The Cinque Terre (The Five Lands) are the five villages that have been clinging to the rugged cliffs of the northern Mediterranean coastline for centuries. The villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Corniglia and Monterosso have survived on fishing, wine, and tourism. Many come to hike the nearby Sentiero Azzurro (Blue Path), part of the National Park that surrounds the villages.
No cars are allowed in any of the narrow ancient streets of the villages and everyone either takes the local train, the ferry or walks.
My wife and I arrived in Vernazza, by train, on a warm and humid day. I promised her that I would only sketch for an hour each day so we could spend the rest of our time together. Although I stretched that promise on more than one occasion in this incredibly scenic and sketch-worthy area.
We stayed in possibly the most beautiful of the five villages, Vernazza, with its 13th-century Church of Santa Margherita d'Antiochia and the large Piazza Marconi by the ocean (image at the top of the page).
From the window of our rented house, we could see the Mediterranean sea from one side and the convent (or monastery) from the other. I found out later that the group of small buildings at the top of the hill were part of the carefully maintained local cemetery.
Of course we had to explore the other villages and the best (and most fun) way was to hop on one of the ferry boats as they darted up and down the coastline every 15 to 20 minutes.
First stop was the tiny village of Manarola. When the ferry pulled into port, I couldn’t believe the view! How did this community manage to build so many houses along that rocky cliff? And to think, some of these these dwellings have managed to survive cliffside for 700 years. I spent about 2 hours trying to capture this gorgeous view of the sea, the cliffs and the colorful buildings. I was fortunate enough that my lovely and patient wife let me sit along the trail that winds away from the village and sketch this remarkable view while she walked further on.
Next stop Riomaggiore. We spent about half an hour in the village and I was just able to get a quick sketch of the town before our ferry arrived and we were on our way to our last stop.
Porto Venere, a larger village that should have been included into the Cinque Terre, but was left out somehow, maybe because it’s bigger and easier to get to.
Fortified by a hearty lunch in Porto Venere we capped off the afternoon with a ferry ride back to home base. Vernazza is at its most magical and relaxing in the evening. After a scrumptious seafood dinner “al fresco,” we strolled the seaside piazza and down to the wharf where the fishing boats bobbed in the little harbor. Wrapped in the intoxicating warmth of the evening we chattered excitedly about our amazing day.
Phil McDonel is a retired art director, graphic designer and freelance illustrator. Most of his work was in advertising, direct mail and package design. Nowadays, he spends as much time as possible sketching, painting and making art. Oh, and he loves urban sketching.