Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

September 04, 2005

A Memorable Place

Romantic Italian coast worth a return trip

By Chris Taylor

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was nice to get away from the stress of active-duty military service and visit Cinque Terre, Italy. This is one of the most wonderful destinations in all of Europe because of its beauty, simplicity and character.

The region is made up of five towns connected by a local railroad and a series of hiking paths along the northwestern coast of Italy, near Genoa. The area is known for its delicious pasta al pesto and a locally grown variety of white wine called sciacchetra.

From hiking trails above the towns you can catch breathtaking views of the Mediterranean rolling gently up against the rocky shores and green cliffs covered with olive groves and vineyards.

To truly appreciate Cinque Terre, you must understand its people. For several hundred years, the livelihood of the residents revolved around fishing, but in the last decade that has shifted almost entirely to tourism. Each of the five towns claims no more than a few hundred residents during most of the year, but that swells during the summer months as many of the locals return from their winter residences to capitalize on the tourist trade.

Despite the fact that their little towns are besieged each year, the residents maintain their genuine and hospitable nature, especially if you make an attempt to interact with them on a personal level.

The hiking trails connecting the towns can be challenging, but the views are worth the effort. If the trails prove too difficult, you can hop on the local train that runs throughout the day. There are also other activities in the summer, like kayaking and snorkeling, or you could take a boat ride to explore the area.

However, you might be missing the point if you go to Cinque Terre with a long list of activities. This is a place to relax -- to soak in the food, wine, scenery and atmosphere. Not to take away from the experiences you'd have in places such as Rome, Florence or Venice, but if you want to get a little further off the beaten path, Cinque Terre is a treasure.

When I first visited Cinque Terre in the mid-1990s as a single Army officer, I thought I had discovered one of the most romantic places I'd ever been, and I vowed to return one day with someone I loved.

The next time I visited was last October with my wife. We went to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, and I can confirm that Cinque Terre lived up to the very high standards of my recollections.

Chris Taylor lives in Orchard Beach, Md.

My Best Shot

Alan S. Ratner, Clarksville

Could not care less

In Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, one can view at close quarters the wonders of life. Since there has been no hunting since pirate days, and the only visitors to most of the islands are tourists and their naturalist guides, the fauna are unafraid of humans. In fact, it's as if the humans are invisible to the animals. You can walk to within inches of the wildlife, including nests containing mother birds with their chicks, sea lions and iguanas, and they do not seem to notice your presence.

Readers Recommend

Roanoke Island, N.C.

Missy Corley, Annapolis

The Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island make up an unexpected patch of greenery in an area known for its sandy, duned shores. Before spring even begins, shrubs are tinged with green, thanks to the warm breezes off Roanoke Sound. Azaleas and live oaks line pine needle- carpeted walks, and statues greet you around many turns. The sculpture pictured is a conceptualization of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, as an adult. Dare and the other ill-fated settlers of the tiny island disappeared without a trace in the 1500s. The gardens are a memorial to this "Lost Colony."

Quebec City

Thomas J. Miller, Halethorpe

My wife, Caroline, and I drove to Quebec City, and we were not disappointed. This is the only North American city surrounded by walled fortifications with buildings seemingly direct from Old Europe. The people were charming and gracious, and easily switched to English as necessary (my high-school French being sadly out of date). It's a delightful city.

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