After the wettest British January in living memory, there comes a point – around the time your foot has sunk once again into an icy puddle on your commute to work – when something snaps inside and you scream ‘Enough is enough!’ And you vow to take out your atlas and leave the country.
This happened to me in the early day of February, and so one dark Saturday afternoon (it was about 3pm) I blindfolded my boyfriend and (because we have no globe) sat him in front of Google Earth. Where his finger would land, we would go.
Ten minutes later we were planning our trip to the Liguria region in Northern Italy. (His finger had initially landed in the Gobi Desert which we thought might lead to few practical problems, and then after that on the East Coast of the USA, perhaps the one place in the world currently suffering worst weather than the UK. We tried again.)
With obliging bosses, discount sites such as Voucherbox to ensure us the best travel deals, and a rucksack on each of our backs, we were off to the continent in two weeks. I had lived in Florence (Firenze!) for six months a few years before as I tried to make it as a post-pre-Raphaelite painter. Though my attempts were unsuccessful (I realised in the end that my calling lay in telephone sales) I had picked up a decent amount of Italian which got us from Rome airport to Roma Termini without complication and from them up to the Italian Riviera.
We were heading towards the Cinqua Terra. The boyfriend had heard of these five little villages from a colleague at work who had also leant him a guide book for our trip. Into this guidebook he stuck his nose for almost the entire train journey from Rome, reading the descriptions of striking mountains sticking out of the Ligurian Sea, all of which we could see out the train windows.
As I gazed over the little churches nestled next to copses and elegant medieval mansions he read out what the guidebook had to say about Liguria:
The region is one of the most Northern parts of the Mediterranean and boasts a proud history, having been home to Christopher Columbus and a powerful maritime state in the Middle Ages. Besides the quaint and popular Cinqua Terra, Liguria boasts stunning mountain ranges, the famous bathing resort of Sanremo, and the Benedict monastery of St Fruttuoso …
The Cinqua Terra lie on a rugged strip of the Mediteranean coast, protected by UNESCO, and are made up of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. There is a train track running through each village but you can also walk to each one, through orchards, picking at fruit.
We had decided to go to Riomaggiore, at least at first, simply because we liked the sound best. It also turned out to be the most difficult for us to pronounce and I struggled to make myself understood to the woman in the ticket office when we were changing trains, while the boyfriend scrambled about inside his bag in attempt to locate the guide book which he had only just then put away.
Riomaggiore, like all five villages, is built on the steep slopes that fall down to the sea where there is no sand but only rocks. On these rocks you can hop, or sunbathe, and from those jutting out of the cliffs those braver of heart than I can dive into the shimmering, azure sea. There is a plentiful selection of cafes and restaurants which, as yet, are not overrun by tourists. In fact, things work a little different than they do in most tourist hotspots.
When have asked for a room in one of the B&Bs, we were led out the way we had come by an old man who took us for about ten minutes through narrow alleyways (and by narrow I mean less than an arms span) and up winding steps until we reached a thin tottering house. In here was our sparse but pleasant room.
Discovering that those in the room above us both had a balcony and were out, we sneaked through their room onto it and, opening a bottle of Verdicchio, looked out over the sea and drank to having got away from soggy ol’ Blighty. Even if just for a weekend.