We spent last weekend at Cinque Terre, planning to hike and visit all five of the towns along the beautiful coast that give the name to the area. Even if the Cinque Terre are in Liguria, we are just a few kilometers out of northwestern Tuscany and many people visit the coastal towns as part of their vacation to Tuscany. We thus justify our choice to explore the area ;).
We took the 7:50am train from Florence, and two and a half hours later we arrived at Monterosso, the town closest to Genova to the north. At the train station you’ll find the office for the National Park of the Cinque Terre – here you can buy the Cinque Terre Card, a must if you want to hike along the main trail, Sentiero Azzurro (n.2), that connects all five towns. The card costs 5 euros per person for 1 day, 8 euros for 2 days and includes free use of the shuttle buses that connect the towns. For an extra fee, you can get the card that also includes unlimited use of the train – the 5 towns are connected by train, which is without a doubt the easiest and fastest way to move between the towns.
With our pass we also got a map of the park and its trails. At this point we were also told that the section of the main trail between the second and third towns, Vernazza and Corniglia, was closed due to a landslide. We were told to either take trail 7 to go around the landslide or to take the bus from Vernazza to Corniglia. Armed with this information, we set out to briefly explore Monterosso and search for a snack. We highly recommend trying the “torta Pasqualina”, a Ligurian savory pastry with eggs and spinach. We were soon on our way along trail 2, also known as the “Blue Trail”, towards Vernazza. Right away the trail turns into stairs, some quite steep. This first part of the itinerary is not easy but once we were above the town we began to admire the beauty of the landscape. Groups of colored homes climb up the sides of high rocky hillsides overlooking the sea. Everything is built into terraces to allow the cultivation of vineyards and olives even on this impervious terrain.
We’re soon glad we brought along a pair of walking sticks and a light backpack. The trail is accessible for everyone, including families with children. It is absolutely necessary, however, to wear appropriate hiking shoes and to have a decent level of fitness for the hardest parts. Even if the tourist season has barely started, we meet many other visitors along the trail and soon find ourselves walking in line along the narrow stone trail as if we are all out on a collective walk.
After about 2 hours we reach Vernazza. We quickly visit the town, scouting out a place for something to eat for lunch. Along the main street we find a focacceria and try out a very tasty pizza with pesto. We don’t have much time to explore since we soon realize that the detour we were advised to take (trail n. 7 towards San Bernardino) to avoid the landslide along the main trail is really steep, some parts requiring us to use our hands to climb the incline. This trail should surely be avoided during warm weather since there is absolutely no tree cover and the climb is challenging.
The climb to San Bernardino seems long and we decide to cut our climb short when we come across the paved road that goes from Vernazza to Corniglia. The road descends into Corniglia (we had gone far beyond the normal climb along the main trail) and, after about 4 hours, we find ourselves in the middle of the Cinque Terre. We walk along the narrow streets of Corniglia and almost right away an afternoon thunderstorm sweeps in. We see a sign for the train station and decide to make a run for it, only to discover it is at the end of 382 steps down below the town! While we make the descent, the rain stops. Soaked but not conquered, we decide to continue on to Manarola since we’ve reached the easier, flat part of the trail.
We booked our bed and breakfast, the Baranin (www.baranin.com), at Manarola and after the hour walk from Corniglia, we head there to take a shower (a real one after the unwanted one from the thunderstorm). The atmosphere at the B&B is nice, it seems pretty new and quite in the style of the “cinque terre” – colorful and with sea shells on the walls. It is almost dark, but we still need to do the “Via dell’Amore”, or “Walk of Love” which is the trail’s most famous section. We reach Riomaggiore in less than 30 minutes and just in time for dinner. We enjoy a plate of pasta (pesto and fish are abundant here) and we also try the Sciacchetrà, a sweet light wine made in the Cinque Terre.
We return to our b&b under the light of an almost full moon along the Way of Love, the moonlight adding an extra touch of romanticism to this path dedicated to lovers.
On our second day, we explore Manarola, Riomaggiore and Corniglia further following the flattest sections of the main trail. Just walking through the five towns that make up the Cinque Terre means working out, since everything is made of climbs and stairs – our calves are still reminding us of that from the previous day’s hike!
The fatigue we feel is quickly forgotten by the beauty of the whole place, evocative in both its panoramas as well as in the smallest of details. With each step we took, we discovered a new view or corner that seemed the work of a different painter, but all working on the same large canvas.
About Stefano Romeo
Stefano is a native from Florence but with a quarter of Sienese blood in his DNA and many years living in Pisa is a true Tuscan. He is still learning that his homeland has many corners and hidden gems he has to discover, ones he particularly enjoys seeing from the saddle of his bike.