Cinque Terre Is So Over
Italy is a magical place. We fantasize about its rich history, gorgeous paintings and sculptures, beautiful countryside, beautiful people, and delicious food. No single place in Italy embodied all of these characteristics quite like the Cinque Terre...decades ago.
Cinque, meaning five, and Terre, lands, the five lands the name refers to are more accurately described as five picturesque fishing villages clinging dramatically to seaside cliffs as if they crawled out of the sea to bask in the Mediterranean sun. Bright pastel colored buildings follow the contours of the steep cliffs. Above them the lush green vineyards and hand-placed terraces create a striking setting only a work of fiction could imagine. Weathered, yet colorful, family boats are pushed out of small, protected harbors by equally weathered fishermen. In the evening, the villagers walk laps up and down the main street, stopping at every restaurant or bar to share a drink and the latest gossip from the nearest neighboring town. Young men and women walk the cliffside trails between villages to meet in the middle and kindle their love for one another. This is the romantic, magical, fantasy place that we dream of finding. The Cinque Terre was such a place. Today, it is gone.
Every 30 minutes another train rumbles through the tunnels between towns, stopping to spit out hordes of foreigners with no regard for the sanctity of the land or its people. They charge down the main street, elbowing their way here and there, stopping to take pictures of a place they don't understand. Ignorant that their very presences blocks them from experiencing everything this place once was. They treat it like art out of context, or a landmark to be seen from afar. To them, it is a checkbox. It is something you see to say you've seen it, and then get back on the train by dusk to return home. The feeling, the experience, the soul, they are nearly lost.
My first visit to the Cinque Terre was the start of my addiction to travel. Yes, I was a contributor to its rapid rise in tourism, and accept full responsibility for my part. After a recent visit this past summer, I won't go back unless it is well outside of tourist season. The crowds are too dense, and as a result the magic is nearly gone. So while it pains me to make this request, please, do not visit the Cinque Terre. Let it rest. Let it recover.
I understand that my words will not be heeded. My voice is too small, my reach too short, to truly impact and restore this beautiful land. So if you do visit, promise that you will do one thing: stay overnight in a village. The biggest offense and contributor to the overcrowding of the Cinque Terre are the day-trippers. The people who come in by train or boat in the morning and leave again in the evening. The villages are not equipped to handle them, and it shows. Dramatically. If the number of visitors were limited to those that could comfortably be lodged in one of the villages, visitors would get a chance to experience what the Cinque Terre used to be like. After the day-trippers and cruise ship passengers leave each evening, the towns start to come back to life. The magic returns, if only just a brief spark, until the cycle repeats itself and the flood of bodies returns the next morning. By committing to this one practice you may just get to experience that fleeting moment of fantasy, and at the same time be setting the example for everyone else you share your experience with.