Sunday, September 21, 2008

Buon Giorno from Vernazza, Italy, part II

Friday, September 19

We slept soundly last night (well, I did anyway – Robert said he woke up around 2:00 to the sounds of drunk Americans partying in the square and locals yelling at them out their windows to be quiet. He said it was like a scene from a movie. I completely slept through that!).

We got up around 8:00 and discovered it was raining outside.


We were planning to hike the seven-mile trail that connects the five villages of the Cinque Terre today. We (or more accurately, I) had some reservations about hiking in the rain, but we dressed and left to check out the conditions. We stopped and bought a couple of pastries and some drinks before setting out for the first town: Monterosso al Mare.


The town where we stayed was the second in the string of villages, so our plan was to hike to the first town and then take a boat to the last and hike back from there. I had read that the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was the most difficult so it seemed best to start with that one while we (again, I use the term we loosely) were fresh.

The “trailhead” was an alley off Vernazza’s main street.


The trail begins

We climbed a long row of steps before arriving at the little wooden shack where they sold day passes for the Cinque Terre trails. I vaguely hoped thought that we might find the trail closed as the rain was coming down pretty steadily now, but no such luck. The guy happily accepted our 10€ and off we went.

We climbed up stairs and more stairs, stopping, thankfully, from time to time to admire the view of Vernazza from above.



The rain continued.


The path was pretty slick which probably worked to my favor as we couldn’t walk too fast. Once the trail leveled out, I rather enjoyed the walk. The views were lovely, and the vegetation along the path was lush and interesting.

About halfway along there was a picnic table with several cats napping nearby. Someone had left large buckets of cat food with instructions for hikers to make sure the cats’ bowls had fresh food and water.


We continued on, only occasionally encountering other hikers. Several parts of the trail were so narrow or confined that only one person could pass through at a time. I imagined that those got a bit tedious when the trail was quite crowded (as I understand it usually is).

Ever the prepared Eagle Scout, Robert wore rain pants and a waterproof jacket.


I own no such apparel and was clad in khakis and a windbreaker. As we began to descend toward Monterosso, the rain had slowed, but my pants were soaked through. I had to pull at them in order to bend my legs to go down steps, and then my pants stuck wherever I had moved them! I was quite eager for Robert to take my picture so that my mother would believe that I actually went on this hike and in the rain even, but the pictures of me on this trail were so horrifying that I quickly deleted them from the camera.

The steps going down into Monterosso seemed to go on and on. About a third of the way down (though we had no idea how much further we had to go), we met a none-too-fit-or-young Italian couple, leaning against a wall, quite out of breath and smoking cigarettes! They gestured to us trying to find out how much longer the trail went up. Robert kindly communicated that the path wouldn’t get easier for quite a while, and the woman began to fuss at her husband (with all of those classic Italian hand gestures). I gathered the hike had been his idea… We left them arguing on the stairs and continued on.

Soon Montorosso came into view – hooray! This town had a nice beach area, and the water was so clear and beautiful – a bright blue-green even with the sky so overcast.



As we arrived in Monterosso, we wandered around in search of a place to stop for lunch. We ended up at a place called Fast Bar because I spied a plateful of bruschetta with pesto and tomatoes that looked heavenly.


Robert and I settled into a table and peeled off our wet jackets (my pants were actually dripping puddles of water onto the floor!). Glasses of local red wine and the delicious bruschetta and green salad warmed us up quite nicely.



We enjoyed some pleasant conversation with a couple from Canada sitting next to us. She was wearing a Vancouver marathon shirt, and Robert being the veteran marathon runner, asked her about it. The woman had just completed a marathon in France that had wine tastings along the route. Robert was intrigued by that concept.

After lunch we were glad to see that the rain had stopped. We explored Montorosso a bit more before boarding a boat and heading to Riomaggiore.

The last part of the trail into Monterosso. Look at that beautiful water!

My sister had been to the Cinque Terre several years ago and highly recommended that we take a boat and see the towns from the water. This was a marvelous suggestion as it afforded different views than can be enjoyed from land.

Monterosso al Mare





Riomaggiore was a nice town, but it was quite crowded and we didn’t linger long before picking up the trail there. The leg from Riomaggiore to Manarola was quite short, flat and paved and ran completely along the sea. Known as the Via dell Amore (or Lover’s Walk), it was way too packed with tour groups today to seem very romantic.

I took this picture between large tour groups!

We were in the next town of Manarola in less than twenty minutes.

Manarola was also busy but seemed to have more locals going about their daily work than Riomaggiore did.


We strolled through and then picked up the trail again on the other side. The path from Manarola to Corniglia was also largely flat and followed the coastline. About halfway to Corniglia, though, we were disappointed to discover the rest of the trail was closed due to “dangerous” conditions.


We could see the rest of the path, and it didn’t appear too risky to us, certainly not anything like what we had hiked this morning, but there was no arguing with a locked gate so we turned around. We had to wait quite a while for a train, but at last one arrived and we were on our way to Corniglia.

Corniglia’s train station is at sea level, but the town is way up a hill. I barely had time to wonder about how one traveled from the station to the town when we came to an enormous flight of stairs. We climbed up and up and up until I thought I was going to pass out. Robert kept promising me that we were *almost there,* but then I would glance up and see that was not the case at all! When we made it to the top, there was a sign congratulating us on having climbed the 382 steps to the beautiful town of Corniglia.


I really liked Corniglia. It had a charming little town square with local schoolchildren playing ball and running around. We wandered down a quaint alley in search of the gelato that had been my carrot for getting up those stairs. The gelato was delicious, but perhaps even bad ice cream might have hit the spot at that point.


It was now almost 5:30, and we had one last segment of the trail to conquer: from Corniglia to Vernazza. I had visions of this one being flat or downhill since we were up so high and Vernazza was at sea level, but that was NOT the case. We hiked up and up some more (and of course I never complained – ha ha), and I began to despair that we were not going to make it back to Vernazza before sundown. Ever the optimist, Robert assured me we had plenty of time, but I noticed he insisted on hiking in front of me, I think to set a faster pace than I would have.


Red and white stripes marking the trail

On this path I think we only encountered five other hikers. Everyone else had clearly quit for the day! Finally, though, the path began to slope downward, and Vernazza came into view right as the sun was setting. We were rewarded with a beautiful view and entered our town with much satisfaction at our day’s accomplishments.


We returned to our room and changed. A hot shower never felt so welcome! I realized too late that our room did not have a hair dryer, so I had to go to dinner with wet hair (lovely, I assure you).

We ate at Ristorante Incadase da Piva, down the same alley as the trail to Corniglia. Our server mixed up our order a bit, but we still enjoyed a good meal of red wine, pasta and mussels. I was worn out and knew we needed to get up at a good time tomorrow and pack, so we passed on dessert and called it a day.


Stay tuned… tomorrow we head to Lake Como


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JoAnn said...

If I did not already know that you are a lot younger than me, I would know it FOR SURE after reading this entry! I had to take a nap after reading it.


Hopsy said...

Your meal looks and sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the cats are still being looked after, and hazelnut gelato is my favorite!