Find Rugged Beauty, Slow Pace In Italy

If you ever get tired of life, skip the therapist and head directly to Cinque Terre, the Italian Riviera of Italy. Five crazy fishing villages are built on steep cliffs, set amid some of the most dramatic coastal scenery in the world. You’ll find rugged beauty and a slow pace.

Named for the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, this portion of the Italian Riviera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cars are not allowed, so you take local trains, ferries or walk on one of the spectacular trails that connect the towns. A passenger ferry runs between the villages with scenic views from the water. A walking trail connects the five villages and is called the “Via Dell’Amore,” (Love Walk). There is a railway line that connects the towns to the city of Genoa.

Over the centuries, people have built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible development.

Bright, colorful houses date back to the fishermen. They wanted to be able to see their houses easily from the sea. This way, they could make sure their wives were home doing the house work. Most of the families in the villages made their living by catching fish and selling them in the small port towns. Fish have always been their main source of food.

Anchovies of Monterosso are a local specialty. The mountainsides are heavily terraced and are used to cultivate grapes and olives. This area is known for pesto – a sauce made from basil leaves, garlic salt, olive oil, pine nuts and pecorino cheese. Focaccia is a particularly common baked bread. Farinata is a popular snack and is a savoury crunchy pancake made from chick-pea flour.

However, gelato is the “snack of the day” for tourists and locals alike. Their version of ice cream comes in all flavors and is simply mouth watering. We ate it every day and sometimes twice a day. The village of Corniglia is particularly popular for “miele di Corniglia,” gelato made from local honey.

One evening while dining at an outdoor cafe, I accidentally dropped my prescription sunglasses down a 50-foot stone ledge. There was only a narrow stone wall a few inches wide between the wall and the Mediterranean Sea. Unbelievably, the glasses landed on the narrow ledge and didn’t break. A Danish gentleman at the next table climbed down and rescued the glasses.

Our meals always included two locally made wines that are served in most restaurants. The Cinque Terre and the Sciachetra are both made using, Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes.

In addition to wines, other popular drinks include grappa, a brandy made with the pomace left from winemaking, and limoncello, a sweet liqueur flavored with lemon.

The villages are quaint with narrow walkways, shops, restaurants and no traffic but people – a steady flow of two-legged creatures. It is a relaxing and scenic vacation.

A short drive down the coast brings us to Florence, the city at the center of the Renaissance. You’ll discover Italy’s artistic heart here. See how the powerful Medici family left their mark through this legendary city. Florence offers frescoes, sculptures, churches, palaces and other monuments from the richest cultural flowering the world has ever known. The Piazza del Duomo or cathedral in the heart of Florence is the city’s most iconic building full of Gothic and Renaissance sculpture. View Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Galleria.

As you explore, see how the powerful Medici family left their mark through this legendary city. Allow enough time to savor the world’s greatest gallery of Renaissance art and be sure to look up at the marvelous frescoed hallway ceilings. The Galleria degli Uffizi offers countless Italian masterpieces but also works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and other leading artists.

My favorite gelateria or ice-cream parlor is Vivoli, in the heart of the city. Vivoli is near Santa Croce, the Franciscan basilica in the east of the city. Santa Croce contains countless paintings and other works of art. Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo are all buried here with many other illustrious persons.

Don’t miss the Mercato Centrale, a vast covered market selling fruit, vegetables, olive oil and dozens of other delicious treats.

The Cinque Terre is a special vacation treat.