I Left a Piece of My Heart in Riomaggiore
As the train pulled out of Genoa’s Brignole train station on its way to Cinque Terre I wondered what my next stop of Riomaggiore would hold. The train trundled along Italy’s north-west coast, with wondrous vistas of mountainous coastline, and the Mediterranean stretching out before me I was glued to the window.
Arriving in Riomaggiore, the last of Cinque Terre’s five villages, I made my way from the train station to the main street of the village. I stood at its base transfixed. Before me was the most magical place I’d ever laid eyes upon. A steep street leading towards green mountains and flanked on either side by cheerful, colourful buildings, and excited tourists abounded. I couldn’t wait to drop my bag and get exploring! I made my way up the hill and into the winding , narrow alleyways, up steps and more steps until I found my hotel. I rung the bell but to no avail. I tried ringing on my mobile but it wasn’t working. My lucky stars aligned and a young gentleman walked by and offered to help. He called the proprietor who popped out of a neighbouring door. I can’t even count the times that amazing people came to my aid throughout my solo European adventure. Driving home that the world is full of wonderful people.
That first day I explored the nooks and crannies of Riomaggiore. I made my way up to the top where its castle, now a mere ruin of its former glory, but still standing watch over the village of some 1400 residents. It was up here where I found a path that offered beautiful panoramas of the colourful village and the Mediterranean stretching out to the west. Again and again, especially in the late evenings when the sun put on its last stunning show of the day before it retired, I made my way up here to what became my spot to sit and reflect on the magical day and simply savour the sunset.
Another special place in the heights was the church of Battista. The first time I stumbled upon it I was drawn in by its thunderous music bellowing out of its open doors. Within its darkness, candles were lit to accompany the lonely electric light, there wasn’t a soul. I entered its refreshing coolness and stood before the old organ and could feel the melody moving through me, as though the spirit of Riomaggiore was touching my soul.
The next morning I awoke early, full of vigor and all abuzz to hike the coastal trails of Cinque Terre. After a coffee and croissant I headed to the train station, where the tourist office was, to pick up my hiking trail pass. I was initially hoping to hike the Via dell’Amore (the lovers trail) from Riomaggiore north to Manarola but due to maintenance on the trails the only portion accessible was from Monterosso to Vernazza. With renewed enthusiasm I grabbed the next train to Monterosso.
I grabbed a map of the village from the train station when I arrived in Monterosso and immediately noticed how it was a proper map, opposed to the one from Riomaggiore. I couldn’t help but smile and be partial to my map that was clearly a hand drawn sketch of the village and photocopied. It was so much more charming and endearing, driving home how right I was to choose it was my base. I briefly explored some of Monterosso’s key sights like the Capuchin Monastery up on the hill with church in service, and the cemetery further up the hillside. How on earth were they able to cart those to rest up these steep passageways?
Down at waterside I watched as couples donned their swimwear, big floppy beach hats, sunscreen and beach chairs that looked as though they’d been washed ashore. Monterosso gave off the appearance more so as a beach resort town than the rest of Cinque Terre’s villages full of hidden gems. One of Monterosso’s gems seemed to go completely unnoticed but scanning the coastal cliffs I finally caught sight of it. Standing guard over the village, nearly blending into the cliff side he was created from, was the Giant Neptune. The almost 46 foot tall statue of Neptune was built in 1910 as an ornamentation to a villa. Sadly, after bombing in World War II he suffered serious damage and his glory has been reduced to a hunchback beaten by wind and waves.
It was nearing mid-day (on a hot June day) so I grabbed a quick bit to eat and headed for the trail head towards Vernazza. I was a buzz with excitement. Hiking the coastal trails of Cinque Terre was one of those things I was most looking forward to for this solo adventure. I had to keep consciously slowing down at first as my excitement quickened my pace. But those views made it easy to keep pausing to soak it all in. I made my way up and up and thanked my lucky stars for the shaded trails as the Mediterranean sun cranked up the heat.
That hike was one of my most memorable moments of my trip. I learned a lot about myself on that hike and seemingly for the first time in my life took care to pay attention to my mind, body and soul as I pushed myself. Boy, that’s a whole other piece to write. Needless to say I made it and that view of Vernazza down below made all the heat, pain and migraine worth while.
With a migraine in tow I was only briefly able to explore Vernazza, to which I’m still disappointed. I guess that’s just another excuse to return. I crept onto the next train headed south, curled up in the seat with my head on the cool glass and reflected on just how astounding this region is.
Riomaggiore had so many magical moments to be had. One of my favourites was that every night a lady would walk her cat up on the hillside by the church. As I sat up there writing in the evenings I’d pause to watch this adorable black and white cat wander to and fro, peeking into the church, and getting unhinged when pigeons flew down to perch on the stone wall just out of reach, but it always made sure to catch up to its lady guardian. Everything about Riomaggiore tugged at my heart strings, from its cats to the old, Italian lady’s hanging out their windows keeping eye and the unbelievable sunsets to the unforgettable views everywhere you turned.
On my final night, sitting watching my last Cinque Terre sunset I realized the depth of the phrase “parting is such sweet sorrow“. I was thrilled at having found this magical place and yet a hint of sadness lingered like the clouds on the horizon for having to say goodbye. Riomaggiore was the first place I had ever been that I was already missing before I’d even left.
Darting swallows danced through the alleyways before me. As the evening cooled the air was fresh with the sweet smells of the Mediterranean and fresh seafood wafting from restaurants on the main street below. I looked up as the twinkle of stars started to emerge from the darkening sky and realized I’d be leaving a shade lighter. I would be leaving a piece of my heart in Riomaggiore.