Italy's Greatest Hit (Fourth of 5 Parts)
|Vinyards on the slopes surrounding Corniglia|
|Terraced vineyards surrounding Monterosso|
I asked the young woman behind the ice cream counter -- in Italian -- why the sign?
"It's for the Americani," she answered back in Italian.
She went on to explain how the Americans always wanted to try the ice cream. And at a price of one euro for a small scoop, she couldn't afford to be giving the stuff away.
Among Italians, Ligurians have a reputation for being extremely frugal and closed to outsiders. This probably has something to do with centuries of rural poverty and living in walled villages where the visitors were often pirates.
When we returned to our hotel, I asked Grasso about what seemed to be the prickly attitude of his neighbors.
"It's the Ligurians," he said and laughed, explaining that many locals still aren't at ease in dealing with outsiders. "When the local people go to the market themselves, they touch everything."
In the mountains above each village in the Cinque Terre is a church shrine, connected to the other shrines by a ridge trail that links the town of Levanto, northwest of the Cinque Terre, to Porto Venere to the southeast. The walk is some 12 hours.
Footpaths also connect the shrines to their to respective villages, and for our second hike on our second day we chose the walk from Monterosso to its shrine of Nostra Signora di Soviore, a pretty, well-preserved and painted 14th-century church less than a 1 1/2-hour walk away.
Down in the center of the old town of Monterosso are three churches -- a main church, a church for the sick and a skull-and-crossbones-decorated church for the dead. But the mountaintop shrine is the church most coveted by Monterosso -- partly because of the work that had been required to build it atop an isolated mountain. Behind the church altar is a wooden statue depicting Mary holding a dead Jesus, which according to local legend mysteriously presented itself to the local priest while he was out hunting.
We climbed the mountain above town through minuscule vineyards and farms, olive groves and a chestnut forest. Unlike on the coast, where the trail often resembled an autostrada (complete with toll booths for park admission), on this path we were alone.
On our return from the shrine -- as the trail crosses the only road leading to Monterosso -- we stopped for lunch at Il Ciliegio, a family-run restaurant with impressive views over the Gulf of Monterosso from the dining room and terrace in back.
The typically Ligurian meal, which began with stuffed anchovies and was followed by trofie (little pasta twists) in pesto, was cooked by a pair of round-figured women who chattered the whole time at a volume audible throughout the restaurant.
As lunchtime progressed, the place filled up with well-dressed people wearing black leather jackets and weekend loafers -- Italians! We were the only stranieri. There was not a pair of hiking boots in sight.
There were no warning signs here. Our hosts, noting that we were foreigners, loaded us up with restaurant postcards and poured a friendly round of Sciachetra.
|Originally published on The Washington Post – ©2004|