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Ligurian Minute: Slow and Sleepy Until the Tide Turns

“At some point in your life, perhaps without even knowing it, you have experienced Liguria.”

Perhaps you have seen Liguria from a snapshot on Instagram of the red house in the bay of Riomaggiore. It could be that you have listened to Liguria through the array of music made famous by the yearly Sanremo Festival. Most likely, you have tasted Liguria through a heavenly plate of pasta with pesto, a  sauce that proudly originates from the region. And maybe you have been lucky enough to visit  Liguria, in which case you know about its all-encompassing beauty, its immense diversity, and its picture-perfect views.  

From the glitzy Portofino to the rugged cliffs of the Cinque Terre, from the charming promenade of Santa Margherita Ligure to the culturally profound Genoa, Liguria offers something for everyone; I, for one, accepted everything it gave. 

It was nearly midnight. We had just finished an exquisite dinner of trofie al pesto, pesce al forno, and copious glasses of red, red wine on the charming terrace of Trattoria da Billy in Manarola, one of the five seaside towns which make up the so-called Cinque Terre (Five Lands). Manarola was falling asleep under a  full moon that glowed so brightly in the waters below that it almost seemed as if the midday sun was shining above us. The sea swayed from the gentle breeze, and we swayed from the wine. We were the last ones in the restaurant. The waiters removed stained cloths and last morsels of half-eaten bread from the tables around us, signs of a successful dinner service. Then, just as we had relaxed into that post-dinner haze, it dawned on us that the last train to Riomaggiore, our base for the night, was leaving the station in 12 minutes. The realisation jolted us awake like the shot of espresso we had downed that morning along with pastries from the bakery next door to our temporary home. Bill paid, last drops of wine drunk, hefty thanks given, we raced through the snoozing streets towards Manarola’s station. A multitude of winding stairs was the only way to get down to the platform, and so we made our speedy descent, the path floodlit solely by the moon’s powerful glow. We made it with time to spare, hopped on the train, and 9 minutes later, we collapsed onto our beds. 

Such is the life in Liguria. Like the waves which ebb and flow against its rocky coastline, Liguria is slow and sleepy until the tide turns, and suddenly it is not. The long, peaceful days are punctuated by moments of excitement that drive you forward and keep you wanting to know more about this enigmatic place. 

Despite it being the third smallest region of Italy, there is much variety densely packed into Liguria’s territory. Travelers are most likely drawn to the Cinque Terre, and rightly so, as each of these scenic fishing towns (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) is a world entirely of its own. Dotted one after the other along a jagged coast and characterised by multi-coloured houses perched on dramatic clifftops, one village is just a 5-minute train ride from the next, but the scenic hiking trails nestled into the mountains are where the magic lies. You traipse through fertile green lands, rocky terrains, and cactus-shrouded pathways. As a top tourist destination, it is essential to hike these trails off-season to appreciate the natural beauty at its fullest. We would start our days in one of the five towns and amble to the next, chatting, laughing,  singing, and seeing the immense beauty of land and sea colliding, often not peacefully. We would watch as great waves smashed against the crags and bits of rock tumbled into the foamy waters below.  When reaching the next town along, noting the change in character from the one before, we would stop for a swim and then lunch, gorging on the fresh fish from Ligurian waters, basil-infused dishes from Ligurian soil, and delectable wine from Ligurian grapes. 

Afternoons in Liguria are as languid as hanging laundry. We play cards, drink more wine, and listen to the music of Fabrizio d’Andre, his profound lyrics, and his dulcet tunes. D’Andre is one of Italy’s greatest prides. He harks from Genoa, Liguria’s capital city; his songs are clearly inspired by the fishing villages, rural landscapes, and historical eclecticism which define the region. His music inspires us to head out and watch the sunset on the beach. 

Today the sea is rough and crashing waves heave upwards, consuming the pier entirely before its waters retreat and repeatedly return. It is too dangerous to walk down to shore, but we sit and watch from above as the sky changes colour amidst the raging current. Locals sit around us drinking beer, eating takeaway pizza. Together we share the sight of the dusky sky, sea, and land as day disappears. 

In the evening, we take a quick train to Santa Maria Ligure, the neighbouring town of Portofino, less glamourous but more full of character. We dine in a seaside restaurant along the promenade, enjoying more fishy dishes as we listen to the constant sound of a now pacified tide rolling in and out, not letting us forget from where our delicious meal came. As we walk along the promenade after dinner, we watch the fisherman on their night shift, eager to reap more of their region’s tasty rewards. 

Long before midnight, Liguria goes to sleep, and we quickly follow suit. It is a place that invigorates you but also encourages you to pause, slow your pace down, and enjoy what should from now on be known as ‘a Ligurian minute.’