Cinque Terre, The Five Lands

The area known in Cinque Terre, a series of five villages along the Italian Riviera northwest of Florence, is mentioned in documents dating as far back as the 11th century.  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and the coastline connecting them make up the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Limoni
The little path that winds down
along the slope plunges through cane-tufts
and opens suddenly into the orchard
among the moss-green trunks
of the lemon trees.
— Nobel Laureate in Literature, Eugenio Montale, 1921

While Montale originally trekked to the village on foot, these days there is a train from La Spezia that will take you to any of the five villages within a half an hour. Even if you have a car, it is recommended that you park in La Spezia and take the train the rest of the way, as the mountain roads are often only one lane, and the main road stops about a kilometer from Vernazza. Walking the historic trails, however, is something not to be skipped. The walking (and biking) paths spider web across the area, connecting the villages and surrounding sights.  Plan for a multiple day visit to give yourself enough time to walk through the vineyards and olive orchards, to trek between villages, and just to explore.

While many of the trails are perfect for a short walk, for some of the village to village paths, plan on bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying the view of the Mediterranean as you eat. You will need a trekking pass to access the trails during peak season, but during the off season it’s not something you need to worry about.

At the end of a long day’s scenic walk, you can enjoy one of the area’s many divine restaurants featuring such specialties as Monterosso Anchovies, Ligurian Pesto, and Farinata, a savory pancake-like snack made from chickpea flour. And, of course, the gelato made with honey from Corniglia is the perfect dessert. Once your appetite has been properly satiated, it’s simple to catch a train or shuttle back to your starting point. It’s actually a bit safer to do that than walk back as the area is populated by wild boar who like to roam the trails at night.

The predominant industry in Cinque Terre was traditionally grapes and olives, but in the 1970s, the brightly painted fishermen’s cottages perched on the terraced cliffs and hills began to be marketed as a tourist attraction, and tourism has been the primary industry since. In fact, tourism has become so important in Cinque Terre that even when there is a transport strike, at least half the trains through the area continue to run to ensure that vacations go on as planned.

With beaches, exceptional hiking trails and historic World War II bunkers, there is a little something for everyone in Cinque Terre. Endless Travel can make your trip to Italy a walk in the woods. Reach out to us today.

Literary and Popular Media References

Dante compares the rugged cliffs of Purgatory with Cinque Terre in the Divine Comedy.

In Faville del Maglio, Gabriele D’Annunzio mentions the region’s Sciachetrà white wine.

Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street shot scenes in Cinque Terre.

Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast

In 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted in what may be one of the most famous disasters of all time. While eyewitness accounts of the eruption were recorded, records of the towns surrounding Vesuvius’ base, including Pompeii, were lost to history. The city lay buried in volcanic ash until 1592, but excavation wouldn’t start in earnest until 1764, and since then Pompeii and its sister town of Herculaneum have been popular tourist destinations, attracting nearly 2.6 million visitors a year by the early part of the 21st century.

The ruins of Pompeii

Even though barely a third of the excavated buildings are accessible to the public, the open sections of the city are extensive, and you may be better off hiring a guide to take you through the ruins — it’s worth every penny. You should set aside at LEAST a whole day to explore Pompeii to get a solid understanding of the city and its history.

There is a weighty seriousness as you walk around the arena and cemetery… the people who lived here fled in terror nearly two thousand years ago, and some of those who didn’t escape have been preserved as plaster casts which are viewable near the public entrance. But their homes and their art have been left behind for us to explore. Frescos, mosaics, and beautifully carved fountains are around every corner. And every one of those fountains is carved differently as they served as street signs as well as meeting point designators. Finally, at the end of the day, when your feet are tired and your brain is full, stop and enjoy the mystical sunset.

If time permits, spend a second day exploring the city of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, the ash and lava that encased Herculaneum carbonized, preserving wood and other organic materials such as beds, food, and skeletons.  Herculaneum’s library was found to contain over 1800 carbonized scrolls, which are slowly being unrolled and deciphered digitally thanks to modern technology that allows us to differentiate between ink and carbonized papyrus.

When your historic explorations are done, it’s time to hop in a car and head south towards Sorrento. Sitting on the southern shore of the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is one of the most notable tourist destinations in Italy.  Visited by such venerable figures as Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Keats and Walter Scott, it is a popular tourist spot for many reasons. First and foremost, the views from Sorrento and the surrounding area are beyond picturesque. The city itself may be one of the most photogenic spots in all of Europe. With small shops, museums, and the 14th century Cathedral of Sorrento, it is a picturesque stop on your way towards the Amalfi Coast.

The part of the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily is more commonly known as the Tyrrhenian Sea. Jutting out from the ankle of Italy’s boot, on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, is the Amalfi Coast. As you drive through the mountains and along the shore, you may recognize some of the vistas as the island of Themyscira from 2017’s Wonder Woman. Stopping in Positano for gelato, you’ll find yourself in the middle of some of the filming locations from Under the Tuscan Sun. And if you are a fan of Fellini, you may recognize shots from his movie Roma while you make your way back towards mainland Italy.

Rich with history and breathtaking vistas, the area around the Gulf of Naples could occupy a significant part of any Italian adventure. Let Endless Travel help you plan your trip so you get the most out of your time under the Salerno sun.


Literary References:
John Webster’s tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.
John Steinbeck’s short story Positano.
William James’ Finding Positano, A Love Story.
You can also find several works by M.C. Escher featuring the Amalfi Coast.

The Yukon: Larger than Life

By Susan Hammond

Last month, I was invited by Anderson Vacations and Yukon’s Department of Tourism and Culture to experience the spectacular and truly unique place they call home: Canada’s Yukon. With pristine landscapes, abundant wildlife, a rich cultural heritage and outstanding services, I quickly found out that the Yukon has something for absolutely every kind of traveler—even in the winter.

So, off I went with six other travel advisors (I was the only American) and our hosts to Whitehorse, Yukon (the territory’s capital) to hunt the dancing aurora, snowmobile through the woods, experience a dogsled “limo” and try to ice fish for the first time. Working in the travel industry for most of my adult life, I really thought I was pretty good in geography, however since I have never been to Northern Canada, I really didn’t know exactly where Whitehorse was located in North America. After spending my first night in Vancouver, we all took an approximate 2-hour nonstop flight the next morning on Air North, which is the Yukon’s airline, headquartered in Whitehorse. Now I know that this small city of approximately 28,000 in population is a couple hours north of British Colombia and a 2.5 hour drive northeast of Skagway traveling along the Klondike Highway.

After visiting Air North’s headquarters and their brand-new hanger near the Whitehorse airport, we checked into our hotel for the next five nights, anxiously awaiting the adventures ahead. Well, I would like to let you in on a little secret—the Yukon gets even more intriguing in winter. Almost 80 percent of the Yukon is pristine wilderness. That’s over 350,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of mountain vistas, boreal forests, wild rivers and crystal clear lakes. And since there are 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people, there’s the possibility of seeing wildlife around every bend. We actually saw a lynx quickly creeping across a frozen lake our first day out. I can now say the Yukon compares to Alaska—without all the people and it’s more laid back with less tourists.

The Yukon River winds through Whitehorse, which is nestled in a broad, forested valley, with mountains flanking either side. The Yukon’s capital city is steeped in culture and history, with wonderful restaurants, vibrant arts community, world class attractions and top-notch tourist services. I found all the amenities of a large city with an endearing small-town personality. Whitehorse doesn’t come without its characters though. As we took a quick city tour, we stopped at the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club at 10 am one morn-ing to visit with some of the local characters. This bar is home to the famed breakfast club, a badge of honor worn by morning drinkers; he establishment opens at 9 am and closes at 11 pm. There’s an air of mystery around the place.

“People will either tell you to avoid the 98 like the plague, or make a point of going for an authentic Yukon experience,” says General Manager Angel S. “We’ve got the most colorful people in town. There’s nothing fake in this place.” I personally love this experience!

Our first day started around 8:30 am with a hearty breakfast as we prepared to drive about 45 minutes south of Whitehorse to an area called Carcross in the Southern Lakes region. The vilage of Carcross is home to the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. It boasts incred-ible scenery, cross-country ski and snowshoe trails and a variety of visitor’s services. Some of the Yukon’s oldest buildings dating back to the days of 1898 are located in this community. The year 1898 is significant in the Yukon because that is the year that the Klondike Gold Rush was coming to an end. Carcross got its name years ago since it was a major migration crossing for woodland caribou prior to the gold rush. It’s easy to feel the draw to Carcross because the compelling First Nation culture invites you to experience their heritage. We had the opportunity to stand in the presence of totem poles master carver—Keith Wolfe Smarch, as we were invited inside a carving shed to watch and learn the significance of his artwork’s shapes and colors. I quickly learned that wherever you travel in this territory, Yukon First Nation’s history and culture is part of what makes the Yukon the special place it is.

Upon sunrise (around 10 am) the next morning, we headed over to the start of the 36th annual Yukon Quest. This event is a dogsled race from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. For the last 36 years, dog teams have answered the call to endure 1,000 miles of rugged terrain across the heart of Alaska and the Yukon. The Yukon Quest poses challenges that no other race on Earth can boast. Extremely cold temperatures are guaranteed, and long distances up to 200 miles between checkpoints means a musher and dog team must be mentally and physically prepared for the worst Mother Nature can dish out. As we all were waiting for the race to start, the temperatures were hovering around -33 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, our hosts provided us all cold weather gear to keep us warm in the extreme

dogsledding3
Carcross Visitor Center

temperatures, however my heart went out to the dogs that were so eager to take off and run! This year, they had 31 teams that took on this challenge, representing six different countries. The race takes preparation, knowledge, skill and strategy just to finish and was a once in a lifetime experience for all seven travel advisors that attended this event for the first time!

After watching most of the teams head out on their journey, we were taken to the Lumel Studio in downtown Whitehorse for some hands-on glassblowing. Upon entering the warm studio, we each were allowed to select a piece we wanted to make and take home. I chose to make a small bowl with assistance from one of the apprentices of the studio: Angus. Angus was very patient as I selected the colors of my personal piece and success-fully made a bowl that is actually round and sits level on my desk holding candy for my clients’ enjoyment.

The following days we encountered snowmobiling through the woods, ice fishing on a lake for trout, conducted site inspections at a few local hotels/inns and spent a couple evenings hunting for the northern lights. Leaving at 10:30 pm both evenings and driv-ing 30 minutes south of Whitehorse to get away from the small city’s lights, we came upon three very comfortable and warm yurts and two teepees with bonfires roaring inside. These outer buildings offered hot chocolate, tea and s’mores fixings while we waited for the weather to gift us with this other light source. Unfortunately, we did not get a break in the clouds either of those nights, however we loved the hospitality from our hosts and Aurorae guides.

As I look back at my short journey in Northern Canada, I am already thinking about taking my family back in the summer for some hiking, canoeing down the Yukon River, attending one of the many festivals offered each season and enjoying the midnight sun. The creative spirit is strong in the North, and any of our professional advisors at Endless Travel can assist you experience this territory’s wildness, beauty and contradictions.

The Albanian Riviera

In southern Albania, sandwiched between the Ionian Sea and hills of olive groves, the town of Sarandë (pronounced and sometimes spelled Sa-ran-da) sits on a horseshoe-shaped bay, edged by beaches and a promenade, the Bulevardi Hasan Tahasini.  While Albania may not be the first place you would think of for a luxurious vacation, Sarandë’s friendly residents and phenomenal local cuisine (fresh off the fishing boats) makes the town a relaxing and inexpensive place to spend your holiday.

Facing west, towards the Mediterranean, Sarandë’s geography lends itself to spectacular sunsets. The climate is warm enough that Mandarin orange trees line the streets, providing a quick snack as you explore the plentiful bakeries, butchers and fruit stands.  While English isn’t always spoken by the locals, they are all exceptionally welcoming, and always happy to have visitors.

Sarandë comes from the name of the Byzantine monastery of the Agioi Saranda (Άγιοι Σαράντα), meaning “Forty Saints” in honor of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. The monastery dates back to the 6th century AD, and it is thought to have been an important regional pilgrimage site. The second floor of the monastery was destroyed during World War II’s Allied bombings.  While the monastery today is in a state of ruin, it is worth a visit, not just for its historic importance, but for the panoramic views of the town.

Nestled at the top of the hill about a 50-minute walk (or short taxi ride) from Sarandë is Lëkurësi Castle. The castle’s ruins feature imposing round towers and sweeping views, and it has been expanded with a spacious eatery. The views overlooking Sarandë and the farmland nearby, are stunning and well worth the trip. Built in 1537 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Lëkurësi Castle was constructed to protect the town from invaders approaching the coastline by boat.

Albania was an isolated country post World War II, and didn’t open her arms to tourists until the fall of communism in the 1990s. The country had distanced itself from neighboring nations and other communist countries, and even now you can see remnants of the communist era in the form of numerous pillbox military bunkers along the roads leading to places like The National Park of Blue Eye (Syri Kalter) with its 18 natural springs or the ruins at the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since its liberation from the restrictions of a communist government, Sarandë has become a popular tourist destination among Albanians and visitors from around the world, with its population swelling to over 300,000 people during the summer months.  However, in the offseason, the town settles down into a peaceful village perfect for your extended, quiet getaway. Just a short ferry ride to Croatia or Greece, Albania is an ideal base as you explore the Ionian Sea region.

Related Reading: Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey (1995) by the American-Uruguayan writer Isabel Fonseca.

 Blog post was written by and images copyright AlphaPixel Reach

Wales, The Hidden Gem of the British Isles

Tucked unobtrusively along the southwestern edge of England, Wales is a picturesque nation often overlooked by travelers. With a population of approximately three million people, the Welsh are outnumbered by their sheep by a ratio of 4:1.  And while this makes it a wonderful destination for oviphiles, Wales has much, much more to offer.

One of the first things most people notice as they explore the towns nestled in the rolling green hills and atop the steep slate cliffs is that every town has a church.  As the majority of early villages were founded by a Lord or landowner as they built their homes, most towns have a castle or manor house — and an accompanying church for which the town is generally named.  When you see “llan” (church) in a place name, odds are there is a house of worship close by.

Wales is a country rich in culture and legend passed down orally, by the cynfeirdd (early poets). This includes the earliest version of the legends of King Arthur, which are reflected to this day in the Welsh flag: a red dragon on a field of green. The red dragon is the nation’s mascot and is believed to have been the battle standard of Arthur and other ancient leaders. Some believe to this day that Camelot was in Wales and that its ruins can still be seen at Caerwent.

But Wales is not in short supply of other castles and ruins to explore. Tinturn Abbey, situated in Monmouthshire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, is the focus of Gordon Masters’ historical novel The Secrets of Tintern Abbey dramatizing the 400-year history of the Cistercian community there. Castell Conwy is a medieval fortification in Conwy, on the north coast of Wales, built by Edward I. You can walk around the city of Conwy atop its defensive walls. In fact, Wales is believed to have more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

Visiting in the spring or summer gives you the best opportunity to explore places like Bodant Garden, where you can spend hours wandering the winding pathways that meander through forests, lakes and flowers. Make sure to stop for tea and scones in Llandudno, a north Victorian seaside village with exceptional restaurants and breathtaking scenery. For those who appreciate the unique, a visit to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch in North Wales is always in order. Translated as “The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio’s of the red cave,” it is believed to be the longest place name in the world.

No scenic tour of Wales is complete without a trip on the railway to the top of Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park. The Welsh name – Yr Wyddfa – means “the barrow” which may refer to the cairn ( mound of rough stones built as a memorial) thrown over the legendary giant Rhitta Gawr after his defeat by King Arthur.

And the beautiful oddity of Wales is Portmeirion, a tourist village in Gwynedd. Designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion is an Italian village in the middle of Wales, created because he was tired of traveling between Wales and Italy. The village has long been a source of inspiration for writers such as Noël Coward, who wrote Blithe Spirit while staying there.

For a small country not often on the tourist radar, Wales has a wealth of culture, history, and scenery for those who want to spend a serene holiday just a little bit off the beaten path. 

TU HWNT I’R BONT TEAROOM https://www.tuhwntirbont.co.uk/

Blog post written by and images copyright Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.