We woke up early our first morning, as we had planned to go hiking on the trails of the Cinque Terre that day. I was so excited to see the other towns in this area, as what I saw in pictures had me very much intrigued. To be prepared for this hike, I brought with me some good runners (but not my best pair because I planned on leaving them behind to make room in my suitcase for my anticipated shoe purchases in Florence), proper clothing, and of course did some research about the trails, and what to expect. We knew that it was going to take us approx. 5 hours to hike the trail from one town to the last, so I was psyched up for some good exercise. We stopped at a deli to buy some bread, cheese, meat, and some fruit for breakfast, and lunch on the run. We bought a Treno card, which is a pass that allowed us to ride the train between all of the towns for 24 hours, and also paid our entrance onto the paths, and trails in the National Park. Bad news- we were told that due to landslides on the trails, all of the trails were closed, except between Riomagiorre and Manarola, which is called the Via dell “Amore, and that is only a 20 minute walk. We were bummed. So much for our plans. But, when one door closes, another one opens, and the door that opened was the opportunity to really explore each of the towns, which is what we then set out to do.
It struck me shortly after arriving in Riomaggiore (meaning “river” and “major” in the local dialect, as there used to be a major river running through this community), that this community had a lot of pride in its culture, and history, but they were also embracing the present, while looking into the future also. This was indicative by the beautiful murals depicting the men and women building the over 300 million cubic feet of dry stone walls (without cement) that run throughout the Cinque Terre. This was quite a feat, considering the lack of equipment, etc., and the murals really showed how labourous this work was. It drew my attention to pay attention to all of the stone walls as we hiked, walked, and strolled throughout each town. In addition to the murals, I noted the presence of all the recycling bins. I was so impressed that I even took pictures- not a surprise to my kids, and those who know me well, because I am somewhat of a recycling maniac.
And so, the up, around, climbing, ascending, winding, and descending adventure began of constantly trying to figure out where we were, and where we were going, and how we could possibly get there. That was part of the adventure of the day, and really, did it matter where we were? We were in Italy, surrounded by wine, and olive groves, and we could see the ocean from so many of the places we were. We were surrounded by history, and it was simply magical! By the way, if someone tells you to JUST follow the trail signs, or the red and white signs; it really is not that simple, as they are somewhat sparse, and can be a bit hidden, and also are sometimes just splotches of paint stripes on stones along side the trails. Also, the map that we had of the area was a bit confusing to us, and as I read in my Rick Steves book right now, I laugh as to where we ended up, compared to where we were intending to go. Once again, another reason to go back… And next time I will use my guide book more.
Each town is known for different things, and has its own history, which you would not know unless you took the time to learn about each town. The reason why I say this is that if you just simply wandered through each town, they look similar- they each have many cafes, gellato shops,and restaurants. They each are strikingly similar, as each has the multi- level pastel colored stucco buildings that house not only the residents, but also the shops, and many other businesses. Each has windy roads, steps of all widths, and slopes. And of course each town has a Piazza, at least 1 church, and a cemetery; kind of like where I live- each small town has it’s own grain elevator, church and cemetery. As we strolled through the towns, we of course stopped regularly for a cafe, for a crepe, and of course I had to stop for some focaccia with pesto. All these temptations were too tempting, plus we needed more energy to make it to the top of the town to take in all of the views.
Once we reached the top of the town, we could take in the full view of the town, the magnificent ocean view, and we could also see the wooden Lenten scene depicting the stations of the cross, set up on the hillside for Easter. At different times of the year, there are different scenes put up by a local man by the name of Mario Andreoli. He made a promise to his father before he died that he would replace the cross that was on their vineyard, and that he did. He replaced it with religious scenes for different times of the year, that even light up at night. What a beautiful tribute to his father, and his faith, for the community to enjoy. We were so intrigued, that we wanted to get a closer look, and also see the cemetery, so we walked higher. And higher we walked, the more magnificent the views, and the more I felt like I was in a fairytale.
Which way do we go?
Fancy that we would be saying that. But once again, we were lost. And once again, the glory of being lost when you are in Italy, is that you are lost in Italy. It was a beautiful walk- a hard walk because of the stone steps, and it did not lead us to the cemetery, or the Lenten scene, but we did see the beautiful countryside filled with olive trees, lemon trees, vine, after vine of grapes. We also came across a very old structure, and then out of nowhere a very small village called Volastra and it’s church called Nostra Signora Della Salute, which was built in the 12th century. We were no longer lost, because we now knew where we were, but we were nowhere near where we were intending to go, and it took us 90 minutes to get there with all of the stopping, picture taking, and general sight seeing we did along the way.
We may have been a bit lost, but we felt not as lost as 3 Asian girls we came across the same trail we were on to get to where we now were. You see, we were dressed to be out exploring, and hiking, but these girls were dressed like they were out looking for the closest possible shopping mall. They were wearing flip flops, and heels, and were not amused by the stone steps, and walking conditions. However, we were amused.
So, we regrouped our thoughts, and our to do lists of what we still wanted to do, and see in what time was remaining today, since we were leaving the next day for Florence. We decided to make our way back to Manarola through Volastra, to take the boat to Vernazza. We ended up basically on the same trail down, but we then got to enjoy different views of this very old, and historic town, as we came upon the main street.
Because of the boat schedule, we had a bit more time to explore this historic town, and guess what we found- the cemetery! Each town has its own cemetery, but Manarola’s is in a prime real estate location, with a first class view. Breathtaking! It is important for the locals to visit the graves of their family members regularly, and there is even a picnic area just behind the cemetery.
I was a bit bummed that we were skipping visiting Corniglia, the town between Manarola, and Vernazza. It unfortunately does not have a harbour, as the town is up on the hill, and we really wanted to be able to take a boat ride, and this was our last opportunity to do so. I was also missing out on fulfilling a dare to visit Guvano beach, Cinque Terre’s only nude beach. In other words, be careful what you dare me to do, because I will probably do it. Oh well, next time…
The coastline is beautiful, and quite awe inspiring to see how this whole area was carved into the mountainside, and the trains follow the coastline, around and through the hills. It didn’t matter how many times I looked at the different views of this area, I was Amazed at what I was seeing. I can not say it enough times, that one must see these sights at least once in your lifetime.
We arrived at cocktail hour into Vernazza, and we could feel a buzz of excitement, and joy in the air. We were getting tired from our day of exploring, and once we had walked around the harbour, we plunked ourselves down at one of the patios overlooking Vernazza’s small beach area. It was time for a Spritz, and some appies. It was a wonderful feeling being in the center of the action, alongside some other tourists, but also with the locals. This was a meeting place for the residents, and it was fun to watch the reunions of friends and families, the laughter, and story telling, or just being together, as a community. We never did end up exploring more of Vernazza, as we were enjoying the experience of just being there, rather than the sights. It is something I will never forget, as the end of the day was marked with the ringing our treasured church bells from the church tower right next to where we sat. The perfect end to a magical day, in this fairy tale of a place called Cinque Terre.
Will I return? Oh most definitely. It is only a matter of when…