Sunday, September 21 – Five Towns in One Day

Sunny and hot

I woke up tired having slept badly the night before. I think my pizza had been too cheesy for me. But after two espressos in the breakfast room, I was ready to go. I only mention this because I was the slowest on the day’s hike and I will use this as my excuse. Today’s project was to hike the five Cinque Terre towns in one day (only a 4 hour 30 minute walk – so not that difficult). Steve and I had hiked the whole trail in June 2000, but on two different days (because of a big rain storm in the middle of the first day). We had also hiked the last part of the trail (2 hours from Vernazza to Monterosso – the most difficult portion of the trail – last week), so legally we could wimp out at Vernazza today because we would be redoing trail we had just walked.

We all met in the breakfast room for breakfast, then headed out for the 10 am train to Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre town. It was Sunday and we were a bit worried that the trials might be more crowded than usual, but decided that it is all tourists on the trail, not Italians having a weekend outing. We may have been wrong – we saw many Italians on the trail. And the trails were crowded.

A huge crowd left the train in Riomaggiore and went to the start of the trail. The first part of the Cinque Terre trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called “Via dell’Amore” – Lover’s Lane. This first part of the trial takes only 20 minutes and is all paved, except for the last part which is stairs down to the Manarola train station (there is an elevator for the handicapped). It was packed with people. We walked slowly because a faster walk was impossible and stopped several times to admire the views of the sea and the coastline. We didn’t get to see Riomaggiore because you don’t go through it to get from the train station to the trail and we were pretty intent on starting. In hindsight, we should have explored Riomaggiore and let the crowd head off on the trail. But then there would have been another train in 30 minutes. While walking the trail, Stephanie overheard someone who was walking towards us say in Italian that it was like a tour bus had been let out on the trail.

I figured we would lose the crowd at Manarola, but we didn’t. The trail was nose to tail for that section too, even though it was a rougher path. This part of the hike was still pretty flat and easy, but it ends with 378 steps from the Corniglia train station up to the town. Stephanie, Cesare and Steve skipped up the steps – I plodded slowly up behind, sweating like a pig and counting the steps. Okay, maybe I should have used the NordicTrack Eliptical that we have as often as Steve did to prepare for the trip. Next time!

It took us 1 hour 15 minutes to do the first two sections. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 20 minutes.

We walked into Corneglia looking for a bar and restrooms. Corniglia is a very small town perched on a cliff above the sea. The one main street is narrow (no cars) and was crowded with walkers. We found a bar and restrooms, Cesare found a very old man and talked to him for about 20 minutes learning as much as he could about the town and the area. The old man said people had started visiting Corniglia about 30 years ago and “foreigners” come there to work for the summer. Some even marry local people and stay. There have been three new babies in recent years. By “foreigners” he meant Italians not from the Cinque Terre.

We headed off to find the church. I stopped and got a lemon granita. I was walking along eating/drinking it and Cesare said that now I look like an American – eating while I walk. I explained to him how lovely it is to eat while walking and how we used to consume a whole pizza while driving home on the Seattle freeways (we lived in Seattle for a few years in the mid 90s).

We could not go in the church, but could see its outstanding Rose Window from the outside. We hit the trail again for section three – from Corniglia to Vernazza. This part was not as crowded, but there were still lots of people. At one point, I was behind a middle aged Italian woman hiking in shoes with heels and she was complaining loudly the whole way. We were at a steep part climbing up endless steps. I was able to pass her – but I could not do my usual nonstop complaining while climbing because there were too many people around. This part of the hike is harder than the first two section – the path is narrow and goes along beautiful terraces of vines or olive trees, there are many steps up and then many steps down.

It took us 1 hour 20 minutes to do this third section. The APT guide lists this part as taking 1 hour 30 minutes.

We got into Vernazza just at 2pm – the end of the lunch time. Vernazza was crowded with people. There are several restaurants on the square at the bottom of town, by the sea. We chose Il Capitano because Federico said this is the one locals go to. He said the other two on that square are also good. This is where we found out that Stephanie and Cesare eat very lightly (no wonder they are both so slim).

(Steve is watching a quiz show on TV as I write this, where they stop the show so the very skimpily dressed dancing girl can dance for 20 seconds. It is like watching a strip show – all legs and tits. Steve, who watches no junky network shows at home (except NYPD Blue), watches this show whenever he is in Italy to “learn Italian”. He is going to write up the very strange rules of this show for this blog.)

Back to our wonderful Cinque Terre day. S and C always order just one dish each!! On this trip it was always a primo – pasta – and then they sometimes follow it with a salad. I saw Caprese on the menu and lept at the chance to have both an antipasti and a primi, instead of only a pasta dish like I always have here because everything else is fish (which I don’t eat) – and ended up being the big eater of the group! Our food was okay, but not great – but the setting was fabulous, looking out onto the square full of people, the boats, people swimming.

It was the perfect day for doing this walk – sunny and warm, but not too hot. Steve and I wore shorts and running shoes (instead of our heavier and hotter hiking boots). Stephanie and Cesare wore jeans and running shoes. I asked them about 20 times if they were too hot or were sweating, but apparently they weren’t. I was pretty hot and sweating.

We left Vernazza at 3:50 for the last section – the hardest walking and the longest. This section has over 500 steps up to start, then 500 steps down to Monterosso at the end. We walked this section in 1 hour 30 minutes.

So we did the walk in 4 hours, 5 minutes but the APT guide lists it as a 4 hour, 30 minute walk. We walked a slow pace (I think the other three of our group could have done the hike much faster) and stopped many times to enjoy the views. Our whole day out was from 10am leaving Levanto on the train until 5:45 when we took the train back to Levanto. If we had not stopped for a long lunch, we could have easily done the last 2 hours 30 minutes from Monterosso to Levanto. However, I was absolutely beat after the hike – and covered in dirt. We all raced for the shower when we got back. I had to scrub the dirt off my legs and I would like to burn the t-shirt I was wearing.

We bought the Cinque Terre card at the train station which covers your train and the fee for the trails. I think they were 6 Euro each. You have to stamp it in the machine at the station (it dates the ticket) before you use it the first time and then it is valid for that day. You show the ticket on the train and at the “toll booths” along the trail.

After much showering, we went out for dinner to a trattoria on Piazza Cavour. We each had one primi course followed by salad. I had gnocchi with pesto – very rich, but since we were only having one dish, I could handle it. I slept well that night.

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.