With this and the next six posts, all of them on the Cinque Terre region of Italy, I’m going to break one of the rules I set for myself for this blog. But, hey. My blog; my rules.
The rule I’m going to break is this: Each post in this blog is supposed to be about a particular site within a city or geographic region, not about a whole city or geographic region. However, each of the Cinque Terre posts will be about one of the towns in the region, not about individual attractions in that town.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. The post you’re reading now is an introduction to the whole Cinque Terre region and the following posts in the series. And one post—the last in the series—will be about the coastal trek between two of the towns.
The six additional posts in this series will follow over the days, weeks or, less likely but still possibly, months ahead. (I’m one of the more incredibly lazy people on the planet. I took my trip to Cinque Terre well over half a year ago now. I’m only just getting around to writing the posts. Who knows how long it will take me to finish them?)
Cinque Terre: Five Jewels in a Crown
Cinque Terre, which is Italian for five lands, includes five main towns. All but one are gems nestled in coves between mountains of the Ligurian Apennines. (Are they mountains or foothills at that point? I’m not sure. They’re certainly not the same scale as, say, the highest of the Alps. Not even close. But they are too tall for me to call them hills without sounding like a mountain-snob.)
It’s not that the other town, Corniglia , is not a gem. It is. In fact, its arguably the most quaint of the five. It’s just that, apart from its train station, it’s not in a cove, but on a plateau well up the hill.
The reason I’ll be posting on each as a whole town, rather than publishing individual posts about every attraction in each town is that, despite referring to them above as “main towns”, they are quite small in the eyes of a big city boy like me. I called them main towns because there are other towns, probably more appropriately called villages or hamlets, up in the hills/mountains as well. I won’t be writing about them.
Being small towns, the attractions in them are also comparatively small. The largest church in Cinque Terre, for example, is a fraction of the size of, say, the Duomo in Florence. While the locals would undoubtedly disagree, I don’t think any of them warrant a full post here. The towns, on the other hand, and the Cinque Terre region as a whole, are not to be missed.
One of the things that Cinque Terre is famous for is its hiking trails. There are both coastal and high-country trails between the towns. The high country trails—at least the walk up from the main towns to the apex of the trail—can be very strenuous. When I was there, I was a 62-year-old. (My clock ticked over 63 since then.) My legs were probably not in overly bad shape for a man my age. But, then again, I was a man my age.
Consequently, I planned to hike only the coastal trails. Unfortunately, when I got there, I discovered that three of the four coastal trails between the five towns were washed out and not yet reopened. The one that was open, between Monterosso and Vernazza, was listed in the guide book I was using as the most difficult of the four. I did it nonetheless. And I’ll write about that trek in the last of this series of blog posts on Cinque Terre.
There was absolutely, positively no way I was going to do the high country trails at my age in my physical condition, but …
When I was in the eastern-most of the five towns, Riomaggiore, I stopped in at the tourist office to ask if the coastal trail there was still closed. It was, but I was told, “Yeah, but you can take the train to Manarola, the next town over from Riomaggiore. There, you can get a bus that takes you up to Volastra, a village at the very top of the high-country trail between Manarola and Corniglia, the next town west of Manarola. You can get on the trail at the top. From there, there’s a long flat part and then it’s all downhill to Corniglia.”
That sounded like just the trail for me, so I trekked it. I’m not, however, going to write about that trek. The reason is that there are two other rules I have for this blog that I’m not going to break. First, I won’t publish a post unless I took pictures of the place I’m writing about. My writing isn’t all that florid. You should at least have something nice to look at.
Second, because I’m a lazy bastard with a bad memory, I won’t write a post from memory alone. I have to have taken notes when I was there. Otherwise, by the time I get around to writing the post, I’ll have forgotten more than I remembered.
Here’s the problem. I have a tremendous fear of heights. The long flat part at the start of the trail? The path was not much more than the width of an everyday, garden-variety human. And not even that if he or she has chubby arms.
There was a fair drop on the downward side of the path. There were terraced vineyards below rather than a sheer cliff, So, if I slipped, I likely wouldn’t have fallen all the way to the bottom of the mountain/hill. I probably would have only broken all four limbs rather than dying, but still …
I was so focused on looking down at where my feet were treading and carefully inching along the path that I barely took in the view. I certainly wasn’t going to risk losing my balance by pulling out my iPhone and snapping some pictures. And even more certainly, I wasn’t going to stop to take notes.
The path on the downhill portion was much wider and, for the most part, fairly benign. However, most of it was through forest. That was beautiful, but it didn’t make for any breathtaking shots. At least not for as lousy a photographer as I am. A forest may be lovely but, a forest is just a forest. Been there. Done that.
So, despite Cinque Terre being a major hiking destination. You’ll find only one hiking narrative in the following posts.
When will the next posts appear here? Who the hell knows? Did I mention I’m a lazy bastard. Please stay tuned and check back here often.
P.S.: By the way, the hiking trails in Cinque Terre region are mostly in a national park. You have to buy a hiking pass before you can hike on them. You can buy a pass at the tourist office in each of the five towns. If you are like me and you want to explore all of the towns, but not do all of the walks, you can buy a one- or two-day pass that includes both access to the trails and unlimited free rides (during the days the pass is valid) on the trains that run between the five towns. If you are a stronger hiker than I am and you expect to use the train only once or twice (or never), the trekking-only pass might be better for you.