As long as we were going to be in Italy, we decided to stop off in the Cinque Terre for a few days before heading home to Zürich. (When we travel throughout Europe and say “home” we must clarify. Home where we are currently staying, as in, back to the flat? Home in Europe which is Zürich? Home, home in California? Yes, we find ourselves thinking about California, at least a little bit….)
My favorite Italian word is cinque which means five. It is pronounced something like ching-quay. Five adorable villages are tucked into the hills and hang off of the cliffs above the Mediterranean with about 11 km of hiking paths between the two on either end. I had it in my head that one would “walk” from town to town, but, in reality, the paths are steep and rocky, so “hike” is a better term.
In certain spots you can see all five towns in one view. We stayed in the town the farthest north, Monterosso. This town has the beach vibe (beaches have little sand – more rocks and pebbles) and two sections of town on either side of a large hill. Our flat was in the old section. The train station is in the new section. It took 10 minutes to walk between the two, so you get the idea of the scale of the town. And it’s one of the bigger ones.
The next town to the south, Vernazza, used to have a canal running through the main part of town where boats would tie up at the buildings like Venice. It is supposed to be the jewel in the crown, but after the cruise ships dumped off its load (the tourists came in from a bigger port on the train), the charm was mostly hidden. Although, fewer tourists hike up and out of the main street, so we did have some less-crowded moments.
In the middle, Cornegila (pronounced Cornelia) is the one town (population 240) that sits up high on the cliff with no coastal access. From the train station you can wait for the shuttle bus, or take the 385 steps up to the action. I use the word action loosely since this is a sweet, sleepy place.
I think our favorite town was Manarola, maybe because it might be the oldest of the villages. Maybe it is because when we arrived, the sun came out (our first day teased us with sporadic showers), but we also had a most delightful meal there.
At the southern end, Riomaggiore has a great view of the higgelty-piggelty houses tumbling down the hill and some murals depicting the hard work of the people who built the amazing infrastructure of the Cinque Terre.
We spread out our town visits over two days, taking the train to each. The trail was closed the first day due to rain, and I had not packed the correct hiking boots, anyway. Someday we will return with proper equipment and hike not only the main trail, but the other ones, too.