Manarola, Italy is one of the best.
My parents’ home was always soul soothing. No matter what, when I was once again relaxing in bed at night listening to the winding-down sounds of them, the house, the place, my heart was comforted, my brain was still and non-sleeping me would sleep well. Now owned by my younger sister, she has kept their warmth and created her own unique, welcoming atmosphere. It feels good to be within those walls, even in our parents’ absence.
The winter I ran away to older sister Jackie’s house felt the same to me. With her husband and the Airedales Lizzie and Gus, I felt peace and in the right spot during a time of great life upheaval. Their home and the generous way they live were succor to my aching heart. Staying there for those six months was even better than when I lived in Red Lodge, Montana, and would visit them. There’s something about being around for weekends of morning coffee and evening glasses of wine that encourages conversation and friendship.
As Alex and I have made his home our home by planting flowers, bushes, trees and making the yard a color-filled place as well as painting the inside to add new shades to our every day view, this house has become an oasis. Traveling me loves returning to this welcoming setting.
All wonderful places, to be sure.
But there was never a place to strike the core of my heart the way that Manarola, Italy in the Cinque Terre National Park did upon that first viewing.
Those connected closely to our family know that the fall of 2006 was a bad one—there are still not enough adjectives available to describe the rawness of our emotions at that time.
At the start of that November, I flipped over the page in my Italian calendar and saw the village of Vernazza at my fingertips. In that moment, I vowed to go there the following spring. I planned to go alone—for about five minutes. I called Jackie and told her: my treat, just get to Pittsburgh and the rest of it is on me. I don’t tell you that to pat myself on the back for magnanimity, I tell you that to clarify the time we were in. She could have no more thought about spending money on a trip than she could have planned an excursion to the moon.
Things fell into place for a journey to celebrate Jackie’s 50th birthday—the flights (gotta love air miles and American Express points) to Milan, the train to Genoa, the couple of nights we spent there, the train to Manarola, even the terrible B&B in Volastra that I can’t believe is still in business (new owners?) and then pure joy in discovering La Torretta—the appeasement of anything that troubles you can be solved by even one night in this charming hotel.
That trip of 2007 was (dear husband, don’t be dismayed by the following statement) remains one of the most relaxing and heart-comforting journey I have ever taken. It was traveling with my sister who has, over the years of our maturity, become the embodiment of a best friend. More, she is the other half of my heart and soul. So strange to write that when any relative reading this knows we fought like the proverbial cat and dog throughout our growing up years. Truly, our parents should have given one of us—me, no doubt—away.
But there we were in La Torretta’s soothing tranquility, being cared for by the best hotel proprietor ever, Gabriele. We relaxed from our insides out. We went hiking every day up and down rocky paths, some easy, some difficult (Me: Oh, come on, how hard can it be? Gabriele: You did WHICH hike?), but at every turn a beautiful vista and often a Handsome Italian Man to exchange smiles with. We reached the point of redundancy with, “Did you see that H.I.M.?”
Going back to the Cinque Terre and La Torretta several years later with my husband was a scary venture. What if it wasn’t the same? What if being there with him changed things so much that my enjoyment was gone? What if—horrors—it was better?
My fears were needless.
At this moment in our lives, things are good. They are as good as they can be with the blessings and challenges we have. Many people have things better and far too many people have more difficulties. And I am ever restful, always thinking ahead, always dwelling on the what if and what could be and what’s coming next. Yet, being on the private terrace of our room, gazing at the vista of the town of Manarola and the Ligurian Sea in the distance, my entire being felt rested. Just like the first trip.
Some days, we hiked to sheer exhaustion. Stuck at a desk every day for work, this using of my muscles—feet, legs, arms, carrying a pack—felt empowering. Life affirming. My body was in movement and liked the feel of feet hitting ground, back sweating from the weight of my pack and the sun beating down.
We ate well, consuming pasta to my heart’s content, drinking the local wines, enjoying nightly Gelato and never gaining a pound. Heaven.
I was at peace.
I want to go back.
Next year? Next month? Next week.
Oh yes, I want to return. I want to rent a house for a month and sink into the routine of life in magical Cinque Terre. I want to chat with my neighbors about their good fortune living in such a place. I want to live there long enough to learn what is it about Manarola that makes my heart soften and open and want to spread joy around me.
Now I’ve discovered Wales and find that two entirely different countries can connect with something deep inside. Wales, I can state, is because of an ancestral connection, some long line trailing from the Griffith family there to Griffith me, making me feel like I’ve come home when my feet touch the trails.
But still there is Manarola and I have no idea what it is about this tiny town of 800 people with its hills and nooks and crannies, its crazy trails from point a skipping to point m, its ferry dock that makes it looks like passengers have to jump from boat to shore, that makes me happy. What is it that made my second trip feel like walking through the door of my parents’ home? How is it possible to feel so completely at ease in a place where I speak five words of the language?
Whatever it is, finding a special place that eases stress and alleviates anxiety is one of the smartest things we humans can do. So whether it is a hike through the Montana mountains, a walk through a neighborhood park, or a yard that continues to delight you, take a stroll today and let the splendor and serenity soak into your every fiber.
Snippets of why I love Manarola:
The dog barking in time to the hourly church bells. He is discerning and ignores the half-hour one-bell chime.
Elderly people shouting greetings to each other into and out of windows stories above us. There is always much laughing in their conversations.
The 5 Terre Gelateria (the young female owner says: “Yes, it is my shop. I put all my love into making it.” She remembers us as we return daily for dessert. Jackie surreptitiously snaps her photo, the incongruity of her texting while sitting outside a multi-century’s old building is not lost on us.
The Co-op food market bench invariably occupied by three elderly men and one standing nearby. What do they talk about as they watch the passersby?
The man who sang to us at the trattoria near the mare. He recommended Caprese salad, which we love from the first bite. We drizzle local olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and just-torn-from the plant basil. It is as delicious as any five-course meal.
A woman—a resident of an apartment next door—offers yes, yes, use her terrace for a better view as I start to take sunset pictures. The colors start golden, turn silver and then vibrantly become black slammed with orange and red. What seems a few minutes later, we see her walking on the hillside across from us. She wears a skirt, hose and sturdy shoes. Her beautiful blonde hair is worn casually back in a twist. Hers is a wise face, with lines in the right places to show a life being well lived—the way I want to look as I pass the years of my life.