This is going to be a long post because well, it is about Cinque Terre. In fact, it is about the hike of my dreams, in Cinque Terre.
It all started when I first saw the photo of Riomaggiore on The Cool Hunter a while back. I remember thinking, “WOW, what is this place? It is so gorgeous!” Then I made a mental note that I HAD to visit this place, eventually. Flash forward to July this year, when I stumbled upon this wonderful blog entry on hiking in Cinque Terre. That, for me, was the motivation to get this done before I leave Europe at the beginning of next year.
So I started planning. I needed a time where I would be able to go, which wasn’t quite easy because I was occupied with my thesis and defense for the entire summer. Then it occurred to me…Toussaint weekend in November! I would have already finished with my private defense in Belgium, so I could potentially fly from Brussels to somewhere in Italy and make the trip to Cinque Terre for my dream hike! And November shouldn’t be TOO cold yet, right?
And so, the plan was devised and carried out with two colleagues from my Bordeaux lab, who decided to tag along. Pretty much, I went to Cinque Terre with unreasonably high expectations. Chances of rain and clouds were taken into consideration before the hike. Well, clouds were fine, no rain please! It would have ruined the day, not to mention that we’d probably screwed if we got stuck on a mountain in the rain…
Brief introduction of Cinque Terre – it is a set of five villages in the Liguria region of Italy known for its amazing landscapes and seaside views. The five villages of Cinque Terre, from north to south, are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Slightly east of Riomaggiore is La Spezia, our home base. It is normally possible to hike between each village along a coastal path, typically taking around 5 hours in total, as I was told. On Saturday morning we headed from La Spezia by train to Monterosso (pictured above), where our hike began. Unfortunately, only the coastal trails between Monterosso and Vernazza were open to visitors and the rest of the route was closed due to recent landslides. Boo 😦 Well, we figured we’d walk at least the Monterosso-Vernazza leg, and improvise the rest, perhaps do the vineyard trail between Corniglia and Manarola. And alas, we began following the signs leading us to Trail #2…
My company was two colleagues from my lab in Bordeaux, Kana and Jiaji, whom I met with in La Spezia after a month of absence from Bordeaux. Kana is doing an internship at our lab for a few months and will leave in December, so she was eager to join us and explore as much as she could in Europe before she left.
We continued along Trail #2, sticking close to the water initially and enjoying the view of the cliffs and the horizon, even though the day was cloudy. I read somewhere that out of the entire path, the leg between Monterosso and Vernazza is the hardest, and that was why we figured we’d do it first in the morning. Well, the beginning didn’t seem too difficult. The roads were not so tough and there were railing to prevent us from falling into the sea. Shouldn’t be too hard to get to Vernazza, right?
Well think again. Going from Monterosso to Vernazza was supposed to take an hour and a half, and as we made our way away from Monterosso, elevation rose suddenly and drastically and the group found itself going up narrow, rugged steps. As we ascended higher and higher into the mountains, we walked through areas with no railings, so if anyone slipped they’d literally fall off the hills into…who knows where. And yes, going up was certainly no easy task. Soon I was working up a sweat and thankful that it was indeed cloudy and not super sunny and hot.
After going up for about half an hour, we reached a point where we realized that…wow, we were FAR from Monterosso, and REALLY high up. What was a seaside resort just a moment ago now became a miniature model or a landscape painting. Views like this make a worthy hike.
While following the signs for Trail #2, we met two couples from New Jersey walking in front of us. We assumed that they knew where they were going, so we followed their footsteps. Well…they didn’t, and the whole group got slightly lost at one point of the hike. In fact we might have intruded into someone’s private vineyard. Oops. But hey, what’s an adventure without someone getting lost, right? We turned around, found the right way, and continued towards the next town. This photo was taken by one of the guys from New Jersey from the top of a flight of stairs, showing a very clear perspective of the sharp rise in elevation that we all had to experience.
The road to Vernazza was filled with surprises, and while Kana, Jiaji, and I weren’t in much of a hurry, we took our time to rest and take photos along the way. We stumbled upon this little bridge that connected the two sides with a stream running below it. Beautiful 😉
And after about 2 hours or so…Vernazza in sight!!! Yes yes yes, I know Monterosso was only “supposed to” take an hour and a half, but we were slow and enjoying ourselves 😉 Wow, the moment I saw Vernazza emerge from behind the trees I was more than in awe. This was the kind of view I was expecting and it certainly did not disappoint…just breathtaking (literally as well, as I had been short of breathe from that long hike). I never thought such a place would exist on Earth.
But of course we were hungry, after a small breakfast and 2 hours of non-stop ascending on rocky stairs (I’ll never complain about the 99 steps I have to take to get home again). So we dashed to Vernazza, which we thought was right THERE in front of us, but took another half an hour or so to get to because well, we had to descend into town. But we got there. And we got food. Wonderful, delicious seafood that we wanted. Food has never tasted so good before.
As we sat by the sea and rested our feet – none of us could feel them anymore – and indulged in our seafood meal, I was so thankful for this thing called life that God gave me to enjoy. La vita è bella indeed.
After lunch and a bit of souvenir shopping, we headed to the next town, Corniglia, by train. The trail was closed between Vernazza and Corniglia, so the train was our only way of getting there. Apparently Corniglia is the only town out of the five that is not located at sea-level, and little did we know that to get to the town itself from the Corniglia train station, we’d have to climb another 365 steps…! Tricky tricky Cinque Terre!
Hmm, did somebody say gelato? Yes indeed! The reward for climbing those 365 steps was yummy gelato (I got a milkshake instead), but who needs any reason to get gelato anyway? When offered gelato in Italy (or anywhere), always say yes 😉
This turned out to be one of my favourite photos taken during the trip. It was unintentionally framed this way, and I’m not even sure if that guy knew he was being photographed. In fact, I think I was trying to capture the cat’s photo, but the focus shifted on the guy instead, and it turned out in an interesting way. Guy says to cat, “I’m watching YOU.” Cat doesn’t seem to give a damn.
Next up – the town of Manarola, by train from Corniglia. The way down to the Corniglia train station was much easier than the way up 😛 Of course the hiking trails were closed, but we did have the alternative vineyard route (which is apparently much tougher than the regular trails) that we could have taken if we REALLY wanted to. But then…all of our feet were still sore and numb, and it was getting dark early in the afternoon. Yeah, yeah, excuses excuses. I would really have liked to challenge myself though. Then again it might not have been a good idea to faint in the middle of the vineyards…
At 5:30pm the sun was already setting. Gah! This is what happens when you travel during the winter – the days get so short! No problem though, a lovely sunset is always something to be cherished 🙂
Annie in the colourful and vibrant town of Manarola. You might not be able to see, but the ledge I was sitting on was actually somewhat of a cliff. There was NOTHING behind the ledge, and if I fell, then I’d fall into the sea below. So all this time I was sitting there I was telling my photographer Kana, “Hurry hurry!” And she said, “Don’t look back!” Ugh, not so cool!
In the end, we wouldn’t finish our tour of Cinque Terre without going to the last of the five villages, Riomaggiore. After all, it’s the first town that I’ve heard of and the reason I knew about Cinque Terre in the first place, so I was actually quite anticipating the visit. Unfortunately by the time we got there, it was already past 6pm and almost completely dark, so I couldn’t get a good look at the town. Still, the streets were bustling with life and I have no doubt that Riomaggiore would look gorgeous in the daytime.
The tunnel from Riomaggiore to the train station was quite cool, kinda makes you feel like you’re walking through a time warp, from the real world where there is never enough time, to a tranquil little dimension where time is slowed down and everyone just relaxes. From here to there and back – and it was time to end our adventure and head back to the real world (well, La Spezia, where we’d get some dinner – coming in the next entry!)
So there you have it, my dream hike in Cinque Terre in a nutshell. A few concluding remarks: (1) Thank God for the weather – clouds with no rain. (2) I’d totally go back again when the trails are all open to complete the entire hike. (3) Italy really IS a beautiful place. Next post – Turin and a bit of La Spezia to wrap up our Italian getaway 😉