Yesterday I decided to tackle the Cinque Terre (CHINK-way TAY-reh) hike. Cinque Terre means “five lands,” referring to the five villages built into the hillsides along this portion of the Riviera. The villages and the surrounding area are a national park, an ecological preserve, and a world heritage site. The route I intended to take was the #2 coastal trail, the name of which is deceiving because the trail includes a great deal of elevation gain and loss given that the mountains rise directly from the sea here.
I begin the hike on the Via dell’Amore, beginning at Riomaggiore, so named because it was a common place for lovers to meet between Riomaggiore and Manarola – the next village over. Now it is replete with amorous graffiti, padlocks and other love trinkets.
Once in Manarola, I discover that the section of the coastal trail that continues to Corniglia is closed due to landslides. There are two options: wait one hour for the train or take the
steeper, longer, far more difficult “high trail” up to the village of Volastra, hike along the ridge and then descend back down to Corniglia.
Those of you who know me well or have hiked with me (I’m looking at you, Jane!), know that I have a habit of adopting wayward hikers who are lost, confused, or otherwise unsure of themselves or their routes. So why should this hike be any different?
At the turn-off to the high trail hike from the train station at Manarola, there is much hand-wringing and debate going on. One guy in particular keeps asking me questions.
Him: “What do you think? Do you think it would be worth it to do the hike or will it take too long?”
Me: “What I think is that if I only have one day in my life to hike this trail, I’m going to go ahead and go up rather than sit in a dark, smelly train station for the next hour.”
Him: “Do you think the trail will be clear?”
Me: “I think the trail will be pretty well-marked, and once we’re up there, we should have a good visual on where we need to go. I’m going up. Would you like to come along?”
This is how Ryan from Seattle and I head off for a hike of a lifetime.
It seems Ryan, who graduated from college in 2007, is a bit disillusioned with life after three years of selling radio advertising. So he quit his job and is spending his savings traveling west around the world. Good for him, I say. In return, he is amazed that I’ve taken time to myself before my family arrives later this week. We agree that being alone is a great way to travel, but so too is finding company in unexpected places.
As we hike, I am re-acquainted with the attitudes and speech patterns of the mid-twenty year-old. The hike is strenuous as all get-out, but spectacularly beautiful in return. Ryan captures this sentiment by saying, “This hike is just totally SICK, man!”
And it’s true. Volastra is one of the acclaimed wine-making villages of Liguria, and the vineyards are terraced smack onto the cliffs, carved straight down to the ocean. The views from the top of these slopes down to the villages just can’t be believed. It’s good to take the road less traveled.
Approaching Corniglia, the third village, Ryan regales me with the story of an encounter he had with some English guy at a bar who was being a cad toward a woman. He walked up to him and said, “Dude, you are like, SO disrespectful. Don’t be a douchebag.”
I’m teasing him a bit (the right of an elder), but truthfully Ryan was a very nice guy and made good company for the 3+ hours we hiked together. He told interesting stories of his travels thus far, including places in Southeast Asia I hadn’t visited. And the hike was nothing short of miraculous, so I was grateful to have someone to share it with.
At last we reach Vernazza, the fourth village along the hike. We make a beeline to the breakwater and find some rocks that look promising for jumping deep into the water. We count to three and jump in together. At the moment of impact, I realize that the only time in my life it felt better to go from completely dry to full submersion was when I threw myself into the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Sweet, blessed relief!
Next we share a lunch of pizza and celebratory beer, which I offer to pay for, as I remember being in his shoes all too well – an eager traveler with meager funds. The total came to 11 Euros. He says, “Are you sure it’s okay? That’s so expensive.” At which point I have the urge to tuck him into bed, read him a bedtime story and give him one of those “It Gets Better” speeches.
After lunch, Ryan is eager to take the last stretch of trail to Monterosso. I send him on his merry way, as I’ve decided I’m happy in Vernazza and have set my sights on a nice stretch of rock upon which to sun myself for a while.
After a couple more hours of sunning and cliff jumping, I amble through Vernazza and take the train to
Monterosso – the final of the five villages. I amble there for a while, then head on home. The sun, sea, beer and exercise conspire to make me drowsy on the train, but just as I’m about to nod off I chuckle and think, “That hike was just totally SICK, man.”Categories: Italy, Travel · Tags: Cinque Terre, Corniglia, Hiking, Italian Riviera, Italy, Manarola, Monterrosso, Riomaggiore, Travel, Vernazza, Volastra