One of the first memories of arriving at the train station in Riomaggiore is the wonderful murals that are adjacent to the station and spread throughout the town. These murals so expressive of everyday life in the Cinque Terre were painted by Silvio Benedetto. Men and women in some cases are shown struggling to make a living. Benedetto was born in Argentina in the 1930's but has spent many years in Italy creating wonderful murals that express the joys and struggles of Italians in the Cinque Terre.
So please walk around town and observe these murals. Stop and think about how accurately they describe what you perceive as everyday life in the Cinque Terre.
It is typical sauce for Cinque terre and Liguria.
basil (2 bunches)
Pine nuts, (a handful)
Garlic (1 clove)
Salt (1 teaspoon)
Parmesan cheese (50gr)
Extra virgin olive oil, (3 tablespoon)
Butter (a teaspoon)
Mix well basil with crush pine nuts, garlic and salt in a mortar. Then add the oil until you have the density you prefer. Lastly add Parmesan and mix well.
Before seasoning the pasta, put a little butter on the plate followed by the Pesto sauce and let it warm on the pot where you are boiling the pasta.
These photos show some other local customs we spotted and liked:
Photo 1 ~ on a Sunday evening all the older locals seem to make a point of coming out, dressed no doubt in their Sunday best, to sit on a bench, gossip with each other, and watch the world go by
Photo 2 ~ a baby has been born to the family living here and this sign hangs on the door to announce her arrival: “è nata Iris”
Photo 3 ~ I think this one speaks for itself (and no, I’m afraid I didn’t pay the requested €1 to take this photo but rather grabbed the shot quickly while passing the restaurant where this plant pot perches on a ledge)
Photo 4 ~ a reminder of the lovely custom I mentioned in my Via dell’Amore tip, wherein local couples fasten a padlock to a railing as a sign of their commitment to each other
In several parts of Riomaggiore you will see striking murals such as this one, which you’ll find hard to miss as it faces you as you come out of the railway station. They are on a truly large scale, as photo 3, with Chris in front of this one, shows.
The murals were done by an Argentinean artist, Silvio Benedetto, and the figures modelled on real local people. They are designed to glorify the unknown workers who constructed the millions of metres of dry-stone walls (muri a secco) that are so distinctive of this region. The murals paint a picture of life here in the Cinque Terre: growing vines, building the terraces, fishing, quarrying ...
I couldn’t decide whether I liked them – they are clearly well-executed, and the subject matter of great interest, but even here in the newer part of town they seemed a little out of keeping with the tone of the village. See what you think!
One of the things that most fascinated me about Riomaggiore, and the Cinque Terre region in general, was watching how people lived here, which is in many respects just how they must have lived for centuries. This is an unforgiving landscape for human habitation – steep, stony hillsides do not lend themselves easily to cultivation, even of such tolerant crops as olives and vines, and they are little better when it comes to building as it is so hard to find a level surface on which to lay your foundations. Yet people do live here, and the villages thrive despite these challenges.
And those features which make life here such a challenge are also what make the landscape so picturesque for we who visit. Each of the five villages clings to its hill or hills as if about to slip down into the sea below, and above the colourful houses are narrow terraces of vineyards shored up with dry-stone walls (or in Italian, muri a secco). The houses themselves are built as traditional tower houses, taller than they are wide, with entrances on different levels according to the height of the road (i.e. usually the back entrance is several floors higher than the front). They are painted in different soft shades of terracotta, pink, cream and yellow, many of them faded and crumbling, but no less charming for that. The shutters so necessary in this hot climate are mostly dark green, contrasting pleasantly with the lighter walls. Washing is hung from balconies or wherever else people can find somewhere to string a line. Narrow alleys and stairways thread their way between and even beneath the houses (we noticed this especially in Riomaggiore and in Vernaza). And despite the steep hills and consequently jumbled houses and streets, gardens are squeezed in wherever space can be found for them, providing vegetables for the household as well as colourful flowers.
Everyone says it, and it is true – sunsets in the Cinque Terre are special. The combination of the particular light here with the ocean and cliff scenery is perfect. As we were here in the middle of summer, the sun had a habit of setting inconveniently late, usually just at the time we wanted to have dinner, but no matter. The light just after sunset was the best of all, and Riomaggiore’s harbour area one of the best places to enjoy it. Many of the younger visitors to the town would rendezvous on the rocks here to eat pizza and drink wine or beer as it set, but if you prefer some creature comforts there is a well situated bar, the Conchiglia (see my nightlife tip), and you will also get lovely views (though not of the sunset itself as the angle is wrong) from La Lanterna and Enoteca dau Cila, from where my main photo was taken.
As in restaurant tip you are supposed to mention a restaurant and not just food, I put this tip here.Restaurants in Riomaggiore and in 5 terre in general, are often too crowded, so a great idea of tasting some good food is to go in some shops and buy some ham, cheese and mortadella and to have them with the many local kinds of focaccia.
Focaccia is a sort of flat bread that you can find simple, with olives, with cheese, pesto sauce exc.
The Cinque Terre have traditionally been a region of fishing and also here in Riomaggiore this shows: you will see those small fishing boats in the harbor and in the late afternoon you will also be able to watch fishermen work on their nets.
And if you look at the menues in the restaurants: fresh fish and seafood everywhere!
The hills of the Cinque Terre are covered with grape vines, baking in the Ligurian sunshine and waiting to be harvested each autumn and made into the delicious wine that we love to drink on our visits there.
Due to the precarious way that the grapes are grown - on steep cliffs, an ingenious Monorail network has been built to carry the grapes once picked.
It is big enough to carry the driver and containers of precious cargo (aka grapes).
So after a long day hiking past the vineyards, whilst you are sipping a chilled glass of vino bianco, look to the hills and amaze over the ingenious Monorail!
As soon as I arrived I noticed the sign: don't sit on the flowers. Fair enough, I thought - but something about those flowers looked strange. Then it dawned on me: these flower pots, they move... honestly, I was not drunk. Then it made sense: don't sit on the flowers - but not because you could ruin them... it's because they can cause a small accidents. When a town's vehicle has to drive down the road - for instance to collect the rubbish - those flowers slide to the side and make way to the vehicle.. only to return to their original place once the vehicle has moved on. Genial!
My hotel (Villa Argentina) and many other places in Cinque Terre did not take credit cards, and even some that did gave a better rate for cash.
Bottom line: Bring enough cash / Euros to Riomaggiore to get the best deal, and to avoid little surprises when you go to buy things or check out of your hotel.