We stepped off the train in the dank tunnel, since the station is only big enough for about 2 and 1/2 train cars. As we emerged into the bright sunshine we were surrounded by colorful old buildings and farmer’s market stalls. It was Market Day in Vernazza, a formerly sleepy seaside village of 500 or so which is flooded with tourists during summer days. A quick stop for fresh fruit and we headed into the main square of town, Piazza Marconi, in search of our accommodation. All around were the smells of fresh focaccia, thick Italian bread for which the region is known, and happy people speaking a variety of languages and soaking up the summer sun.
This was the start to our stay in the Cinque Terre (Chinkwa Tara) in Italy. The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 seaside villages along the cliffs of the Aegean Sea on Italy’s western coast. Each of the tiny towns was connected only by foot paths for hundreds of years, until the propect of tourism brought in the railroad and modern road systems in the mid twentieth century. I came to the Cinque Terre when I studied abroad in college, and I thought this would be the kind of place that Tony would like too.
We probably reserved the cheapest room in the five villages, but it was definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed yet!
Then we went out to explore the village! We climbed one of the town’s two towers, reminders of the days when pirates would plunder the area, and had great ariel views. This one shows the buildings lining the one real road through town, the church, and the terraced fields in the background.
Using our Guidebook, we took a brief tour of the town, resting for awhile in the church. This one was much simpler than the churches we’ve seen in the bigger cities, but it has a very rustic beauty. Apparently the current Priest has been a popular man in town because he finally stopped the church’s tower bell from ringing through the night!
The next day we were up early to hit the trail. We were so early, in fact, that there was no one in the little “office” at the start of the trail! That was just what we were hoping for, though, as that meant we had the trail virtually to ourselves. The view of Vernazza as we left the town was spectacular!
Unfortunately, only one of the original trails was open for hiking. Over the past few years, the Cinque Terre and surrounding areas have been hit by floods and landslides. In fact, just three years ago Vernazza, the town we stayed in, was hit by a flood and nearly every business was filled with several feet of mud! They cleaned up and rebuilt the town very quickly but the trails haven’t recovered as easily. The one we started with, heading north, was the most difficult of the original trails.
Monterosso is known as the resort town. It has the only sand beach and it built on relatively flat land. We spent most of the day wandering around town and lounging with our books. It was fabulous! As part of our wandering, we walked through the town cemetary. Space in these mausoleum type tombs is limited, so it’s essentially leased. When a lease runs out the remains are placed in the communal burial area and the space is leased to someone else! Each town has their own cemetary, and they each look a lot like this one.
From the boat on our way back to Vernazza we had a great view of the terraced fields. Before tourism kept these tiny villages afloat, they were all agriculturally based. The hillsides were terraced for vineyards and lemon trees, and the wine and lemoncello they produce is still readily available.
The next day, we were off on the trails agan, but this time heading south. The original trail to Cornelia was closed, but there was another trail that would take us there… we just had to hike higher and farther! We said, “Arrivederci!” to Vernazza again, and we were off.
We zipped through this town pretty quickly, just stopping for a quick breakfast pastry, before getting back on the trail. Even though Manarola can been seen in the background of the picture above, it would take us more than two hours to get there! We were already at the highest point in the Cinque Terre, but due to those trail closures, we’d be hiking up much higher to the mountaintop towns and back down to the water level.
It was pretty disheartening to realize that 45 minutes of hiking had resulted in negative progress! We met a few hikers coming from the other direction though, who assured us we were getting close to where the trail would flatten out and then head downhill. We were rewarded with some views of Manarola through the trees.
It was actually at this point that we had our only fall. I swear, that bee stung me! That’s why I was flailing about! Tony laughed heartily, once he knew I was okay of course, that I was able to grab a handrail and prevent myself from sliding down the hill on my tush!
Over lunch in Manarola we debated out next move. We’d already hiked about 6 miles that morning and the original path to the last town, a leisurely 20 minute stroll along the coast, was again closed. With a sudden burst of energy from lunch, and a serious lack of better judgement: ), I said, “Let’s hike it!” So we start up this hill.
Our time in the Cinque Terre ended all too quickly, but we’re both so glad we went… even though my legs are still sore days later!