Lanterns decorate Via Visconti that crosses through the village. In the darkness of the night, a man with a large cross moves up the street followed by a group of children carrying a gaunt Jesus statue. Singing and torches. The atmosphere is mysterious. I can’t take my eyes off the ghost-like figure with a white hood over the face. What does the Ku Klux Klan have to do with Easter Procession?
In 2015, I spent three days around Easter in Cinque Terre, Italy, with my mum, walking and enjoying tiramisu. Ever since we saw the colourful little houses climbing up the cliffs on the pages of a Finnish travel magazine, Mondo, we had been planning a trip to northwest Italy. Cinque Terre consist of five old villages huddling by the sea: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggioare. There was a time when they were nearly inaccessible fishing villages, but now they are popular tourist destinations.
Day 1 – Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare
The first village we visited was Vernazza, where we also stayed two nights in a lovely B&B. Vernazza has little alley ways and a distinctive yellow church. The little room where we stayed was on one of the little backstreets higher up the hillside. This was my favourite village, perhaps because it was the first one we saw, perhaps because our accommodation and dining experiences were pleasant. But the other villages were not in any way unpleasant, in fact all of them were lovely.
Cinque Terre has plenty of walking trails of which the Santiero Azurro paths are the most popular. However, only one of the coastal trails was open. The rains and mudslides damage the paths in winter months and large sections have to be repaired every year.
Trail to Monterosso al Mare
On the first full day, we walked the open coastal trail from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare. The trail was crowded but the narrow path was not always in a flip-flop shape although we encountered multiple pairs of flip-flop wearers. However, the view of the Ligurian Sea was stunning.
After gathering energy with some white wine and bruschetta, we decided to follow the high trail back to Vernazza. This was much better. Not as scenic, but very beautiful. We didn’t meet other people except for a group of scouts who were spending the Easter weekend camping. In total, this loop from Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare and back was about 10 kilometres.
Mysterious Easter Procession
We were curious to see what kind of Easter Friday traditions locals had, so we loitered around Santa Margherita Church in Vernazza when the night fell. Suddenly we were part of the Easter Procession marching through the streets of the peaceful village. White hooded figures carrying torches were leading the way.
It was not the Ku Klux Klan although the resemblance was striking. In fact, the white-robed costume is an old remnant of Catholic culture. The pointy hood was a symbol belonging to pious Catholics, especially flagellants who would punish themselves physically to do penance. It was included in the Easter processions to symbolize the wearer’s status as a penitent. The pointy hoods that cover the face are more famously seen in Spanish Easter celebrations but are also part of some Italian traditions. I couldn’t find much information about this tradition in Cinque Terre, so feel free to enlighten me if you know more.
A separate post about the rest of the weekend and our visit to Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore is available here.
- What: Cinque Terre, Five villages forming a Unesco World Heritage Site
- Where: Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso al Mare, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Italian Riviera, Italy
- Why: Walking paths from village to village, beautiful coastline and colourful buildings. Beaches and swimming in the summer
- Noteworthy: Most trails are free, but you have to pay a fee to access some popular paths. The coastal paths are often under construction and can be closed for long periods.