Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remembering Riomaggiore, the smallest city with the biggest heart in Italy...

My husband and I toured Europe via train on our honeymoon with just a backpack each on our backs. We spent five weeks, with two of them dedicated to Italy. Of course, we hit the big cities like Venice, Rome, Florence, a brief hour in Pisa for a photo opportunity. But the word around the dinner table at all the hostels we stayed in, was that we must see the Cinque Terre. We had yet to be steered wrong from our fellow travelers, so we built a couple of days in before we left Italy for the South of France.

The Cinque Terre sits nestled in the coastline of the northwest of Italy. Five cities all linked by a train, boat, or hiking path. There weren't cars in any of the five cities and only locals could access very rudimentary streets from the upper most vantage points of each city. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but we stayed in a town called Riomaggiore which is the southern most city of the Cinque Terre. There may be a handful of hotels or a hostel or two in the entire region, so the custom is to stay in people's homes.

I distinctly remember the conversation when we arrived at the Bar Centrale in Riomaggiore. We spoke with Gianni and he was kind enough to ring up someone willing to let us stay in their home for $20 USD a night (for both of us). This may be a good time to share a bit about the landscape of Riomaggiore, it's steep and remember the no car part, well that means you are hiking to get where you want to be. All the cities of the Cinque Terre are built into cliffs. There are numerous beautifully painted homes just perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking the sea. Gianni okayed our stay for two nights with Guiseppe. I wondered if it was one of the houses just right out the door, overlooking the sea or the quaint town square. Gianni hung up the phone and pulled out a napkin. He drew us a map to Guiseppe's home which involved countless stone stairs that were worn down in the center from all of the use over the years and then a hike down a trail which was covered in lemon and lime trees, flowering bushes, and a view from what felt like the top of the world. After hanging a right off the trail at a large boulder with a white arrow painted on it, we arrived on Guiseppe's terrace.

Guiseppe was a sweet old man, who was pouring us two glasses of Limoncello as we walked up. I was hot, sweaty, and absolutely delighted by the gesture. He made the Limoncello himself from lemons grown on his property. His home was modest, painted a light sky blue, and as you would imagine the whitest of whites were drying on the clothes line. Guiseppe already had a few Americans staying at his place, so we were offered the pull out couch. (Cue, remember this was my honeymoon? Well I wouldn't of had it any other way.)

We spent the next couple of days immersed in the beauty of Cinque Terre and relishing in the spirit of Italy. We hiked between all the cities, spent hours at the beach, sang Nirvana with locals at a little rocky cove after sunset drinking wine made by someone's father, watched free spirited travelers cliff dive. We made fast friends with the other couple that were staying at Guiseppe's house, with many local business owners, and people from South Africa to Norway. We wrote postcards to friends back home, sitting on benches next to beautiful Italian grandmothers watching the passers by. We were invited to an impromptu wedding of two Americans that was being thrown by the owner's of the Bar Centrale and few other local businesses chipped in to help out. When I say impromptu, I mean impromptu. The couple had just arrived a few days before and decided that they must tie the knot in Riomaggiore. I don't think there was anything missing, we had cake, there was a white dress, fabulous food, a photographer, live music, all thrown together by people that had hearts bigger than I could have ever imagined.

That is the Italy I experienced.

With much hesitation and sadness the day arrived that we had to catch the train to Nice, France. We sat down that morning at the bar stools of the pizza shop in town and ordered a slice of pizza with fresh ricotta and potatoes. When we went to pay the owner wouldn't take our money, said it's free of charge, his pleasure.

That's when I began to cry. The tears streamed down my face and I looked into J's eyes and begged him to stay. How could we possibly leave such a magical place behind. J promised me, someday we would return. I'm going to keep him to that one.

This post was inspired by Eat Pray Love. I went to see the movie and was moved by how beautifully Italy was captured on film. I imagine on my next trip small snippets from my Flip camera, thousands of digital shots, rather than rationed snapshots on our film camera. Better yet, I imagine not just a visit, but rather an extended stay. It's my dream to live in Italy for a year and mark my words, someday it will happen.


  1. I visited there for a few nights when I traveled abroad in Italy. Your post brought back wonderful memories. It was the highlight of Italy for me!

  2. That sounds so wonderful! I told Steve that when the kids are in college and we are empty nesters, that we should live in Europe for a year or two, work at a local cafe/bakery, and rent out a room from someone's house. All I need are some clothes, my honey, good food and wine. Nothing else. - Melissa :)

  3. What a beautiful memory! Thank you for sharing it....and seeing the movie with me.

  4. My soon-to-be-husband and I are going to Cinque Terre on our honeymoon upon recommendation from many, many friends. I loved reading this! I'm so excited!

  5. aww honey, this brings back the memories, your attention to detail is amazing, really brought me back! love you...

  6. Denise--I was doing an impromptu search of "Bar Centrale" and "Riomaggiore" to see where my blog was in the Google search list. Came across yours. I left Italy the day you made this post. I'd been there 8 weeks, and spent one in Rio. Ivo has taken over the daily running of Bar Centrale now, and I am writing my honors thesis on that little town. My blog has some stories from there (and will be updated with segments from my thesis), so if you want another visitor's perspective, you are welcome to visit my blog at

    Love connecting with people who understand the magic of that place!


I always appreciate the gesture to stop and take a moment to comment. Thank you!