Those of you who have been following my blog in the past year know that I like to mix my holidays with exercising. Some people might think that it is insane to want to “punish” yourself with sweating during a holiday. But some people like me understand that the positive effects of doing sports like soaking up on much needed vitamin D, perking up your mind and gaining mini achievements, far outweigh the initial struggle of getting up and resisting the temptation to have a lie in on a vacation morning. Not to mention how good a plate of pasta tastes like when you feel like it is truly deserved.
That is why, one of the days of my holiday in the Italian Riviera (see post Joining the Jet Set in the Italian Riviera) was dedicated for hiking in Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is a 15km stretch of coastline along the Ligurian region of Italy. The name of the coastline (in English ‘Five Lands’) comes from five, small coastal towns, Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, which are connected together with equal distance sea paths and hiking tracks up on the hills.
The region’s history dates back to the 11th century when it was an area dedicated for farming and fishing. When watching over the landscapes of Cinque Terre it is easy to imagine how somebody from the old times could have viewed Cinque Terre. There are still no signs of corporate development, no access by cars, no branding and advertisements. Just humble, little towns of Cinque Terre and nature covered in vineyards, farmland and dramatic views of cliff-tops and choppy waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
From Manarola to Corniglia
We arrived early morning by train from Santa Margherita Ligure to the Manarola station. I had read in some tourist guides that Riomaggiore is the least pretty of the five towns, so we had decided to start the hike from the second village of Manarola instead. In truth, Manarola didn’t have much to offer either. The village looked very poor and deserted. The people around were undoubtedly tourists rather than locals.
The hiking trails weren’t particularly well sign-posted so we spent some time figuring out how to get to the next village, Corniglia. First we started off on the sea path but needed to turn around quickly. Preservation works after the area flooded in 2011 were not finished and the route was closed for walkers.
Our next option was to do a hiking trail number 6 up the hills. I gained new respect to hikers during the 13 km route. The initial climb to the town of Volastra was steep and long. Moving stones and generally uneven surface made the walk much harder than I had expected. Almost breathless we made it up to Volastra which offered panoramic views across the coastline. After a quick stop to fill up our water bottles, we started the descent which was even more challenging than the uphill as I was wearing running trainers rather than proper hiking boots.
We did some walking around the tiny village of Corniglia along the steep stairs and narrow roads. There were a few shops and restaurants which were obviously targeted at tourists. I was glad that we hadn’t decided to stay over a night in Cinque Terre as evenings spent in this sleepy town would have probably got a little boring. I also didn’t feel like I was visiting real Italy.
From Corniglia to Vernazza
To our disappointment the walk from Corniglia to Vernazza also wasn’t right next to the seaside and we needed to pay an entrance fee to the trail. However, it was a small price to pay from a chance to see the beautiful landscapes and Vernazza approaching from a distance. This trail was much easier but also more crowded with tourists than the earlier one we had just done. We whizzed through the trail in less than an hour despite a few stops to take photographs and marvel at the scenery.
Vernazza was a busier and bigger version of Corniglia. Again very touristy with few things to do. At that stage we were happy to enjoy a bowl of pasta and plan for our trip back to Santa Margherita for the evening.
Cinque Terre didn’t quite live up to the romantic image I had built up. I certainly don’t think it is worth spending days there. It was nevertheless a privilege to get my weekly exercising fix in such fantastic landscapes and soak up the history of the area. Next time I will try something less ‘discovered’ though.
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