The Cinque Terre, literally translated “The Five Lands”, is part of the Italian Riviera. A visit to this part of Liguria has been a dream of Nutmeg’s for a long time. The rugged coastline is noted for the beautiful vistas, and the walking trails that connect five fishing villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The villages, the coastline and the surrounding hillsides are now classified as the Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villages remain tiny and relatively undeveloped, compared to other resort towns on both the Italian and French coasts. To this day there is no road joining all five villages.
The Cinque Terre National Park was established in 1999, with the aim to safeguard the marine area, walking trails, historical ruins and generally preserve the way of life that has existed for centuries. This is not an easy mission for an area visited by 2 million tourists annually, in a few short months of the year. The region has been inhabited for centuries. There is documentation that the inhabitants began terracing the land as early as 1000 A.D., to prevent soil erosion and promote agriculture.
Today visitors can reach the villages by train, by boat (in season), via eco-friendly buses or of course by foot. Visitors must buy a park pass and train ticket to access the villages. There is local area information available on multiple websites, however Nutmeg found that unfortunately it is not always current. The best bet is to go to a local tourist office when you arrive to get the most comprehensive information.
There are several hiking trails with options available to suit different abilities. The lower trail is known as the Sentiero Azzuro (Light Blue Trail or No#2) and the most famous section is the Via Dell’Amore (Love Walk) from Riomaggiore to Manarola. The entire trail is about 10km long and can easily be completed in one day by those in decent physical condition. Many people start their walk in Riomaggiore and walk northward along the coastline. G&N were consoled to walk the other direction and then take the boat back to be able to see all the villages from the water. In either case, the walk should take about 5 hours.
The problem was that the Sentiero Azzuro was closed in April 2011 due to a landslide, and as such Nutmeg’s plan was turned on its head. They had decided to start their walk just outside the park in Levento and walk to Monterosso and then continue along the No#2 to Riomaggiore, easily doable for two people in good shape. However, the upper trail is much longer 24km and not doable if you start the walk late morning.
In the end, G&N completed the first section to Monterosso and then took the train to Corniglia and walked the upper trail to Manarola. This section takes about 2.5 hours, it is not for the faint of heart as the trail heads nearly straight up from Corniglia, follows the ridge-line then descends to Manarola on very narrow trails. The walker is highly rewarded by fabulous views of the water and the vineyards.
G&N finished their day with the very short, very touristy and frankly disappointing section from Manarola to Riomaggiore. The Via Dell’Amore does have some great views and has been constructed as an easy path for all abilities but that comes with crowds and a feeling that you have left nature behind.
The second day Ginger and Nutmeg took some advise from a friend to walk from Riomaggiore to Porto Venere. This walk is beautiful and not crowded. There are a few good climbing sections, some narrow paths around cliff-lines and a bit of scrambling required on rocky sections. Definitely a good pair of hiking boots, a set of walking poles and lots of water are recommended. You do not need to carry food, as there are places to stop and eat along the way. In total the walk should take about 5 hours and will not disappoint the walker for their effort and the boat trip back along the coast is stunning.
A few final words, the local white wine is very decent and you should feel good about supporting local industry while you drink a glass. The anchovies, according to Ginger are perfect. There is also local olive oil, Limóncello and even a new line of beauty products – stock up as you are supporting the on-going preservation of this truly unique and beautiful area. Finally, the only time the trains run on time is when you are LATE!