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The hiking trails of Cinque Terre

“..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.

The village of Monterosso-al-mare

The village of Monterosso-al-mare

Looking back at Monterosse

Looking back at Monterosso

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.

Along the trail

Along the trail

Making our way through the bridges and pathways..

Making our way through the bridges and pathways..

The hills beckon..

The hills beckon..

Signs guide you on..

Signs guide you on..

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).

The sight of Vernazza towards the end of our hike

The sight of Vernazza towards the end of our hike

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.

On the Via dell' Amore..

On the Via dell’ Amore..

Falling is love would be easy here - the kiss at the Via dell' Amore

Falling is love would be easy here – the kiss at the Via dell’ Amore

Ligurian Cuisine

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:

Getting to Cinque Terre

Getting to Cinque Terre

For sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea, as you make your way through meandering hiking trails at the very edge of lush green mountains and intercept Italian villages that seem lost in time and natural beauty, there is no better place to go than Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands” in Italian, stands for the Italian Riviera villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  The villages are as  quaint as their names.

Cinque Terre seemed hard to get to after a first read of the travel guide, because it is not possible to go from one village to the other by car. But like a lot of things in life, getting to Cinque Terre in the Italian region of Liguria, turned out to be easy when we actually set about doing it.

Looking back at Monterosso, as we progress on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.

Looking back at Monterosso, as we progress on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.

The journey started with an  EasyJet flight from London to Pisa. The car-ride from Pisa to Bonassola, a town adjacent to Cinque-Terre, took a little less than two hours. We stayed in Bonassola for 3 nights. Bonassola was a few minutes and some narrow turns away from Levanto. Levanto, with its train station, was our gateway to Cinque Terre.

We travelled the distance from Levanto to Monterosso by train. We then did the epic and five-hour long hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and then took the train back to Levanto. By this time, we were fully submerged in the beauty that is Cinque Terre.

If you had to choose one hike, choose this one - Monterosso to Vernazza.

If you had to choose one hike, choose this one – Monterosso to Vernazza.

Our second day in the Cinque Terre saw us taking the boat to Porto Venere, a town beyond all the five Cinque Terre villages.  Porto Venere, while not a part of Cinque Terre, is a beautiful seaside village and deserves a place in every Cinque Terre itinerary. On the return boat ride, we stopped at the last village, Rio-Maggiore. There, the stage was set for the second and easier hike, to Manarola. From Manarola, we did our last train journey, back to Levanto. 

One last picture of Levanto, as we were driving away from Cinque Terre.

One last picture of Levanto, as we were driving away from Cinque Terre.

We could not walk the trails to and from Corniglia, the village in the middle, as these were closed for repairs after some flooding. I take this as a sign that there is more than a slim chance that we will be going to the Italian Riviera again.

A more detailed post of the hikes in the trails of Cinque Terre to follow! Meanwhile, here are some  more pictures.

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