May Day. Europe’s version of Labor Day, and it seemed most of Italy descended on Cinque Terre. Feeling a bit sore, and with me falling further under the weather, we decided to stay put that day and explore Riomaggiore.
To reach the town, we had to go through the lower gate of the Cinque Terre Residence down some old stone stairs that are so steep they should really be called a permanent ladder. A few switchbacks between the old buildings later, and we come to some shallow stairs that are obviously ancient. They reminded me of the type of stairs you see in Venice that lead to the water, and a boat mooring. I had asked Innkeeper Carla about that earlier and found that’s because that’s what they were. Riomaggiore means “big river” and in yesteryear the main street was actually a substantial river. Currently, the river is rigged so runs under the main street. You can hear it rushing under the pavement as you walk down. So cool, but then I really like that kind of stuff.
The steps ended at a charming small church that was still in use by the locals. Votive candles burn in a long holder just inside the doors, and the whole place is fragrant with old incense. The church is obviously very old (no placque with a date) and to me was more picturesque than the main church that’s on all the postcards and which dates only from the mid 1800’s. Unfortunately, this lovely church is always in the shade, and we couldn’t get a good picture of it. Trust me – it’s worth the walk up to see.
Walking down the main street, the Via Colombo, there were tall attached houses crowded on either side, and other tall houses behind in several layers going up both sides of the old ravine. The result was both pretty and colorful. The bottom story of the front-row houses were all businesses of varying sort – a wine shop that sold local wines (and from which we had sent home a large box of excellent Riomaggiore white wine), a couple of co-op collectives, various shops selling pizza, foccacia squares topped with some really yummy things, gelato, trinkets, as well as a small general store and a farmacia.
There are more locals out and about here than in the other towns, I noticed. They walked up and down the street calling to each other with lots of hugging and cheek kissing when they met. When the tours leave in the evening was prime dog-walking time, and kick-the-soccer ball time for the local kids. A great experience to see local lifestyle.
Below the main part of the town, accessed from a staircase is the marina area, a stone breakwater provides shelter for the fishing boats which are removed from storage up in the mountain by a crane, and launched by hand. A stroll around the corner (yes, with stairs, of course!) takes you to where the water ferry lands when weather permits. The sea was pretty choppy that day, and the ferry was having some difficulty getting people on and off with the bouncing around it was doing. We stood and watched the follies for a while before strolling back up to the main part of town.
After having seen a couple of the other towns and the crowds in each, we were surprised not to see the same in Riomaggiore. We have the theory that the more sedentary tourists and tour groups take one look at the main street, head down to the marina for a quick glance, and then head to the next town. Their loss.
This place is perfect.