My roommates Marissa and Gillian and I signed up for a day excursion to Cinque Terre through a local student travel agency called Florence for Fun. The entire cost of the trip was only 38 euro and included round trip transport by train as well as a tour guide and entrance into the "national park" (which essentially just gave us permission to actually walk the trail).
Cinque Terre literally translates to "Five Lands." The cities, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, are five tiny towns embedded in the cliffs of Italy's Ligurian coast, and are connected by a walking trail that totals around approximately 11 km, ranging difficulty from a nice, paved trail to unpaved, rocky "stairs" and uphill treks.
We met up with the FFF group at 7:15 AM at the Santa Maria Novella train station, where we caught a train at 7:45 directly to Riomaggiore, the first town in the chain, where we started our journey.
I could tell when I woke up at 6 AM that the weather was going to be problematic. It was cloudy and cold as we were walking to the station in Florence, and the sky even threatened us with a few rain drops. I was truly hoping that Liguria is far enough from Tuscany to avoid the obvious rainstorm that was approaching Florence, but when our train stopped in Riomaggiore, it became obvious that this was little more than wishful thinking. Several in the group were wearing shorts and zip-ups, and even I, in my jeans and heavier jacket, was quite cold.
The trail we walked is called Via Dell Amore, or the Lover's Path. I forget precisely why it is called that, but there are all kinds of sappy lovey tributes scrawled all along it, as well as locks, which people often inscribe with their initials before tossing the key into the Mediterranean. How romantic.
We didn't really spend any time in Riomaggiore and just started our hike to Manarola. This first part of the walk was deceptively easy, as we strolled along, everyone photographing everything in sight and oohing and aahing over the spectacular landscapes. I was no exception.
Manarola is a tiny little fishing town, all of the houses brightly colored so as to be more identifiable from the decks of fishing boats out to sea. Again, we spent little time here before trekking onward to the third town, Corniglia.
I thought that the shots of Manarola were some of the most stereotypically "Cinque Terre-y" with all of the little houses set into the incredibly beautiful cliffside.
Some of the best shots of the city came from...a cemetary, where I shamelessly hammed it up for the camera, even standing on one of the cemetary walls...anything for a good shot, right?
By this point, it was probably close to noon and I hadn't eaten since breakfast that morning around 6:30 AM...and I was starting to get a bit lightheaded. The hike got slightly more difficult from Manarola to Corniglia, teasing us with rockier stretches and way more uphill climbing, but I was still able to conquer it fairly easily. The only thing distracting me from my hunger were the unchangingly gorgeous views! I don't think I would ever get tired of looking at it, photographing it, hiking it.
The water was the most insane colors the whole way, the kind of blue that I thought only existed in Crayola boxes.
See? Slightly more challenging trail than what we had been working with...I guess it was preparing us for the climb ahead, though none of us knew it yet.
You can barely see Corniglia through the little arch there...it seemed so far, but lunch was there, so we pressed onward.
We had to cross all sorts of dangerous (haha) obstacles, like an Indiana Jones-esque wooden bridge...
as well as a final 382-stair climb to reach the town. Thumbs up for a serious workout after not eating for 7 hours. We were determined not to settle for a touristy restaurant (probably a little more difficult than you would imagine, considering that hundreds or thousands of tourists flow through the city on a daily basis) and go for something typically Ligurian. This meant one thing for me: pesto!
We found a little hole-in-the-wall down one of the side streets with the requisite hand written menu outside. Cinque Terre is also (obviously) known for its seafood, as well as its white wine. Obviously, we had to sample as much as possible. The three of us split a bottle of white wine (which I loved, though I probably should have waited until I'd eaten a bit more before having a glass. I got a little tipsy, but was fine by the time we started hiking again) and then Gillian and I shared a plate of acciuga al limone for an antipasto. That's right: I ate anchovies...and liked it!
Views of Corniglia...
By the time we had finished lunch we literally had no time to explore the town. The tour guides offered us two options: we could either take the train to the fourth town, Vernazza, or we could attempt the more difficult hike, which was both longer and more challenging than what we had experienced thus far. My roommates and I were all gung ho to do the hike, so we followed our guide.
We actually had some free time in Vernazza, and our first stop was, of course, gelato. The weather had improved significantly since the morning's chilly, overcast-ness, and we were all sweaty and ready for some cold deliciousness.
The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso is 3 km, slightly shorter than from Corniglia to Vernazza, but supposedly takes over two and a half hours. It is the most brutal part of the hike, but also the most visually rewarding: the views from that section of trail are apparently mindblowing. Unfortunately, becuase of time constraints, we did not have time to hike that section of the trail, and instead took a train to the final town.
Of all the towns, I was most bummed about not really getting to see Monterosso. Gillian's professor from home had told her that it was his absolute favorite, so we are already making plans to go back in May to hike that final stretch from Vernazza, and spend a day at the beach in Monterosso.