Our first full day in Italy started pretty early at round 06:00 so we could catch the 07:45 train from Firenze to Riomaggiore which is the most south-eastern town of the five towns making up Cinque Terre and is just west of La Spezia. It took us the better part of 4 hours to get there on an extremely long and slow train but we got there and bought our passes that would allow us unlimited access across the villages.
The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia. “The Five Lands” is composed of five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside. The Cinque Terre area is a very popular tourist destination.
We started off on the trail to Manarola with subdued excitement. As expected there were beautiful vistas and a large amount of birghtly painted buildings in the town. The hike allowed us to view the villages from afar and see them in blazing colour in the beautiful sunshine.
When we got to Manarola, we walked around the town for a while, hiking up to the bell-tower and then down to the beach where we went into a multitude of shops selling everything from pesto and dried pasta to beautiful pottery. They had a beautiful beach where a lot of people were swimming and having a jolly old time. I now understand why, when Italians come to Canada, they think our beaches are terrible; their beaches there were simply stunning.
When we started down the path from Manarola to Corniglia, we saw that the path was closed for renovations so we took a few of the gorgeous photos above and went back to Manarola to catch the train. After a hike up to the village itself from the train station, we decided to take a break for lunch. We a really nice chat with a Canadian couple who were in Italy & Croatia for their 3 week honeymoon and then parted ways to continue on.
We headed out for what was to be the toughest hike of all of the hikes between villages. The total hike from the first village to the fifth is around 10km and up to this point we had come a measly 2km. This next hike was 4km on its own and this is where we started the uphills and downhills. Luckily there was a bar/resto at roughly the 2km mark so we got a few minutes to rest, a biology break, and bought some more ice-cold water.
By this point I was completely soaked through most of my clothing with sweat. Since we were rushed in the morning, I forgot to wear my proper, breathable hiking shorts as well as my breathable t-shirt. So here I am hiking in a sweat-laden pair of jeans shorts and a cotton shirt. Obviously not ideal, but I ignored the dripping sweat and we continued on our way.
When we finally made it to Vernazza, we needed a slightly longer break so we had a seat and enjoyed some gelato. We also walked around looking at the lucky people who had their swim suits and were swimming around in the azure blue waters. Since I was completely soaked and perpetually sweating, I was getting a bit grumpy about it and wasn’t really keen to continue on to the fifth and final village, Monterosso. My lovely wife, Jackie, knows that I can also get grumpy when I’m hungry so we shared a chocolate chip and peanut butter crunch Cliff bar that she’d brought along and set out on the last hike.
This last hike of another 4km was particularly challenging as well and my right knee had started to get a bit achy. Once again there were the stunning vistas and I was able to put aside the pain and soldier through the rest of the hike. At one point we could see 3 out of the 4 previous villages and the sun was starting to come down so it cast a different set of colours on the scene.
There were some narrow pathways along the hike so I took a brief video along the way to show everybody at home what it was like:
I really can’t say enough good things about this hike. Although it was exhausting, it was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve been on. Next time we come back, I think we will definitely make a multiple day trip out of it and try a different path between the villages since there are different sets of hikes, some higher up through the hills.
Until then, I’m going to sit back and enjoy my beer!
The full set of photos can be found in this set on my Flickr page