AM: From Genoa, where we arrived last night after a 24-hour journey from New Zealand, we took a one-hour train ride along the scenic coastline to Monterosso al Mare, the most northern of the five villages in the UNESCO World Heritage Cinque Terre Park. On arrival we made our way along the promenade and into the old part of the gorgeous little seaside village which was picture-postcard perfect, as was the small, family-run Hotel Pasquale where we stayed. Located on the waterfront, the Hotel Pasquale is a short walk from the main square of the town and only a few metres from bars, restaurants and shops. Our morning walk uncovered the ruins of a medieval castle and a beautiful old church and convent high on the hill overlooking the village with magnificent views.
PM: The weather was perfect so we decided to begin our walk along the old mule trail to the next village. For centuries, walking trails were the only way to travel between the villages and the Azure Trail we followed is one of many. Narrow, and at times precipitous, the Azure Trail offers spectacular coastal scenery. Almost immediately the path led us high into the hills and through pretty farmland with olive groves and lemon trees and vineyards. Fresh basil was growing everywhere like grass! Along the way we were offered freshly-squeezed orange juice from local farmers, and sampled organic food from pretty little cafes perched on the cliffs overlooking the coastline.
We arrived at the village of Vernazza after an easy twohour walk. An authentic fishing village with a small harbor, Vernazza is famous for its narrow lanes and maze of stairs and tiny terraces offering sea views at every turn. We spent an idyllic half-hour wandering the cobblestoned streets and browsing through the many small owner-operated shops selling local wares and food. Soon it was time to set off along the trail to the next village. This part of the trail was easy walking and we slowly made our way up and over the ridge line enjoying the spectacular views.
Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre villages without direct access to the sea and it is set high on a steep promontory close to a hill with many vineyards. Corniglia’s origins date back to Roman times and its name derives from the Gens Cornelia, the Roman family to whom the land originally belonged. After more time wandering the streets and sampling the local ice-cream and coffee it was time to head back to Monterosso. To reach the train station we made our way down the Lardarina, a long staircase formed by 382 brick steps that zigzags down the hillside.
AM: We decided to take the short train journey to Riomaggiore, the southernmost village of the Cinque Terre. The town is said to date back to the 8th century when a group of Greek fugitives found shelter there. The houses are all painted in traditional pastel colours and in a tower style that reaches five or six stories high. There are many beautiful old churches and the ruins of the 13th-century Riomaggiore Castle.
From this village begins the famous La via dell’Amore (The Way of Love), a one-kilometre pedestrian street overlooking the sea that links the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola. Unfortunately, severe flooding in 2012 caused rock slides and destroyed parts of the trail and it has been closed since then.
Our only alternative for walking to Manarola was to take the ancient goat trail, but it’s not for the faint of heart! The villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola are very close to one another but are separated by a steep mountain. The Beccara trail goes up over the top of that mountain and down the other side, all steps up one side and all steps down on the other. The trail climbs through the vineyards and farmlands and offers panoramic views.
After a slow but enjoyable hike we arrived in Manarola in the late afternoon to complete our walk of the Cinque Terre. Manarola was founded by the Romans and is also characterised by a tower house built to defend the village. It’s the quietest of the villages, but is no less beautiful and worthy of a visit. After exploring the village, then enjoying a celebratory coffee and a delicious Italian meal, we reluctantly headed back to the train for the quick ride back to Monterosso for our last night. Of course you can also reach all of the villages by ferry and rail, but if you enjoy walking you will experience one of the most scenic hikes in Italy, if not the world.
Have your travels ever taken you to the beautiful Italian coast? What would you recommend doing there? Let us know in the comments section below.