Footpaths connect the five villages of Italy's Cinque Terre

Footpaths connect the five villages of the Cinque Terre

Call it luck, but in years of travel I’ve rarely experience an upended itinerary that didn’t have a silver lining, and my luck again held when heavy seas prevented our ship from docking at Portofino.

 

The alternate port was a placed called Porto Venere, gateway to Italy’s Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) where five villages that hug cliffs along the Ligurian coastline are unreachable by auto and connected only by footpaths, trains and boats.

Approaching Port Venere, Italy from the harbor

Approaching Port Venere from the harbor

 

The sun isn’t long risen as the launch slices through the waves toward the village, which is just awakening from its slumber.

 

Porto Venere is the imagined picture postcard against which all of my European visits are measured, and it easily exceeds expectations.

Quay at Porto Venere, Italy

Quay at Porto Venere, Italy

 

The lower village wraps around a bay that was once the home port of the Byzantines’ western Mediterranean fleet.

Fisherman dry & mend nets, Porto Venere, Italy

Fisherman dry & mend nets, Porto Venere, Italy

 

 

Here fisherman just returned with the morning’s catch are drying and mending their nets. Above them a women hangs laundry from a porch railing and suns herself as it dries.

Drying laundry, Porto Venere, Italy

Drying laundry, Porto Venere, Italy

Church of St. Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

Church of St. Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

 

The single most striking landmark here is a church that sits on the promontory of a finger of land that reaches out to gather the bay.

 

Its appeal is irresistible, and since much of the village clings to the steeply pitched hillside or is perched along its summit, the climb to the church the route winds through narrow, ageless village streets.

Narrow streets of Porto Venere, Italy

Narrow streets of Porto Venere, Italy

 

The village may be ancient and its buildings well worn, but everything here is infused with a tastefully simple Italian style that lends to it a casual elegance.

Visitor paused in front of a meat market, Porto Venere, Italy

Visitor paused in front of a meat market, Porto Venere, Italy

 

Stone streets have been washed and swept squeaky clean, and bright flowers sit in window planters along the lanes.

Bakery window, Porto Venere, Italy

Bakery window, Porto Venere, Italy

 

Local and tourists alike browse local businesses, and the tantalizing aromas of cured meats and freshly baked breads and pastries drift out into the street.

Restaurant, Porto Venere, Italy

Restaurant, Porto Venere, Italy

Harbor view, Porto Venere, Italy

Harbor view, Porto Venere, Italy

 

Through an open door a restaurant is polished and groomed in anticipation of lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the summit I look down through the telescope of an alley entrance that caps a steep stone staircase.

 

Through it I can see the village gathered along the wharves and my ship riding at anchor in the harbor beyond.

Cemetery, Porto Venere, Italy

Cemetery, Porto Venere, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The church is finally close at hand, but I pause first to wander through a small cemetery where centuries of graves are stacked atop each other in the ever-shrinking space.

 

As I look down onto the town, church, and coastline stretched out below it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting in which to be buried, or one that could give more comfort to visitors.

Church of St. Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

Church of St. Peter, Porto Venere, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last the massive doors of the Church of St. Peter are within arm’s reach.

 

Completed in 1198 A.D., this striking Romanesque structure stands on the site of a fifth century Christian church which itself replaced a Roman temple to Venus built there in the first century B.C.

Italians on holiday, Porto Venere, Italy

Italians on holiday, Porto Venere, Italy

 

 

By now the sun is high in the sky and along the harbor below Italians on holiday are picking out places along the rocky shore to sun themselves with typical European immodesty; Speedos are here in abundance!

Lovers play in Porto Venere, Italy

Lovers at play in Porto Venere, Italy

 

As the visit draws to a close, a bikini-clad young woman caresses the face of a young man seated on a quintessential Vespa.  It’s a scene that’s undoubtedly repeated itself again and again over the last 50 years, and it reminds me that la dolce vita is still alive and well in the land of Fellini’s birth.

 

 

As I scramble back aboard, though, I’m already contemplating the next port of call and it also recalls Fellini:  Roma.

 

If you’ve just joined this account my Mediterranean cruise, you can still begin at the beginning:

Days 1-2:  Barcelona

Day 3:  Montserrat Monastery

Day 4: France’s Languedoc

Day 5: Monaco & the French Riviera

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