On the northwest coast of Italy, only a 3 hr train ride from Florence, is the most amazing hike I’ve ever taken.
It’s a 12 km trail, connecting 5 sea-side villages perched on dramatic cliffs along the Ligurian coast. As you walk between them, tiered vineyards and olive groves cling to the steep mountains, and every few kilometers you reach a crowded, colourful village.
We arrived at the eastern-most town in Cinque Terre first, where the steep cobblestone street leads you from the train station either up into town or down to the sea where tiny boats bob around in a sheltered harbour, waiting to be used.
The first town is Riomaggiore, with less than 2000 inhabitants but hundreds of tourists renting sea-view apartments and tiny bedrooms with open-air terraces. Many of them have dozens of steep steps to maneuver, but the climb is always worth it as you stare out on the crystal-clear sea and hundreds of other little windows facing the sea.
I rented an apartment there, with 3 Americans from North-Eastern, one Brasilian and an ecclectic Russian that called me the ‘red-cheeks girl.’ We hiked all day, swimming between towns, and munching on a picnic of cheese, salami, bread, chocolate and wine.
The day was perfect, sunny but breezy, and less crowded with tourists than usual. I couldn’t get enough of the scenery, and the feeling of being lost in some remote forest every time you left a town. When you reached the next town, it looked like a cramped collection of concrete, clamped together like leggos, clinging to the cliffs to avoid falling into the sea. Houses seemed to be built ontop of eachother, buildings only as wide as one room, with clotheslines and balcones giving the facades a third dimension.
We hiked from Riomaggiore to Manarola, through a famous stretch of path called Lovers’ lane. Here, hundreds of tourists ‘lock up their love,’ leaving a lock chained to another as they throw away the key. We arrived in Manarola next, and then had to take a train to Corniglia because of a landslide. We carried on to Vernazza, where we sunbathed on big boulders on the beach.
Between Vernazza and the last town, we looked back at the distance we had hiked and noticed the greenery above Riomaggiore was on fire. From 10kms away we could see orange flames, and grey smoke clouds drifted over the sea past us. Im not sure why, but noone really noticed or became alarmed, and we laughed about how all our passports were in the apartment that hopefully hadnt burnt down yet.
The last town is Monterosso, slightly smaller than Riomaggiore, but less hilly since it clings to a long stretch of sandy beach. We sat there for sunset, then took the train back to Riomaggiore, where we found out our apartment hadnt burnt down. We also found out noone was harmed, just a small section of farm land and one abandoned house.
All 5 towns are collectively referred to as ‘Cinque Terre,’ or ‘Five Lands,’ and is protected as a national park that requires a 5euro entry fee. In 1997, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Before then, few had even heard of the place, as it remained hidden from mass tourism and unknown to popular guidebooks. I can only imagine what a peaceful, magical place it used to be then, serene, sleepy, Italian coastal villages. But, I suppose I can’t be upset it was discovered and subsequently over-commercialized, since I otherwise might never have discovered it myself.