We used Firenze as a home base for an excursion to the coast. Many people have recommended the Cinque Terre (pronounced CHINK-weh TAY-reh) as a beautiful example of small town italian culture. So we set off on a day trip to this wonderful National Park with the plan to walk from the southern most town Riomaggiorre towards Monterosso.
#1 Riomaggiore is the southern most town of the Cingue Terra National Park and it is a fine exhibit of how the town allowed the train to pass through the town, as long as it tunnelled through the rock and left the homes and businesses intact. The train appears out of the rock on the right, passes in front of the large pink building and then back into the rock.
As we arrived at #1 a policeman was indicating that there was no parking available (which means the too few parking lots are full and the parking along the road has left it with just barely a single lane. Picture a relatively steep slope to the sea with a road carved into the side of the hill and precious little space available for homes, let alone cars and extra parking.
#2 – Manarola is a pretty flat walk that parallels the sea and the train tracks and then a tunnel to get you from the southern side of Manarola to the main part of the village.
Finding no parking at Riomaggiore we drove on to #2 and the same situation. This time the police were driving up the road as we entered and we could see their handiwork displayed on all the questionably parked vehicles.
Now we are beginning to wonder if we are going to be able to do any walking at all.
The trail from #2 to #3 has a few hills and then 300+ stairs from the train station enroute to the only town without waterfront;
#3 – Corniglia is the only town in the Cinque Terra that doesn’t have a beach. However it does provide breath taking views of the sea.
Finally, at Corniglia we locate a parking lot with many empty spaces. So relieved to find a spot we didn’t question why this town seemed to be so empty. We got the car parked, purchase our 1-day pass to “take a walk in the park” and set out for the walk north towards Monterosso.
Although Corniglia is perched up on the hill with only a trail down to the sea, there was a significant amount of elevation gain as we wound our way along the coast dodging vineyards and the occasional home.
The trail is in good shape with stone steps were necessary and plenty of awesome views of the sea, sky and vegetation.
Despite its proximity to the water the temperature got into the low 30’s pretty quickly.
Our original plan had been to walk from Riomaggiore (#1) to Vernazza (#4) but the lack of parking in Riomaggiore and Manarola changed our plans.
Soon we caught a glimpse of #4 – Vernazza and decided that we had only walked one section and would ignore the stories we’d heard and walked the rest of the way to Monterossa and a swim in the sea.
We decended rapidly into Vernazza, had a quick look at the people swimming in the sea and decided that we’d better keep moving or we’d never get back on the trail to Monterossa. This was definitely a good idea and the trail quickly climbed above the vineyards to offer a beautiful view of Vernazza and the Ligurian Sea.
This final section of the trail is definitely the most grueling! We have been doing plenty of walks with our tours of Berlin and Prague, but the elevation changes and heat took its toll on this section. This is also the narrowest section of the Cinque Terre trail with many sections where we had to go single file.
The trail wound its way through the vineyards and occasionally around a home. At one point we walk around a home that has opened a small cafe/bar in the basement to quench the thirsts of the weary hikers. We took advantage of the cafe to replenish our water and gatorade.
When we finally reached #5 Monterosso we were hot, tired and a little bit dirty from the dusty trail.
We found a small stretch of public beach and got changed into our bathing suits. The water felt amazing, just the perfect temperature. This was also our first exposure to beach culture. I don’t think we saw a single one piece bathing suit on a woman (more on that in a moment) and for men very brief Speedo suits are the norm rather than the exception. Andrew and Jeff got an eyeful from a couple of women who made a one piece out of their bikini’s. Although they were rare, we noted that there was virtually no fuss being made over these free spirits. As North Americans we could learn a lot from this culture and then we might avoid all the publicity over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Superbowl halftime show a couple of years ago.
After our swim, we did a little tour of the town and then caught the boat service from Monterosso. Loading the boats was an experience in itself as a steel ramp is held in place between the bow and the concrete peer while the boat tosses in the waves. This trip along the coast at sea level gave us an excellent opportunity to review the trail we had walked. To see all 5 villages we stayed on the boat and it became very clear that the we had hiked the 2 most strenuous sections and left the first two to people in sandles.
After having some dinner in Riomaggiore we caught the train for a brief ride back to Corniglia and one last climb up to our parked car.
As we left the Cinque Terra the sun was descending rapidly and we got one last glimpse before it set.
On the way back to Firenze we took a small detour to Pisa to see, what else, the leaning tour. Although Jeff climbed the tower back in ’82 he didn’t see it at night, when they turn the lights on. We decided that we didn’t need to climb the tower for 15 Euro each. So we hung out on the grass for a while with lots of other people doing the same thing. It was probably a lot calmer than it is during the day.