Monday, September 23, 2013

Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy



So this is a rare non-gardening post. We recently took a a week's vacation in northern Italy. One of the things we really wanted to do was to hike Cinque Terre – five fishing villages along the Mediterranean coast. Once we started looking into the visit, it was hard finding exacting information on the length of trails – both in distance and timing. So I put together this little video of our hike to help show and explain what to expect on the trails. We read that the hardest and most difficult trail(s) are tough. But If I can do it, just about anyone else can.

The "Last" village, Monterosso, is where we started.
It has the only sand beach of all five villages.
The five villages, are linked by train and roads – though there are no roads within the villages themselves. The train rides are short – usually two - five minutes. You can buy a pass and take the train to each village – but make sure you have train schedule. It's not like a hop-on hop-off train. They have regular stops and keep to a schedule that may not line up with your plans.


We decided to start at the farthest of the five towns from where we were staying, Monterosso. We stayed in La Spezia, only an eight-minute train ride from the nearest of the five villages. The entire area is a national park, so you have to buy an admission "ticket" to walk the trails – and there are huts with park people where you have to present your ticket.

You can see most of the villages as you
hike along the coast, teasing you.
The trails between the first two villages are the most challenging, from what we had read. They were. Lots of stairs, lots of climbing up then down then up again. Mostly there were inclines and switchbacks, but there were plenty of stairs. Trails are mostly gravel until you get closer to a village and they become paved, or just disappear into the villages.

If you start in the fartthest village, Monterosso, you'll get the hardest hiking out of the way earliest. If I can do the trail in about an hour in forty-five minutes, then anyone can do it. My wife and daughter could have probably done it faster than me. There were a few sections with lots of steep steps that slowed me down. It was also hot – about 81ºF and little shade in most areas. Water for drinking is essential. There are a few public fountains for drinking water in the villages. where you can refill your water bottles. And each village has plenty of shops for souvenirs, water, snacks, meals and gelato. Four of the five villages have public areas for swimming – only the Monterrosso has a sand beach. We did not stop for a swim at any of them, though we did have bathing suits just in case.

Terraced vineyards. I can't imagine how much work
it would be to harvest grapes on these steep slopes.
But what a hike! We walked through terraced vineyards, passed over streams and waterfalls, crossed centuries-old bridges and walkways, and always had the ocean views to the right hand side. You can see each upcoming village for quite a ways as you travel the coastline. And the villages are all stunningly beautiful. Each has its own charm and personality. This was, by far, the most beautiful and interesting hike we've ever been on.

We hiked all five villages in one day, but if you like to more casually browse, or spend time shopping, you'll need more than one day. A few days in the area would be ideal, along with a 2- or 3-day train pass. If we went again, we'd definitely do the hike again, and maybe stay in one of the villages, as opposed to La Spezia.

Our hike between villages was almost like a progressive meal - lunch in Vernazza, gelato in Corniglia, cocktails and snacks in Manarola, and dinner (seafood!) in Riomaggiore. You can make all five villages in one day.
This is the second village we came to, Vernazza. You can see Monterosso off in the distance.
The third village is Corniglia. It is not on the water, but on a mountain overlooking the ocean.
Next stop was Manarola. We found a little bar and sat while for a while with our respective wine, beer and Coke Light.
Lots of dinner options in Riomaggiore. Seeing the villages glowing at night is a treat.
I'd love to have seen the other villages we passed through lit up at night. Next time!

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