It was an easy 86 km, 1 hour 10 drive from Portofino to the ‘My One Hotel’ in La Spezia. The hotel situated just below old Castle of San Giorgio is to be our base for the next five days as we explore the Cinque Terre villages. You can visit the Cinque Terre by foot, by train and by boat and we intend to try them all.
The rooms are modern and ours has the added bonus of a large roof-top balcony which overlooks the old village. The narrow winding lanes below lead us to the main street of La Spezia, called via del Prione, which is chock-a-block with shopping and only 10 minutes walk from La Spezia Centrale Station for trains to the Cinque Terre.
We are also only a short walk to the port where you can take an unforgettable ferry ride to the Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre is in north Italy and comprises the five small exceptionally beautiful seaside villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.
One of the main reasons people visit the Cinque Terre is to hike and walk the popular cliff-side trails that connect the five towns and that’s why we have chosen a self-guided walking holiday.
Walking is the very best way to discover hidden treasures and when you’re free to wander at your own pace off the beaten track you can really unearth the true nature of the region.
When traveling from La Spezia, you can buy the required entry card for Cinque Terre in the tourism office in a hallway off platform 1 at the La Spezia train station. Travel by train is the best way to get access to all the villages with the frequency and travelling times making La Spezia an ideal place to stay if you can’t afford or are unable to book accommodation in the towns.
We had originally planned to get a 3 day train pass and begin our walks at Riomaggiore but a one day train strike scheduled for Tuesday and a rock slide blocking the Manarola to Cornigila section meant we had to amend our plans and do the Monterosso to Vernazza section on day one. This means we’ll do the boat trip tomorrow. If you visit the area be sure to check if any of the trails are closed because there are plenty of options for other walks.
We arrive at the Monterosso train station and make our way down to Fegina Beach with colourful blue, orange and yellow umbrellas and sea-side cafes.
There are also grocery shops selling fresh strawberries and cherries. We go for the strawberries and buy them from this cute little fruit-truck shop.
At the southern end of Fegina Beach a pedestrian tunnel leads to the main beach which faces the old town and on to the start of the Monterosso to Vernazza walk. We leave civilization, we leave the blue, red and yellow houses of Monterosso and begin our walk back through the centuries, a walk along paths which are ancient tracks and trails.
It is estimated to have taken about 200 years to build the entire stone wall Cinque Terre network. Its total length has been calculated to be at least equal to the Great Wall of China. Walking in Italy certainly brings a true feeling of adventure to your holiday.
The first section of the walk is surprisingly tough. The trails are narrow, steep and there are plenty of steps, over 750 to be exact.
We ascend over 300 metres climbing and scrambling over uneven rocks and loose crumbling dirt, nonetheless we keep climbing. It’s not easy for most people however the Volley boys pull through, but not without moments of unsteadiness and vertigo.
This trail from Monterosso to Vernazza is probably the steepest so you’ll need a reasonably good level of fitness. The paths are narrow, with the real danger of falling 3 to 5 metres if you lose your footing. There is no barrier rail between you and the ocean far below and the trail is only a metre or so wide.
If you attempt this walk, take plenty of water, a hat and sun protection. The terrain is very hilly and the summer temperature is high. On the day of our walk it was in the mid-thirties.
The trail continues to follow the ancient footpaths and mule tracks made up of steep stone staircases sometimes cut into the cliff face.
We wind through olive orchards and vineyards catching dramatic ocean views. I can’t resist looking back towards Monterosso to see the steep mountains spill into the Mediterranean.
this pic by susan daisy reid
Vernazza comes into sight; I can just make out the cluster of brightly coloured houses on the rocky outcrop. The miniature harbour is full of little fishing boats and the Piazza Marconi beckons the many visitors with its bars and restaurants.
The bell tower of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and the tall central tower of the Doria Castle frame the village. It is easy to see why visitors consider Vernazza the classic Cinque Terre town.
4 kilometres and two and a half hours later we approach Vernazza from above, the two towers are in conspicuous view but it’s not over yet, we must descend down a series of very steep switch back steps leading into a tangle of tiny streets that ultimately lead down to Piazza Marconi and the harbour.
But our day is not over yet. We rest at Vernazza and watch young travellers swimming in the Mediterranean. We cool off and get ready for our next section from Vernazza to Corniglia.
Another 2 hours walking will take us up and down more steps, in and out of more vineyards, between more olive groves and along more narrow pathways. The train timetable is consulted and we opt to take the 4 minute train ride and leave that walk for another day. We are quickly at the Corniglia train station and are confronted by the more than 370 steps that take you up into the village.
Corniglia is perched on a rocky outcrop that juts into the Mediterranean far above the waves. We contemplate our choice of climbing the winding road or the 377-step staircase from the station, but as luck would have it, the free minibus service between station and village arrives and we take one big step into the bus and on to a vinyl seat for a ride up the hill.
The road passes lemon trees, vines, flowers and foliage of all varieties and in late May the air is full of perfume. We arrive at the little piazza where we sit and pass some time before exploring the village.
High above the sea we take advantage of the views from the lookout and can see all the way to the northernmost town of Monterosso and to the southernmost town of Riomaggiore.
We take the bus back down to the train station to return to our lodgings in La Spezia and reflect upon the day.
I generally walk in a loose-fitting pair of walking trousers with zip-off legs which are great in the heat and a fast drying shirt or T-shirt.
In my small backpack I carry a waterproof jacket which takes care of most weather conditions. A large bottle of water keeps me hydrated, which ensures an enjoyable day on the trail.
Finally to my ‘feets;’ well I can’t go past my Dunlop Volley Internationals and although they look a little beaten up at the moment there were times when they saved me from falling hundreds of metres down the cliff side into the Mediterranean Sea. A quick shower at the hotel will restore them back to their glory.
Our first impression is that the Cinque Terre is definitely well worth the walk. Some say that you can do it all in one day but we are really glad we have another three days to fully appreciate and enjoy its beauty. The track has lived up to its hype. Tomorrow we will do it all again, but this time by boat.