Lake Salagou, France

Lake Salagou, France

Imagine a beautiful lake encased within a basin of iron-red earth that in the autumn is home to yellow and rust-coloured trees dotted around the hills.  Accompanied by autumnal warmth that has you basking as if in a pottery-kiln and sharp blue waters that makes the camera scream out for shots, there is so much that Lake Salagou has to offer the late season visitor.  Let’s see if I can tempt you.

Salagou Lake Map

Just an hour away from the Mediterranean coast and 90 minutes away from the Camargue, this beautiful region of Languedoc-Rousillon is perhaps one of those ‘Road Less Travelled’ places, as people flock to the seaside resorts. This typically French countryside with its iconic vineyards and roads lined with plane trees, gives you so much more than the over-populated towns along the high-rise south.

Lake Salagou… there truly is something for everyone

Lake Salagou is actually man-made, back in 1968 as a preventative measure for the, prone-to-flooding river Salagou, whose swollen waters often threatened the agriculture of its surrounding land.  That said, the lake is beautiful none the less and whether you love sailing, fishing, kitesurfing, SUP, kayaking, cycling or horse riding, there truly is something for everyone.

Salagou curves

One of the things we loved the most, was the shape of the lake which actually belies its man-made conception. It has formed its own curves, inlets and secret coves over the last fifty years and provides refuge to a veritable feast of wildlife and I’m sure a sanctuary to its carp-filled waters.

Get off the beaten track by taking one of the many forestry paths or the lakeside cycle trails that tests out your mountain biking skills with its rugged terrain and see the lake’s many faces.  Each corner offers a new vista of this stunning blue treasure.  Parking areas are dotted around everywhere and you will see many campers bunked down for the night in both official and unofficial places, which out of season seems to be tolerated by the local Gendarmerie.

Salagou Cycling

On the northern side of the lake, a must-visit site is Celles, When they built the lake, the original intention was to raise the water level firstly to 130m and then to 150m, which would have flooded the village that stands at 144m. So the village was abandoned although the second level was never initiated, leaving Celles unaffected, paradoxically.  Today, the buildings of this tiny hamlet are in rack and ruin, with vegetation being the only resident in this slightly eerie place. With the lake licking the fringes of the village’s perimeter, the local commune are currently planning to renovate the entire village, having already started with the local Mayor’s house.  Over time, each building will get the loving care that is needed to bring it back to life and breathe fresh energy into this once thriving agricultural community.

Deserted Celles

Further outside of the lake, not more than 30 minutes away heading north-east, you have Les Gorges de l’Herault, Le Pont du Diable and the medieval village of Sainte Guilhem le Désert.  You will notice plenty of walking signs around and through the village, which are part of the pilgrimage route Santiago de Compostela. Also en route to the village you have caves that look interesting, although we didn’t stop here.  Certainly the Devil’s Bridge is a great place for swimming and picnics, and Guilhem cut up into the mountain rock, with its ruined castled keeping watch is a must visit, given that it is on the 100 Most Beautiful villages in France list.  We would recommend out of season though, otherwise you run the risk of sharing the place with the crowds.

Pont du Diable

There are other sights, such as Gignac, Claremont l’Herault and Cirque de Mouréze which is a natural amphitheatre of dolomites and all worth seeing if you are in the area for more than a couple of days, unlike us sadly.  Although so beautiful is this area and Lac du Salagou in particularly, that we will be back to explore some more.

In the meantime, why not divert your path away from the crowded and built up region of the south coast and head inland.  Place your feet upon the earth that is shaped by Mother Nature and cultivated for its richness and feel the tranquility that Lake Salagou offers the humble visitor.

Scoobie’s camping spot

If you are coming with your camper, then there are plenty of wild camping spots along the lake. There are a couple of campsite that are open from April until beginning of October, and two official Aires that whilst have no facilities, do allow you to park up for free.  Here are the co-ordinates:

Wind 34  – 43.644036 003.383137

Camping Le Salagou – 43.645460 003.389700

Rive d’Octon – Overnight parking with services 43.65425, 3.318127

Come on!  Give it a go – you’ll not be disappointed.

 

Salagou Gallery

Travel’s Clouds and Silver Linings

Travel’s Clouds and Silver Linings

When you’re stuck in the system of life, the idea of travelling seems somehow quite Utopian. Escaping life’s rules and being free from all your worries and strife. Now there’s a dream we can all buy into.

Yet the reality of travelling is that there is no Utopia, no grass is greener on the other side.  Don’t get me wrong, leaving the System and travelling full time in our camper has been the best decision we’ve ever made, (second to getting married, I hasten to add) and we’ve never been happier.  It gives us an immense freedom, a joy that is indescribable and an inner peace that I’ve never had in my life.  More importantly, I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Although this is not a dream-like state where everything is rosy and where we all live happily ever after. Life still comes with strings attached, with unpredictable challenges and outright trauma sometimes.  It is though all about how we handle those situations and which ultimately define us and our life experiences.  Living on the road is no different.

As I reflect on our nomadic path, sat on the cusp of a change to our lifestyle, I feel like after 19 months travelling full time that I can, with a degree of credibility, assess life through more realistic glasses.  And it is both beautiful and stretching all at the same time.

We have seen fellow nomads get caught up in hurricanes, we’ve seen couples not getting on and heading home, we’ve seen others being offered jobs that they couldn’t turn down or family having babies that draw them home.  Sometimes illness throws you off course, the needs of a close relation calls for your support, or children need to return back to finish their schooling.

However we travel, for however long we travel, it is still life and the ups and downs still need navigating. That is something you can’t escape.  And if travel feels like an escape, then don’t be fooled by this illusion as you will be disappointed. After all, our taxes still need paying and financial institutions still need interacting with.

A heap of questions danced in my mind about what would happen next

For us, we have recently had an opportunity to put our travel commitment to the test after a financial sideswipe threw us temporarily off course. Our journey so far has been blessed by only a few financial constraints. Whilst we are mindful of our expenses and we have a budget to honour, it hasn’t been, until now, hugely restrictive on a day to day basis. Yet a significant shift in our rental income hit us two weeks ago and sent us, well in truth me, spiralling into a vortex of uncertainty and panic.

A heap of questions danced in my mind about what would happen next as the reality of our situation expanded from just a short term issue to a medium term challenge. Now we’ve had some problems to deal with along our way, so I don’t think for one minute we have been complaisant on our nomadic journey although this change in finances, which came overnight, was a bit of a shock to the system.

I’m a great believer, when I’m not in a state of panic, that every situation offers learning and opportunity, even if it’s not clear at the time.  So when the shock wore off, we were able to assess our new situation with fresh eyes.  We looked at all avenues; the thought of returning back to UK was the one that filled me with most horror. Aside of that we had two basic considerations – how to generate more money and how to lower our expenditure.

…and from that moment on, drama turned into opportunity.

Given that returning to UK was not a desired route for either of us, we put our rational heads into gear and from that moment on, drama turned into opportunity.  Within the space of a day we had come up with a strategy that was full of synergy and positivity where we could both reduce our spends and raise our income levels.  It was a strategy we had already built into our vision before we left England and now it was time to initiate our house sitting plan.

What a perfect opportunity for us; a chance to stand still after 19 months of busy travels and working as travel bloggers. A great way to reign in our campsite fees, diesel, gas and general wear and tear on the vehicle. A way of meeting my ‘helping’ gene, allowing others to fulfill their travel needs and an lovely opportunity to experience a new part of Europe from the very heart of its community. Plus on top of all of this, we will have the time to push forward with our Motoroaming venture and expand our offerings, which is important to us both and hopefully generate some passive income.

We have turned what felt like a storm of travelling doom, into a silver-lined cloud

When we told a few friends about this, they have been gutted for us, as many of our plans for next year have had to be shelved. Morocco postponed, the Baltics rescheduled and generally our European travels restructured for 2018.  And yet we are not only excited, we are so incredibly positive about this junction.  With four house sits under our belt, secured in just one week, we know that this is what is destined for us – it is our vision coming to fruition and we couldn’t be happier.

We are still nomads, if that label is important, we are still travelling and we are still committed to full time adventures.  There is no ending, no grieving, just travelling in a different way. We have turned what felt like a storm of travelling doom into a silver-lined cloud.  As a result the Motoroamers will have some alternative travel perspectives and a new take on our destinations that we hope will inspire you and that we are excited to share very soon.

So what’s the moral of this story?

  • Travel is just life lived differently to the norm, free from just some of life’s traditional rules.
  • Travel comes with consequences and choices just like any other lifestyle.
  • Challenges and dramas hit us when we least expect them, it’s how we choose to deal with them that defines us.
  • Travel is multi faceted and three dimensional; it’s how we create meaning for our life and how we let labels of ‘nomad’ or ‘full time’ get in our way.
  • There’s always a way through when we remove ourselves from fear and the vortex of panic.

So our final thoughts remain; travel when you can, however you can, for as long as you can, just travel. 

House sitting agencies we have used are;

www.trustedhousesitter.com – become a member £89.00 per year and £30 for a one-off payment for an advanced level Police Check.*

www.mindmyhouse.com – become a member for $15 per year.*

www.housecarers.com – register for free and become a member for £30 per year.*

* These are the currencies that we paid to register as UK residents.

Travelling – the Good Life

Travelling – the Good Life

The good life can mean something different – and usually does for each of us.

Goals; we all have them, whether or not we actually formalize them. As adults we work and strive to reach those goals with the result of being able to live the good life. The good life can mean something different – and usually does, for each of us. The good life for us was all about the joy of exploring new places on this little blue dot and, more importantly, getting a glimpse into the lives of people who may perceive the world a bit differently than we do. Why is that important? Because personal growth matters. As a matter of fact, in our view it’s the most important factor in having a ‘good life’, because if we’re not growing, evolving as people, what’s the point? And one of the best ways, as well as most enjoyable ways, is to travel.

Travel is engaging, It keeps the mind and senses tuned. It is an addiction we cannot shake and don’t want to shake.

We are both engineers by background and find the everyday curiosities, logistics, and communication encountered in foreign countries to be challenging puzzles that we love to solve. How do you say thank you in the country’s language? What is that weird-looking fruit in the market? How do we use public transportation to get from point A to point B? How do we use the bathroom for that matter?

Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we wonder if we accidentally said something insulting. Sometimes we try a new food that is just downright gross. It’s all part of the experience. All part of the fun.

Travel means intentionally planning on not being a tourist. Instead, looking for how you convert your destination into a personal, unforgettable memory.

Enjoyable? Travel can be difficult and expensive? The short answer is no, it doesn’t have to be expensive and yes, it can be difficult. And in our view it should be a bit challenging. How else can one achieve some measure of personal growth without some level of challenges and obstacles? Travel, really traveling that is, means intentionally planning on not being a tourist. Instead, looking for how you convert your destination – the guidebook visuals – into a personal, unforgettable memory. And that is the challenging, and yes, sometimes difficult part. An example: We honeymooned in Nepal, trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary region of the Himalayas. The tour company that we used provided all the food and gear and about a half dozen sherpa to carry all this food and gear for the 8 day expedition (no we weren’t the only travelers).

The lovely people we meet along the way

As you might imagine the scenery was incredible and the other travellers in the group were friendly and open. We could have left it at that and it would have been an experience of a lifetime, but we decided to engage the sherpa who were working hard to make us comfortable. Singing in the evening around the fire was the reward for completing the day’s chores and we expressed an interest in joining them. One of them, whom we bantered with each day during the hiking, took the time to write down the words to a local folk song and teach it to us. To this day, one of our most valued possessions is that piece of paper with the words to a local Nepalese song.

People look at where we travel and how we can be gone for extended periods. They think we must be very rich to do it. That is not the case at all. We worked hard at highly skilled positions when we worked. We lived modestly, we sacrificed, and we saved as much as possible because full-time travel was always a goal. We are homeless now for two years. We rented out our home to generate some income to support our habit.

Flexibility is key and a sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.

Our Sailing Adventures

We have traveled numerous ways over the decades; the organised trek in Nepal, a chartered sailboat with friends in Tonga, timeshares all over the place, years of living and cruising on our own sailboat in Central and South America. And, now, traveling mainly by land in Europe. The sharing economy has really made travel affordable. What would we do without Airbnb, Booking.com or TrustedHousesitters.com? It is a snap to find inexpensive, and sometimes free, accommodations especially if you travel slowly and in shoulder- to off-season. Flexibility is key and a sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.

 

Though we have seen many of the world’s wonders, it is the people we remember the most. It doesn’t happen at every stop, but when it does it is special. This is why we have enacted Travel Rule #1: Never Turn Down an invitation from a local.

When a local invites you to do something it is because they are proud of their city, their home, their food, or whatever. Go! We have one travel regret. When we were newbies, we turned down tea at a professor’s house on Fiji. Why did we do that? It wasn’t that we thought he was a closet cannibal and going to throw us in a cauldron of boiling water. We thought we would be imposing, and we had nothing with which to reciprocate. Nonsense! If the invitation is extended, it is meant. Don’t pass it up! (Unless you spy a giant cauldron of boiling water with onions and carrots just waiting for protein to be added…)

Let’s not forget the encounters with other travelers. We have made lifelong friends during our cruising days and during our land travels. The great part about meeting other long-term travelers is that they all seem to have a similar outlook on life. They place value on experiences and interactions rather than things. They have a keen curiosity and like to research the foods, the culture, the wines(!) of an area and share the knowledge with others. It is never “goodbye,” but “see you soon.”

Life is short. Travel is magical. Do it before you can’t. Thank you Motoroaming for taking an interest in our story. It has been great fun getting to know you and your story. We are sure our paths will cross again!

You can keep in touch with Carrie and Pat’s adventures by clicking and liking their Facebook page VinoHiking

 

 

24hrs in Zagreb

24hrs in Zagreb

Little did we know how Zagreb would surprise and delight us.

After a brief sojourn in Hungary, we met up with friends who had Croatia on their itinerary, which suited us perfectly. Now I’ve heard so much about this country for its coastline and stunning islands, although never actually visited myself.  So perhaps you could forgive me for not knowing the capital city of this former Yugoslavian state.

One of the many things I love about travel is how it broadens not only my soul, it expands my mind and teaches me so many things I didn’t know about culture, countries and their traditions.  So my Croatian education was about to begin with a little dalliance into its capital city, Zagreb.

Unfortunately due to weather conditions in the area, our visit was only too brief; with floods, cyclones and torrential rain, lengthening our trip in Croatia didn’t seem like the greatest of ideas.  So Zagreb became a pit-stop for us and a short excursion into the city was on the cards.  Little did we know how it would surprise and delight us.

In this 24hr Guide to Zagreb, we share our heart-warming experiences of this vibrant, fresh and intriguing capital that is understated and simply not on enough people’s travel itineraries.

Zagreb’s eclectic mix

Let me create a visual jigsaw that we can fuse together for a Zagreb masterpiece! Imagine an eclectic mix of parks and greenery, rivers, ancient buildings, modern architecture, state of the art tram system, café culture, historical legends, outdoor market, mountain backdrops and you pretty much have the key components of Zagreb.  Add to that a mixture of youthful exuberance from its student population, almost as many bicycles as Amsterdam, colourful roofs and a whole host of museums to see, you can start to feel its essence and vibe.

Zagreb was only made Croatia’s capital in 1945, although the city itself actually dates back to Roman times. Through its turbulent history Zagreb has made it to the leaderboard of Croatian cities and is today the seat of the country’s parliament.  So don’t be surprised if during your time visiting the city you see a caravan of State Police escorting some nobility or dignitaries through the streets.

The first thing that captures your attention as you enter the city is its clean, smog-free highways, lined with trees, the Sava river, luscious parks and statues and fountains.  No wall-to-wall traffic jams or hooting cars, just a gentle throb of trams and vehicles sedately going about their business with the mindset of a township rather than a capital city.  It already feels like a great place to be and you’ve not even hit the main centre yet.  What a refreshing introduction that is.

City Highlights

Walking past the impressive looking railway station, you almost feel as if you have entered through an invisible gateway that sucks you into the heart of the city.  Highways are replaced by gardens, monuments and Austro-Hungarian designed museums and the cars have been swapped for trams that effortlessly glide through the capital’s streets.  

Magnetised towards the old town and the history that it harbours, the walk through the tenderly cared for gardens make you forget that you’re in a major city and you instantly feel a relaxed air washing over you.  How perfectly this prepares you for the buzz of the central plaza.  

Ban Jelačić Square has you aghast with its neck-craning hotels and traditional buildings that somehow seem to blend so well and you feel caught up in indecision as you consider which way to turn.  The traditional brown tourist signposts don’t really offer any help, as they reveal a plethora of attractions to check out, you are seriously spoilt for choice.  Whether you love museums, art, music or history, this compact city has it all.  Iliac Street is your main shopping avenue, which is strewn with a whole range of boutiques and branded shops. If you love shopping, this is the street for you.

Roof-top Perspective

Although for your 24hrs in Zagreb, to get an all-round feel for this wonderful city, why not get a panoramic perspective. You have two options:

The Observation Tower is on the main Plaza and costs €8 each to climb to Floor 16 of a modern office block.  Or you can go walk 500m further down the road and take the charming vernacular which is thought to be the smallest in Europe.  This, or the steps if you feel fit, will take you up to the old town known as Gradec where you get get lost in the Museum of Broken Relationships, the Museum of Torture and the 13th Century Fortress – Lotrščak Tower.  For €2 you get to climb this ancient tower, built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec old town and see the old cannon, which to this day is still fired to mark midday.

St Mark’s Church view

Personally the Tower had a more authentic feel for me as you swapped the modern lifts of the Observation Tower for the stone steps where you feel like you are treading the same footprints as the ghosts of a bygone era. The views from here are quite incredible as you glance north towards the unique mosaic roof of St Mark’s Church and south back towards the modern skyline.

From here you are perfectly positioned to walk the streets of this medieval part of town, still beautifully intact and take in the delights of St Mark’s church.  With the oldest coat of arms in the city and its Gothic feel, you can only gaze in amazement at the mosaic tiles forming the Zagreb flag. 

Not more than 200m to your right you soon reach yet another gate of these ancient walls, the Stone Gate.  This sacred site where local townspeople would light candles and pray is still upheld today and despite a number of fires in its history, a painting of the Virgin Mary still remains in tact.

Stone Gate

Tkalčićeva Street

Whilst on your brief sojourn through Zagreb, you cannot miss a walk down Tkalčićeva Street. In ancient times, the street used to be a creek which formed the basis for a thriving watermill industry of soap, paper, liquor and cloth. Sadly none of the mills remain, just a cobbled street paves the way, as you retrace the flow of water that made Zagreb such a thriving industrial centre.  Today the street has a more café culture, with bistros and restaurants framed by multi-colourful facades.  Listen for long enough and you may just hear the gentle sound of trickling water or is that just your beer?

Dolca Market

Heading south on Tkalčićeva Street, you’ll be distracted not only by the amazing old buildings and street art, you’ll also be intrigued by Skalinska Street.  A narrow lane that climbs steeply towards the alluring vision of the Cathedral.  It is filled, wall to wall with umbrella covered tables where eager clients wait to sample Croatian fare.  The buzz of this tiny lane is amazing and you feel as you walk up the tiny pavement as though you’re in a scene from Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Walk slowly and soak up the atmosphere, which is almost palpable.

Zagreb market mural

At the top of the street you suddenly emerge from the rabbit warren lane into the open air and a square that is filled with the vibrance of market stalls.  Welcome to the daily Dolac Market which has been thriving since 1926. Bright red umbrellas give you the first indication of something exciting happening and then the gentle buzz of locals zipping in-between the hundreds of Farmers’ Stalls that offer you traditional and local products.  This is the most popular and most visited market in Zagreb and it is unmistakable with its canvas painting backdrop of the Jalačić Square and the old town’s Cathedral. Imagine a handful of fresh figs in August plucked from the trees only that morning or the enticing appeal of home-made honeys and jams.  Fresh fruit in a rainbow of colours calling to you to buy and a plethora of vegetables in every shape and size, just ready to convert you away from meat.

Zagreb cathedral

From the hum of the market, walking down the steps brings you back to centre stage and a turn to your right will take you towards the 11th century cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.  This beautiful Roman Catholic building hosts two claims to fame; first is its height – the tallest building in Croatia and second is that the cathedral is the most monumental sacral, Gothic building south east of the Alps.  It has survived Mongol invasions, Ottoman attacks and earthquakes; hence it has had to evolve in its thousand year history and still maintains its rightful lofty status amongst the city’s stunning architectural prowess, proudly rising above the city’s roof tops for all of Croatia to see. Spending time just wandering around these streets and the park will give you a chance to reflect back on lives of those who called this city home and those who defended it to the hilt.  Just sit quietly to hear the echoes of their voices and the sounds of ancient times.

 

And of course, to round off your 24hrs in Zagreb, undoubtedly a night visit must be on the list.  Although we didn’t get a chance to, you could easily imagine how these magnificent buildings, parks and fountains would light up once darkness fell.  I think nighttime offers a completely different perspective on a place and an alternative vibe that goes beyond the clubs and restaurants.

Zagreb is an incredible city and unlike some of its western European cousins, it gifts to the visitor an intimate city rich in architecture, culture and colour.  It appeals to every sense and seriously piques your curiosity.  Whilst the coast might well calling you, take a diversion to this capital city and be enthralled by its treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinque Terre – High 5 or Low 5?

Cinque Terre – High 5 or Low 5?

Anticipation filled the autumn air as we looked ahead to Italy’s Cinque Terre.

The Famous Five; a coastal stretch of Italy’s Riviera that is home to five quaint fishing villages, pastel coloured houses that perch precariously on the rock-face where residents live life on the edge, almost literally.  How would our day fare?  Would we be left disappointed or delighted?

Our Italian love/hate relationship

Our feelings about Italy over the last couple of years have been tinged with what can only be described as a love, hate relationship.  Sometimes we adore its romantic canvas and then we take to the road and the love affair comes to an abrupt end as we navigate the highways and bi-ways with their crazy drivers.

Portovenere poster matches its claim

We had a similar connection with Cinque Terre (CT) when we visited last year, after stumbling upon Portovenere just along the peninsular from La Spezia.  We loved this wonderful town and as a working port has somehow held onto its authentic roots despite growing tourism.  And yet Portovenere is NOT on THE LIST, which perhaps accounts for its serene vibe and distinct lack of visitors.  At the other end of the coast you find Monterosso; a surprisingly grey town cut in half, discourteously by the railway line, seemingly severing its once beautiful sanctuary.  We were so disappointed by our initial introduction to CT that we decided to pass on by.

So this year, late September we were travelling with friends who had the Land of Five on their list and felt we wanted to give it a second chance.  Travel is, after all about exploring beyond the magazine cover and seeking real life within the beating heart of the streets.  Perhaps this trip would re-ignite the love we so wanted to feel for CT.

Our Cinque Terre adventure

Strangely, despite our previous experience, we woke with anticipation and excitement.  With the sun reigning supreme, we set off on what felt like a proper adventure.  A bus from Portovenere into La Spezia, a walk to the train station, purchase of an ‘All Day Cinque Terre Ticket’, a quick coffee from McDonalds and on the train within minutes.  It felt like a scene out of an Enid Blyton novel, where four friends accompanied by their dog, a packed lunch and fully-charged cameras, set off in search of exploration.

Given that we had only one day and had already visited Monterosso, we decided to start our exploration at the next most westerly point, Vernazza; and within a twelve minute train ride, we had arrived. Yet within seconds of stepping off the platform, we were stripped of our excitement as we were met by a throng of Tour Groups and wall-to-wall tourists resembling something out of Piped Piper.  We followed like sheep, assuming that they were all heading towards something spectacular.  We passed by one souvenir shop after another and selfie-taking enthusiasts, and hoped that if we darted around them, we would find our slice of tranquility.

Vernazza resident

They say that ‘First Impressions Count’ and although I’m not a great believer in this quote, I have to say that today, it felt true.  Above the shop facades, four storey buildings rise above your head, framed by uniform green shutters.  Residents look down upon the bustling crowd below with a mixture of amusement and annoyance it seemed to me.  Washing hangs from their lofty windows, despite the camera-clicking posse on the streets beneath them and houses, dearly in need of some love, line the streets blocking out the sun.

At the end of the main street you are presented with a plaza and harbour, which since the October 2011 floods has certainly regained its structure.  Like bees to a honey pot, people are buzzing and flocking – to where, we were unsure, although the harbour seems to be the place to hang out.  And for sure the sight looking back from the breakwater was pretty, although nothing that, at this point, made us go ‘wow’.  Regular ferry boats pull up to the docking pier for yet more visitors to disembark and descend upon this tiny fishing village.  Despite being one of those visitors, I felt sad for Venazza and the invasion of so many tourists. The bygone days of earning a crust from the sea is now replaced by souvenir shops selling pasta and scented lemon sacks.

Cinque Terre ferry

In our attempt to seek something special, we spied a lofty spot at the castle tower; here surely we would see the beauty?  Steadily clambering up the steep steps, we arrive at the castle gates, only to be greeted by a €1.50 entrance fee that our Day Pass didn’t cover.  So two of us climbed the tower, whilst on principle, the other two stayed below. The view was lovely although it just didn’t quite do it for me.  Perhaps the next village would do this iconic region justice.

 

 

So our starter for 10 – Porto Venere 1, Cinque Terre 0.

383 steps to Corniglia

Back on the train we travel east towards Corniglia, which can only be visited by train or car as it is positioned high up on a rocky crag, making it impossible for ferry tourists to access.  From the train station you have the opportunity, with your All Day ticket to take the Shuttle Bus to the village centre, although with hoards surrounding the bus as though a celebrity was inside, we decide that the hike up the zig-zag pathway would do us good. After climbing 383 steps to the top, we smile at the Pharmacy at the path’s entrance, inviting you to take something for your excessively beating heart?

Corniglia was village number two that left us speechless.  After staggering up the steps, we dashed from one potential viewing spot to another desperately searching that x-factor.  Yet scruffy buildings with broken windows, dark, narrow streets with people competing for air and a couple of vistas promising a view to die for and delivering something very underwhelming, was our prize.  Were we missing something? Perhaps because of our travels we have just experienced too many wows in our memory bank that have to compete for our affections – is this is danger of our travelling lifestyle? And yet, not less than two days previously we found a ‘wow’ at Portovenere, so we knew it couldn’t just be a laissez-faire mindset and we so wanted to feel the love.

For the moment though it was Portovenere 2 CT 0.

Riomaggiore

Such was our disappointment and tiredness, if we’re honest, we decided to miss Manarola. We heard a less than positive review from a lady who was staying there, so would Riomaggiore be our final saving grace? It’s true that this most easterly village had a certain charm as its roads rose steeply into the mountain bedrock above it and its streets swooped down to the sea below.  Some buildings had been newly painted, creating something similar to the  magazine images, although we still felt there was something missing.  You need to be fit to wander the streets of this village, as in your pursuit to explore the real village and not just the high street geared for tourists, you will need to climb towards the gods – and the stairways are unforgiving.

As our experience came to an end and we reflected on our day out in the Famous Five, what would our honest appraisal be in influencing future visitors?  I would love to report that this is a ’must’ on your Italy tour, although with all integrity I cannot.  Clearly all experiences are coloured by our own conditioning and the truth is that you must make up your own mind.  I’m really glad we went and we did have a fabulous day together – travel after all is not a Utopian experience – you must experience all sides of a place to truly be enriched. Although these are the factors that influenced our experience; the villages are over-run with expensive ferry arrivals and tour groups.  The villages seem to have lost their souls, selling them to the Tourism devil and it felt to us that they had sacrificed their authenticity for the sake of the crowds, of which we were part, of course.  The buildings look tired, unloved and shabby and fishing boats had been replaced by motorboats looking for their next experience-hungry customer. The marketing of the area creates an expectation that, in reality didn’t match up for us. We hoped for so much more.

Portovenere

Photoshop certainly gives us an illusion of Cinque Terre at its best and if you are looking for a genuine insight into the villagers’ way of life back in the day, you may be left sadly disappointed.  You can of course say that you have ticked off Cinque Terre, although unless you are wiling to stay in each village for a short period during November to March then I’m not sure you will feel its real heart-beat.  Our advice is visit Portovenere as this is what encompasses our expectation of the Cinque Terre and it was the ‘wow’ that we were looking for.

Final verdict? Portovenere 4, Cinque Terre 1

Travel Tips for Cinque Terre

  • You can buy a One Day Cinque Terre ticket for €16pp and this gives you access to the walking paths, the Shuttle Buses, the Hop On, Hop Off Train and the toilets that are normally charged at €1 per wee!  We bought our tickets from La Spezia Train station.
  • Tickets must be validated at the Green Machines before getting on the train.
  • You can go by Ferry, which depart regularly from Portovenere, Lerici and Levanto.  From Portovenere it costs €33 per person and is subject to weather conditions.  Please remember that the Ferry does not stop at Corniglia. From people we spoke to, the ferry is a tiring option, only because linking up to departure times can cause a lot of hanging around and the transfer from one village to another is a lot longer than the trains, which generally go every 30 minutes.
  • If taking the train, you can buy a single ticket for €4 one-way, although this will only take you to one village.  You must then buy another €4 ticket for each separate journey you wish to take.  So if you only want to do a couple of villages each day, then this could be a cheaper option than buying separate Day Tickets.
  • The tower at Vernazza castle costs €1.50 to enter and you really only spend five minutes up there. You will need to be fit to climb the steps that leads to the Ticket Office, so be aware of this and the costs before you make the climb.
  • You can take a small dog on the train and boat for free.  You will need either a dog carrier for the train or carry the dog and take a muzzle.  For a larger dog, check before you travel and make sure you have your dog passport.
  • If you take the train, take note of the departure schedule so you can manage how long you spend in each village.  This way you don’t waste valuable time waiting for a train’s arrival.  They are not always on time.
  • Visiting all five villages in one day by train is doable, although it is a tough schedule that doesn’t really allow for any chilling or lunch/refreshment breaks.  We did three villages in our day trip over about four hours and with the walks to and from the station, it makes for a long day.  Ideally to enjoy the villages take two days.
  • You can hike between the villages if you are keen walkers, although some of the paths are still damaged by the 2011 storms, so please enquire before deciding to walk.  http://www.cinqueterre.it
  • To visit Cinque Terre, you must have a reasonable level of fitness due to the steepness of the alleyways, towers and paths to and from the train stations.  The villages are not all Pram or Wheelchair friendly, so please consider this in your plans and get advice before travelling.
  • Of course you can travel by car to each of the villages, although this will add a significant amount of time to your visit as there are no direct coastal roads that link each village. So the mountain roads will need to be navigated to reach each one.
  • You can reach Portovenere by car or bus.  The yellow bus leaves La Spezia from Via Garibaldi and it takes about 20 minutes to arrive at the town and costs €5 return.