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Picturesque Manarola, Italy

Manarola Italys picturesque coast

Manarola, one of the most extraordinary places to photograph in the world. It’s just one of five towns that make up the famous region of Italy known as Le Cinque Terre, each of which have their own unique and beautiful charm.

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

After lunch there is a definite lull in Manarola, siesta time on the shores of the Italian Riviera. Curtains are drawn against the sun, cicadas hiss in the pine trees and the steep little streets are deserted, except for a trio of men playing cards in a tree-shaded corner of the central square. Shirt sleeves rolled up and espressos to hand, they’re absorbed in their game.

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Behind them, pastel-painted houses – pink, lemon, orange – are stacked up the hillside, gleaming in the bright afternoon sunshine and framed by steeply terraced vineyards clinging like ladders to the near-vertical slopes. The dry-stone walls that dissect these precipitous slopes date back to the 11th century; laid end to end, locals claim, the walls would exceed the Great Wall of China in length.

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Farmers and winemakers here are the mountaineers of the food world, toiling up and down the contours and sometimes taking away their harvest by boat – the easiest way. Since the Cinque Terre became a national park and Unesco World Heritage Site, the local economy has been boosted by the proceeds of the walking trails that weave through the hillsides. It’s a pleasingly symbiotic arrangement, hikers sustained by the plentiful seafood, dishes derived from locally grown ingredients such as lemons, olives and basil, and of course the Sciacchetrà wine that the region is famous for. Lengthening shadows and an easing in temperature signal the time to set off up the hillside, along La Strada di Olive, ‘The Street of Olives’. Dense groves of fig trees extend from the dusty path, as bees browse the white, trumpet-like flowers of bindweed in their midst. Around a mile up the path lies the stone-built rural hamlet of Volastra, its tight, winding alleys ghostly quiet.

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

Beyond the small Romanesque chapel – one of several preserved cliff-side ‘sanctuaries’ high above the Cinque Terre towns – is the home of Luciano Capellini. Stocky, bearded and serious, he is one of the region’s leading winemakers, producing 10,000 bottles a year and exporting as far afield as Japan and the USA. ‘Seven generations of my family have grown up here,’ he says, snipping at his vines. ‘We go back to the early 19th century.’ This represents recent history in a hamlet where wine-making has been traced back to the 13th century. Luciano leads a small group of friends and neighbours back to the stone terrace of his home, uncorks a bottle and pours out generous measures. Goat’s cheese is handed round and, with the sun slipping behind the hillside, there’s a tasting of the honey-scented Sciacchetrà.

Manarola on Italys picturesque coast

‘Capellini wine is like a Picasso,’ exclaims one of Luciano’s neighbours, suddenly expressive. His host glances up from his pouring for a moment. ‘I would say a Leonardo,’ he says with a wry smile. Far below, the lights of Manarola are flickering on. Here, the restaurants and trattoria are filling up with diners ordering the likes of stuffed mussels and trofie al pesto – locally made pasta flavoured by basilico Genovese grown on these very slopes. There really is treasure in the hills.

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