Have you ever been to a place so beautiful and enchanting that you truly feel like you are walking in a little piece of heaven? Like the world has stopped turning and you are standing right in the middle of the entire universe, and in that place, you feel at peace with both yourself and everything surrounding you. Whether you believe in a higher being or not, when you travel or stumble upon one of these worldly treasures, it is almost impossible not to think that it must have taken something magnificent to create such a place; that a sanctuary as beautiful and serene as Eden’s Garden itself was only the work of the hand of something much bigger than anything we can fathom. Whether it was while we were on vacation and we saw the sun playing on the ocean waters, if it was traveling through the countryside of a distant land, or if it was simply watching the sun rise and watching the world take in its first breath of air for the day, we have all witnessed and been somewhere where we have witnessed true beauty; beauty not created by man, but by the incredible and commanding force of nature.
This place, this sanctuary, for me, was Cinque Terra, Italy. If you have ever opened up a travel book or magazine, if you love finding and discovering photographs of interesting places in the world as I do, if you have simply typed in “Italy” in a Google search bar, you have more than likely seen a photo of Cinque Terra, otherwise known as “The Five Lands”. It is about an hour and a half west of Pisa, and it is tucked away right on the Italian Riviera. The “Five Lands” that compose Cinque Terra are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and last but certainly not least, Riomaggiore, but of course, these places do not mean anything to you unless you have seen them with your own eyes. Seeing the names of Cinque Terra written down has no lasting effect on us, if any effect at all. It is walking their paths and eating their foods that help us define and bear witness to their insurmountable magic.
Cinque Terra is heaven on earth. It has you thinking and imagining that your own eyes are lying to you, because surely a place like this only exists in fairy tales and “Once upon a time” stories. But it is real. Totally and completely real and authentic. There is a long hiking path named Sentiero Azzuro, or “Light Blue Trail,” that connects all five villages. Because of its unique location, Cinque Terra is near impossible to conquer via car. There are only a minimal amount of trains that even take you into Cinque Terra, all of which come from La Spezia, the closest developed city to Cinque Terra. Otherwise, it is best to discover and explore these cliffside villages by either train or by walking the path.
As you walk up and over the cliffs hugging the Mediterranean, you pass by miles and miles of olive trees and grape vines. Baskets pass over your head that are filled to the brim with fresh grapes that are headed to the closest village to be squeezed into fresh wine, and the olives are so fat and juicy and are just waiting to be devoured by both locals and travelers alike. The culture of these villages is simple; their lives revolve around the growing and harvesting of their sun-kissed fruits. It is almost as if you took a time machine back one hundred years and felt the true joy of the simple pleasures in life, the pleasures that we all too easily forget and put on the back burner. Cinque Terra has no high rise apartments, no piercing buildings, and takes life at its own pace. There is no rushing in Cinque Terra, but rather acknowledging every breath you take and realizing that life is best experienced when experienced slowly and thoughtfully and over a plentiful plate of food.
Walking right next to the Mediterranean Sea, and especially on a sunny day, Cinque Terra, to many people, is paradise. And rather than talking out loud about this utopia, you can see it in everyone else’s eyes that they are thinking the same thought. You pass people while on your hike to the next village, and you feel a shared sense of glimmering wonderment and awe. In such a perfect and untouched place, social norms are broken down, cultural barriers are shattered, all because Cinque Terra has the same effect on everyone, young or old, black or white, broken or strong.
I’m not here to sway you into taking a trip to Cinque Terra. In fact, I’m not even here to advocate and promote Cinque Terra. The only objective I have here is to explain to you what my “heaven on earth” is; the place where I caught my breath a million times, and then 100 times more.
There are hundreds of thousands of utopias on the earth. What defines yours?