September 26th, 2008 – by: Stevie_Wes
Mural-painted house in Riomaggiore.
Bede and I wake to the clangings of the schizophrenic bell tower that lives in Riomaggiore. It strikes every hour on the hour. Normal, sure. ALL of the hours. Okay, okay, not so out of the ordinary I grant you! Through the night too… oh and it seems to have a stutter. It likes to repeat itself. So not only does is it chime on the hour, but does the same amount of "dings" and "dongs" (however many appropriate for the hour) about 2 minutes later too… not so normal... and then sometimes at 8 minutes past too! And then a few strikes on the quarter and half hour markers too if it feels like it. Sometimes at no particular time or for no particular reason I can fathom in my 3 or so days here it launches into a full tuneful assault for a good long period of time for good measure… and it ain’t that tuneful at that! A curiously chronometrically- challenged creature it certainly is.
Morning in Riomaggiore.
So today is about introducing ourselves (by day this time) to the chain of five coastal villages that comprise Le Cinque Terre (or ‘Five Lands’) in the Liguria region of Italy. Whilst the 5 villages (that I shall refer to as C5) all reside perched upon the hills that descend precipitously into the waters below the Parco Nazionale Delle Cinque Terre technically encompasses not only the villages but the surrounding hill areas too. This incredibly verdant pocket of Italian countryside is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many varying routes that can be hiked along the coast between the villages. By far and away the most popular is the route that hugs the coastline the tightest and doesn’t involve too much “up’n’over” hill trekking.
This is route 2 between Riomaggiore and Monterosso the first and last of the C5. To walk within the area of the Cinque Terre National Park you are required to purchase a pass that is date stamped and can be bought for periods of 1, 3, 7 (and I think possibly longer?) durations of days. You can also buy passes that incorporate unlimited train travel between the villages but at 1,20 Euro for a journey through them all the cost differential is not worth it as you will likely only use the train once a day, if that. I buy a 3 day pass and 2 single train tickets (to be used any time I choose by validate stamping them on the stations) and this costs about 11,50 Euro all told. In theory the passes can be asked to be produced anytime and ARE asked for many times if you walk along Route 2.
Look how great this cliff-clustered little fishing villages look! - Riomaggiore.
.. Which trust me you will.
Riomaggiore, Le Cinque Terre.
The first stretch of the coastal walk is the most renowned and even bares the name ‘Lovers’ Lane’ or rather Via dell’ Amore. It is also the easiest and briefest village-to- village stretch of the coastal path and consequently has the most human traffic. At one point an artificial walkway has been cut into the cliff face and graffiti of varying quality (mostly bad and not all of an amorous nature) adorns its entire length. Lovers over the months and years have carved their initials into the fleshy fingers of the countless large cacti that also thrive on this craggy, sunny stretch of coast. Their love cut deep and long dried out and shrivelled in the sun.
This pleasant walk is not too busy at all today, it not being a weekend day.
Bede and I are offered a peaceful introduction to the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean that will form so central a part to our time here on the Ligurian coast. It is so gentle and calm out there that there is almost literally no wash against the rocks below whatsoever and even from quite a height your eyes dive down into the blue and penetrate through to the rocky sea bed below. An occasional ferry boat cuts across the otherwise unadulterated expanse of blue carrying visitors between the 5 villages, a service that will cease after the month of October for winter. I'm a bit of a water-baby by upbringing and have not yet taken a good opportunity to go swimming during my travels so far (not since the very start in France) and feel the call of the cool blue water deeply today. I just wanna clamber up the railings and dive right in... on the thought of ice-cool gelati at the coming villages keep me sane.
We hit Manarola after only 15 minutes or so.
The longest distance between any of the C5 villages is probably only 2km or so, however do give yourself a good day to take this sea-side hike as you will want to stop and admire the astonishing scenery and views (and snap away on the cameras) every step of the way, whilst of course stopping to enjoy the little variations in character (and food and drink available) in each of the little villages. Manarola is the smallest of the C5 villages (I think?) and our legs still fresh Bede and I press on right away towards Corniglia. The magnificent scenery continues to roll out before you and it is also great to keep looking back over your shoulder spying the last village or two perched, receding into the distance, almost like beautiful little multicoloured birds sat on rocky branches caught in the act of contemplating flight or taking a dip into the sea.
Beautiful coloured Mediterannean waters!!!
Corniglia approached along the coastal walkway has a hefty set of stairs to reach it, approximately 1 step for every day of the year the signs proclaim but in reality it’s about 385 to the very top.
This is consequent to Corniglia being probably the most precariously ’balanced’ of all 5 villages. This steep ascent is a tad punishing in the heat so make sure you treat yourself to a cool drink and a gelato when you get into the village. There are also some beautiful foccaciarias and foccacia slices to be had from them here and indeed in all of the C5 villages. You have to try the ones drenched in fresh locally produced pesto, one of several regional specialities.
Bede admires the Ligurian coast from Via dell' Amore
Continuing along Route 2 (all routes through the park are marked sporadically and often near-invisibly with red & white painted markers on stones, houses etc by the way) the path out of Corniglia towards Vernazza proclaims to be the “most rewarding” stretch of the route.
This may well be true as the scenery is astonishing again, however it is also the longest (2 hours-ish) and most arduous (I think) on the legs. Lots of rocky steeped ups and downs and hill mountings and descents. Also these latter stages of the walks reveal less of the coastline to the eyes than previous stretches as olive trees and other (pleasing) impediments often obscure your line of sight to the sea. However you may well be thankful of the shade.
Vernazza (seen by Bede and I by day this time) is a very beautiful and comparatively quite lively little village. Its position affords it a little marina outlet by the sea and also a pleasant little piazza and water frontage for people to mill about in, sit for meals and congregate sunbathing and eating gelati.
Upon the hill as you walk down into the village coming from the direction of Corniglia there’s also the remains of an 11th Century castle and its watchtower. For about 1,50 Euro you can ascend on to the viewing platform around this tower and up to the top of it too if you wish. It does afford some beautiful, unimpeded views of not only Vernazza but the whole Cinque Terre coastline in both directions. To the north our final destination Monterosso is clearly visible now. Bede and I chill here for a bit eating gelati on the harbour wall and then having a brief internet session in the Blue Marlin café. I need to check whether my request to stay at The Bee Hive hotel in Rome has been accepted (they have a peculiar system of advance vetting/ booking) but it’s been denied due to - apparently - being fully booked.
The slightly murderous stairway up from the coast and train station of Corniglia to the village itself.
“Bugger!”. Rome’s the only city on my entire European jaunt that I’m being slightly paranoid and organised about when it comes to accommodation and it ain’t working out so far.
Vernazza seen from the northern hill top. "Wow!" I can almost see the gelati from here.
The final stretch of the journey between Vernazza and Monterosso is another fair length and towards its conclusion gets a little bit challenging. Not too much but the final descents do require some concentration on foot placement. On a particularly steep dip down through a lemon grove an industrious local farmer sits in a little make-shift path-side shack with a sack of lemons, a cranky old lemon press, a bag of sugar and come bottles of iced water. His ‘business’ seems to be thriving with thirsty walkers when we arrive and we’re only too happy to wait in line and block the pathway further to get our hands on a beautifully refreshing fresh-squeezed cup of real lemonade for 2 Euro each “Yum!”.
It has me burping with contentment the rest of the way to Monterosso.
Flat balcony awning (abstract) ...sometimes all I want is a bit'a colour! ;)
Once there we walk around the town front. Monterosso is the only C5 village that can lay serious claim to having stretches of beach worthy of the name. A lot of these are ‘private’ though, presumably a fee is due to someone, somewhere or they are attached to some of the high-price, high kudos hotels that reside in this, the largest and most celebrity-magnet style town of the C5 chain. Bede and I have a surprisingly cheap and surprisingly satisfying bowl of pasta and a glass of white wine each in a restaurant with an absolutely knockout position right by the sea front as the sun begins to draw down. Time to use one of those train tickets back home.
It’s a long walk after all! What an easy, perfect way to end the day without further strain… okay so Bede and I f**k up our understanding of the platforms (yeah, there are only 2, but ya know!…lol ) and times and end up waiting over an hour to get one but we’re in noooo rush. Take it eeeeeasy on the Ligurian coast people. Niiiiiice and eeeeeasy. J
Umm? Vernazza (Via Roma) I think? ... maybe Manarola? "Oooh so confused already!" :)