US. And while I couldn't blame the residents of the five picturesque (that's the 4th use, if you're counting) towns for adapting in this way to accommodate tourism, I couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief when I arrived in the less beautiful but much less tourism-impacted La Spezia.
exploring in a picturesque cove of wildflowers, photo courtesy my friend Bryan
Let's be clear: I'm not saying here that I wasn't a tourist. By golly, I was all sorts of tourist. I gawked at sites and snapped photos and, let's face it, even the fact that I was interested in such a thing as "authentic local cuisine" is a dead giveaway. But there are different styles of tourism, and as it turns out, mine consists more of pushing myself culturally (I barely know a word of Italian, see previous post) in order to access a part of a country less impacted by hordes of people descending upon it to take pictures and eat pizza, but not pizza that's too unfamiliar, pizza like they had in America, only here in Italy.
Whew, what a long sentence. Congratulations if you made it through that one. Conclusion: the Cinque Terre really are beautiful. Jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly gorgeous. And, no surprises here, you're not the first person to realize that. Weigh what's more important to you, a perfect-looking spot or a more authentic eating experience, and plan accordingly.