Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cinque Terre Day 2: Hiking the Sentiero Azzurro

My friend Cass told me about Cinque Terre once a couple years ago and how she enjoyed hiking all five towns on the Italian Riviera over a decade ago. I was enamored with this idea and came prepared to walk. I bought water and pilfered some packaged snacks from the hotel breakfast for the road. Initially I chose to stay in Monterosso al Mare which was the northernmost town on the trail and also the one with the most prominent beach. It was an easy starting off point and I wouldn't have to backtrack on two consecutive days. Monterosso is in the distance:

The sun was shining and I wasn't prepared for 95% humidity (on an 85 degree day) so I was also sporting a nice layer of sweat over the top of my sunblock. There were so many things to love about the scenery. The path runs directly next to people's houses tucked in the middle of the hillsides. The owners tend to the vineyards with ancient rock walls separating path from private property.

On occasion I would see rickety vehicles that ascend the hillside on a metal bar (we are talking state fair quality here). They looked great for getting to the other side of the property and far faster than climbing terraced hills.

There were picnic tables interspersed throughout the hike but sadly, they were inhabited by homeless felines. There were even signs next to bags of food pleading with people to feed these "unloved cats." Right next to the picnic table (I didn't have the heart to photograph the cat):

I didn't spend much time in Vernazza. It had a small beach - mainly boats with people swimming between them. Getting closer to Vernazza and then right above it:

Vernazzo to Corniglia featured a lot of climbing up and down the hillsides. I was getting tired due to the heat and the sheer amount of walking I had done over the past week and a half but wanted to keep going. I wasn't here to see Tres Terre or Quattro Terre for that matter. I wanted to see all Cinque! This section from Vernazza to Corniglia featured olive trees. The cicadas were also on high volume.

Corniglia is on a hillside far from the beach. I sat down in a piazza off the main road and watched swallows feeding their young in the nests under the eaves of a pink building while eating my hotel snacks and drinking water. I walked down the narrow streets passing the continuous parade of gelato stores, turned around and kept walking out of town. I was not prepared for what lay ahead: the largest amount of stairs on the trip that lead to the train station. In the distance I could see where a landslide had covered a large portion of the path. I could see Manarola, the next village, in the distance and it looked like the most beautiful trail lead to it (much like Highway 1 hugging the coastline in Big Sur) but it was all out of reach and so I took the train. Of course I didn't photograph this because it was both horrific and beautiful and I was too involved with processing how to continue to the hike at this point.

Manorola was too crowded and I immediately began walking to Riomaggiore - the shortest, easiest, most wheel chair accessible and therefore the most touristy and incidentally, the most beautiful.

In one area, the wall was arched rock from long ago. In fact, the whole day, I kept thinking how ancient these paths must be with monks and priests traveling the hillside to get to the next town centuries years before. I was not intrigued by all the crap people hung along this section of the path - the Via dell' Amore. The "love locks" are the stupidest fad in addition to ribbons and anything else people could write on and leave in great mass all over the pathway.

Riomaggiore just around the corner:

The water is so clear. Several areas are marine preserves. There is an "Eco" bus that runs between the towns. This area is by far the most environmentally aware location I've been in Italy. I walked all over Riomaggiore and eventually took the train back to Monterosso, always wondering if I was hopping onto the correct one in this area of inaudible loudspeakers and no boarding signs.

Today was one of the days I looked most forward to this entire trip. It was an amazing hike with several areas of solitude, free from the continual string of American tourists. The best part of the day was coming to terms with what I must do with my postcards and deciding that Cinque Terre was indeed the best location in all the places in Italy where I could possibly leave them. Here is the view from Monterosso with all four villages in the distance photographed after a shower, a nap, a dinner, and multiple photographs of tourists on the beach (previous post).

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