“..The storybook journey, replete with fragrant wildflowers and colorful butterflies, is topped with uninterrupted views.. ”
When I read this article about Cinque Terre in the New York Times, the part about the paths being fragrant with wild flowers seemed like a bit of an exaggeration. But months later, as we climbed the many stairs in the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza , I remember thinking that the article was right – that the air was actually and nicely fragrant!
Often a comparison is drawn between Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, and while both wear the Mediterranean Sea proudly like sparkling sapphire jewels, Cinque Terre has one thing that sets it apart from the beautiful Amalfi Coast near Naples – its hiking trails, that let you explore the beauty of this region closely and at your own pace.
There are five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre, and thus there are four trails. During our visit, the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia (the center-most town) and from Corniglia to Manarola were closed due to flood damage. So we really did not have to choose – we did the exhausting yet incredible hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and the “walk-in-the -park” hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola.
Click to enlarge the pictures:
Monterosso-al-mare to Vernazzza
Our trek began by purchasing the Cinque-Terre passes from the tourist center at Levanto, a village adjacent to Cinque Terre. This pass, costing EUR 10 allows you to travel between Levanto and other villages in Cinque Terre by train, and also contains the entry fees for the Cinque Terre trails.
After disembarking from the train at Monterosso, we started walking in the general direction of the crowd and soon found ourselves on this epic trail. Depending on how fast you walk and how many stops you make, this hike can take anything from 3.5 to 7 hours… we completed it in 5 hours. I would suggest making lots of stops, because the views would definitely be worth your while. About half an hour into the hike, looking back, we could now see a beautiful view of Monterosso from a distance. Then came the steps, oh the torturous and all too many steps (any reservations that people might have of this trail are on account of these steps). But, after making adequate rests, we got through the steps, and the rest of the trail was not hard at all.
Along the trail we found lemon groves, terraced vineyards, streams, butterflies, lovely little bridges, wildflowers in myriad colors, and of course, the surreal beauty of the Mediterranean stretching as far as the eyes would go. Also marking the trail were hand-written signs pointing to Vernazza. We took our time, navigating the twists and turns, partly to enjoy the views and take pictures, partly because rest was absolutely needed, and partly to make way for other tourists doing the same hike from Vernazza.
When we saw the beautiful village of Vernazza ahead of us, we knew that this trek was coming to an end. In Vernazza, we found a small cafe by the sea and celebrated our wonderful trek with some equally wonderful vino-della-casa (house-wine).
Riomaggiore to Manarola
Compared to our hike of the previous day, the walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola turned out to be a veritable stroll in the park. The tiled path is called the Via dell’ Amore (the path of love), and you could definitely love this path for its ease of passage. This path also comes with grand vistas of the Sea, and lest you forget the dedication to love, a statue of 2 people joined in a kiss. A tiny part of us wished that our hike would last a little longer, as we covered this trail in less than half-an-hour.
Come for the hiking trails, but I daresay, stay for the Ligurian cuisine. If you love pesto sauce like I do, you will find culinary heaven here, as the Italian riviera is the birthplace of pesto, and the pesto sauce is best served with the signature trenette pasta! We had one of the best meals in Italy in a tratorria in Levanto, Le 3 Cantine. The waitress only spoke Italian and the only Italian we could speak was “non-parlo-Italiano” (“I do not understand Italian”). But she was well-versed in the universal language of good humor and good cheer, and we were well taken care of.
More pictures of Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera can be found here: