Serendipitous Traveler: Cinque Terre Lovers Lane

Turquoise Sea
by Leah Marie Brown
Imagine if you will, a footpath carved into the side of a granite cliff overlooking a turquoise sea. Now, situate this idyllic thoroughfare on the Italian Coast.  Picture yourself standing on the path.  Do you feel the sea breezes blowing seductively on your skin?  Can you hear the surf gently lapping the rocky shore far below? 

If you knew such a trail existed, wouldn't you want to traverse it?

When I read about a trail in Italy that stretches between the clifftop villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola, I felt my pulse quicken, my imagination take flight.  The guidebook said the Italians have been calling the trail Via dell'Amore (Lovers Lane) since the 1940s.  Sigh.

I imagined it to be a place for romance and daydreams.  I saw myself strolling down that magical path, pausing to admire the Mediterranean sea, a patchwork of cerulean and turquoise spread out as far as the eye could see.  Perhaps I would encounter lovers locked in a tender embrace, or a handsome young man on bended knee begging for his lady's hand in matrimony.  More sighs.

As any seasoned, serendipitous traveler knows, guidebooks often exaggerate.  Authors usually gild a scene with far more charm than actually exists.  I am an author and I have been guilty of dabbing a tad more golden varnish on a travel piece occasionally. 

I soon discovered that the author who wrote about the Via dell'Amore didn't dab a little gilding on his piece, he washed it in a freaking bucket of gold paint. 

Stormy Seas
by Leah Marie Brown
Stephanie and I arrived at Via dell'Amore after a brisk, choppy ferry ride from Levanto to Riomaggiore.  Clouds as thick as gray flannel had rolled across the horizon the night before, enveloping the verdant sloping fields in their dreary downiness.  The threat of a late summer storm hung heavy in the air.  Intrepid as always, we refused to allow something as trifling as bad weather to dampen our spirits.  After all, we were far from home and the middling, monotony of our separate daily lives.  We were best friends embarking on another adventure.  Mistresses of our Fates.  Relentless taskmasters determined to drive Destiny.  

Stephanie and I successfully maneuvered the swaying gangplank and found ourselves in lively Riomaggiore, the easternmost hillside town and the start of the Lovers Lane.  We followed a series of signs, climbing precariously until we were mingling with clouds.  The clouds parted, a shaft of sunlight spilled down from the heavens and divinely illuminated the Via dell'Amore. 

Anticipation pumping through my romantic veins, my Nikon poised and ready for documenting fleeting moments of amore, I followed the steady stream of tourists making their way toward the entrance.  I was so lost in my idyllic haze I didn't immediately notice the hostile looks some of the other tourists were giving us.

"Ferma! Ferma! Non hai pagato! Pagare!"

I heard the ticket mistress's angry flow of Italian jibberish before I saw her.  Apparently, when Stephanie and I plunged into the heavy flow of tourists, we had unwittingly joined a tour group.  We were following them down Lovers Lane without having paid the required entrance fee.

Innocent but humiliated, we disengaged from the group and made our way back to the ticket booth.  A pinch-faced woman sat perched on a stool, her beak-like nose thrust forward as if to sniff out thieves.   I felt myself flushing in mortification, and yet, I could not avert my gaze from her bangs.  She had teased and sprayed them to form a fan over her forehead, like a cockatoo.

"You did not pay!  You are not part of that group, so you must pay the individual ticket price like everyone else," she clucked, her gravity-defying bangs quivering.  "You Americans are so entitled, so evil.  You do not belong on Lovers Lane.  We should toss you into the ocean where you will die a horrible, watery death!"

Okay, she might not have spoken that last part (see above paragraph regarding author's gilding), but she was definitely thinking it.  Her eyes were telling us what her lips were not.  She was definitely shooting us some bad joo-joo looks.

"Seven Euros," Miss Cockatoo chirped.

Seven Euros seemed like a steep price to charge for a brief cliff side stroll, but mortification propelled me to hurriedly pay it and move on.

We stepped through the archway out of the ticket booth and onto Via dell'Amore, Lovers Lane.  I don't know what I expected - maybe a mustachioed man cueing an orchestra of violins, a flock of doves fluttering above our heads, the heady scent of roses staining the air.  Regular readers of this blog know that my imagination is frequently diametrically opposed to reality (see How Not To Visit the UK). 

How to describe the melange of aromas?  A breeze spiced with sea salt?  Yes, but it carried with it the acrid scent of vomit commingled with urine.  Eau de Romance.

Struggling to quell the wave of nausea rising in my throat (I instinctively feel the need to vomit whenever I smell someone else's vomit), I blinked in the watery sunlight and tried to make sense of the scene before me.  There were no mutually absorbed lovers strolling down a serpentine path, no bougainvillea covered tunnels perfect for romantic encounters.  What I saw before me was not the perfect backdrop for romantic liaisons, but an over-hyped tourist trapped scarred by graffiti.

Graffiti dell'Amore
by Leah Marie Brown
Exploding hearts defile a tunnel wall
along the Via dell'Amore in
Cinque Terre, Italy.

Modern Romance
by Leah Marie Brown
Forget sonnets recited from a Juliet balcony. 
In Italy, true affection is displayed in one
way: street art.  Graffiti: when you care enough
to give the very best. 

David, It's Not
by Leah Marie Brown
Graffiti scars a tunnel wall in the
Via dell'Amore in romantic
Cinque Terre, Italy.  One wonders
what Michelangelo would have to
say about this crude male form.

I paused for a moment and looked out at the Mediterranean, beautiful even on this disappointing, stormy day.  The sea appeared a rough cut of turquoise, the wind creating jagged blue-green stalagmites.  I stared at the sea and listened to its angry surf until the horror of Lovers Lane seemed to fade away.  I felt the rhythm of my heart slow.  I felt a light spray of sea mist over my face.  I felt something sharp cut into the back of my ankle.


An elderly tourist had driven her wheeled walker into me and kept on shuffling down Lovers Lane.  What?  That blood trickling from my ankle onto the pavement?  It's nothing.  Just keep on rolling, Granny, I wouldn't want you to miss this eighth wonder of the world, this spectacular love fest taking place all around us.

Go Granny, Go
by Leah Marie Brown
Aggressive elderly stroller
making roadkill of unsuspecting
tourists on Via dell'Amore
in Cinque Terre, Italy.

That's Amore
by Leah Marie Brown
I've always said, if you are going to
get impaled by an elderly woman's
walker, the best place to do it is in
Italy, especially with accordion
music playing as a backtrack.

Hobbling on, I stared at the urine stained path, the graffiti covered tunnel walls, the scarred flora and fauna, and tried to make sense of it all.  How could such a grubby, olfactory offensive spot rate as one of Italy's most romantic walks?  Italy?  The land of Romeo and Juliet.  The home of a million hot blooded Roman lovers.

What a prick!
by Leah Marie Brown
Silvia: "I thought Steve was going to
give me an engagement ring but
he didn't!  Insteas, he took me to Via dell'Amore
in Cinque Terre, Italy and
pointed to some stupid cactus he'd
carved our names onto."

by Leah Marie Brown
Only my best friend, Stephanie, could strike a
pose and actually make graffiti look cool.

I kept craning my neck, anxious to behold that one picturesque site that would make my less than romantic stroll down Lovers Lane worth the expense.  You might be thinking, "Seriously Leah Marie, seven Euros is hardly a fortune!" 

To that I would say, "True, but that same seven Euros could have bought me a delicious slice of hot, cheesy Foccacia Formaggia and a single scoop of sour cherry gelato.  Just sayin'."

Finally, we reached the end our stroll.  Was I rewarded with my panoramic view, my postcard perfect snapshot?  Well, that depends on your point of view.  If you are a junky for post modern installation art, if you appreciate irony, perhaps you would have found what was waiting for me at the end of Via dell'Amore to be a sublime juxtaposition of hope and disillusionment, of romance and reality.   Here's what I saw:

Sublime juxtaposition of Love and Disillusionment
by Leah Marie Brown
Empty booze bottles piled atop a garbage can at the end of
Via dell'Amore, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Further Reading:

If you enjoyed this article, why not let me know?  Everyone likes to get positive feedback, even authors with a penchant for gilding!  leahmariebrown@live.com 


Margarita Bloom said...

Oh,man what a bummer! Not romantic at all, is it? I think I would have gone for the hot, cheesy Foccacia Formaggia and a single scoop of sour cherry gelato! lol...

Stephanie Mounts said...

One of my favorite posts because it is SO accurate and so funny, you have the knack for finding the perfect words for a most perfect description!

Leah Marie Brown said...

Margarita - Nope, not even a little.

Stephanie - Thank you for the compliment.

Jennifer K. said...

What a prick! LOL You're so funny. I lived in Italy for six years. This post is so true.