I was looking forward to this part of the trip to enjoy the beach,to do some walking and take in the scenery that I had heard and read so much about.
Too many people
As we approached La Spezia and then moved through the other stations in Cinque Terra my enthusiasm took a hit. I wasn’t the only one to feel this. As our train approached the first station, the sight of the platform absolutely full of people waiting to get on the train was a big surprise. No problem I thought, there will be many getting off so it will balance out. Wrong. The train just became more packed and took longer stops. This was repeated at the 5 stations (including La Spezia) before our stop at Monterosso.
Whilst this made the arrival time progressively later, it didn’t matter as we weren’t in a hurry, which was a very nice change from life at home.
At the station at Monterosso, if possible, it was worse. The stream of people moving down the stairs was like a flood of water flowing down. We decided to wait until it cleared.
The crowds part to reveal the natural beauty
Upon leaving the station we were met by a beautiful ocean view, which felt so much better. However, there were still masses of people in the narrow street which serviced cars as well as foot traffic.
Clearly we had come at a peak time.
Our accommodation was one of the furtherest from the Main Street, which was a good walk, with 160 steps plus another kilometre of uphill walking.
It was a real oasis high above the town, which was perfect for us. We could walk in when we wanted or simply relax up on the hill with picturesque views in front of us.
The real walks of Cinque Terra
One of the main attractions of Cinque Terra are the walks. You can walk between towns and catch train between as well, to ease the load.
Our first walk was from base in Monterosso to the next town, Vernazza. The estimated walking time is around 90 minutes which can depend on your pace and stops for photographs. From our accommodation to the starting point was a further 30 minutes and it took us 2 hours 15 minutes overall.
A few minutes out from Monterosso we came across a ticket booth which was a little surprising. I had heard of the Cinque Terra card but not thought anymore about it. The cost for one day was €12 each which covered walking in the park and train travel between the towns. On one hand the cost is fair enough, it covers maintenance of the park area and train travel. However the Park didn’t seem to have or need a lot of maintenance and as for the train travel, well I didn’t see one ticket checked on any travel between La Spezia and Monterosso and if our other trips were a guide, there would have been many non fare paying passengers.
Another point to consider is that the coastal and bush walk in Byron Bay in Australia, my second home town, does not have a charge and whilst it is not as long and does not have the same views it is spectacular and has the possibility of seeing Whales and Dolphins. And Sharks!
Regardless, I was happy to pay and support the local economy. It all goes around.
The walk was mostly via the coast and as we climbed the steps and path we could see out across the sea and around the coast.
Initially we looked back to Monterosso and the bay.
Looking ahead we were able to see the coast line with a number of coves, some of which were home to the towns that make up Cinque Terra.
The walk was not easy, but the difficulty level was up to us, depending on the pace we set ourselves. Surprisingly I didn’t treat it as a challenge or a race and enjoyed the walk. It was an opportunity to be present, to have my mind where I was physically. I was pleased with this as it is where I want to be, rather than my mind being elsewhere, usually work.
The descent with postcard views
We then began the descent into Vernazza. As we did the view of the town, the bay and sea opened up presenting an array of colours. The ocean was glistening. It was one of those postcard pictures.
Then as we reached the cobblestone streets the view changed again. This time to narrower streets with tall buildings, that in places cast a welcome shadow providing the opportunity to cool down from the walk and heat. The streets have the usual shops providing much of the same products in all five towns, some or maybe more from the same suppliers. There seems to be enough activity to sustain the owners although I suspect that their needs are simpler than ours in Australia, giving rise to a lesser need for money.
Of course again there are many Gelati shops and again we enjoy one.
After lunch we move to the swimming area. It is not a beach but a Jetty & some rocks that is popular amongst both Tourists and locals. I went down the ladder and enjoy the cool water, paddling around in the deep water around and onto the rocks.
The trip home and a wrong turn
We then caught the train from Vernazza to Riomaggiorrie, which is further south and the first of the five towns of Cinque Terra, to have a look around and then take the walk back from there to Manorola. Usually this is around 20–30 minutes but as the main path is closed we take the alternate route, path 531.
Sounds simple enough. It wasn’t. One hour of up then down. No plateau worth noting.
On the way up it was so steep at some points that I could use and sometimes had to use, the step that was 2 steps above my foot, for support with my hands. I could reach it easily with my hand.
The pictures below shows the early part. Even though there was blue sky above, it was no where near the peak.
Then looking down from our route we had travelled.
A man and his dog
Initially the area was lush and green with plenty of growth. As we climbed this faded and at the peak became a dry, dusty, rocky surface. At the very top there a local with his Dog, of course, digging with a pick axe. Keep in mind we arrived at this point after around 30 minutes of solid walking. This guy was digging away working around his vines. The ground was dry, hard and had many rocks. the sun was hot and there was no breeze. Good on him.
As always the arduous climb and walking became irrelevant as we enjoyed the views. Some more wonderful photos and time to chat to other walkers including some words of encouragement about the task ahead and jokes to make light of the climb.
Another descent, this one is much tougher
Now it was time to descend. Below was the destination but it was always going to be steep. The path was a combination of steps made or arranged from rocks and gravel. All very narrow, unstable and steep ( did I mention that?).
Some other walkers really struggled and we’re happy to let us pass as they put both feet on every step. I didn’t intend for that to sound like we are seasoned walkers, we are not, but everyone goes at their own pace. Some were clearly uncomfortable on this walk. Also whilst there is the risk of falling by going faster, walking slowly means more time in the sun, which quickly tires you.
My preference was to walk at a good pace then stop occasionally, preferably in a shady spot and enjoy the magnificent views.
It is difficult to get too much of this.
We arrive in Manorola, again another small town, busy with tourists enjoying the shops and restaurants.
We find a spot to swim again it is off some rocks, but this time in a small bay. I realize that we are amongst backpackers all in their mid twenties then only us, just a little older. There are some jumping off a rock around 8 meters high. The thought crosses my mind then sensibly passes.
Time for a meal then the train home to Monterosso. What a great day. I was very happy.
A footnote: The footwear
Whilst at Vernazza we were chatting to a couple from the U.S. The husband was commenting about how incredibly slow his wife was on the walk and his wife was complaining about how tough it was. She looked at our feet and said that ‘ you need really good footwear for the walks’.
Of course we were wearing the Vibram Five Fingers. These are the opposite of the bulky, high supporting usual footwear of the hikers and clearly nothing like her interpretation of ‘really good footwear’.
For me the Vibrams were fantastic. To feel the ground, including stones and uneven surfaces gave me more confidence. There is also the theory of activating more proprioceptors in your feet which helps by sending messages to the brain which in turn helps with balance. They offer no support except for your body to do the work necessary to support itself.
Obviously in wetter and colder conditions they can’t be used but in these conditions they were right for me.