The guide book I was using on this trip to Italy (Rick Steves Italy) described Corniglia as sleepy, remote and the only Cinque Terre town not by the water. Therefore, according to the author, not as many tourists go there.
Rick Steves got all of that right—sleepy, remote, not by the water and not as many tourists go there as go to the other towns in the Cinque Terre region. That is to say, not as many went when I visited it and the other towns. Then again, maybe that was a fluke. I have no way of knowing.
Having said that, as far as the fewer tourists part goes, even if that’s accurate, because it’s a small town, it still seemed like a lot. Slightly more than comfortably populated is how I would describe it when I was there. If there had been as many tourists as there were in, say, Monterosso, I’d be whipping out the sardines-in-tins clichés here.
Corniglia. Above it all.
OK. “Above it all” is a bit of an exaggeration. But Corniglia is definitely not by the water. The train station is reasonably close to sea level. It’s high enough that the train station won’t get flooded, but there’s not an enormous safety margin. The town, on the other hand, is a fair piece up a high hill. Or is it a small mountain? I’ve never known the proper dividing line between the two.
There is both a road and steps going to the Centro (centre of town) from the train station. As best I could tell, the steps are a more direct walking route. I took them because that’s what a sign said pedestrians were supposed to do. At least, I think that’s what the pictograph was trying to tell me.
The stairs were easy in the sense that they consisted of low risers. But there were a lot of them. A really lot of them. Or maybe that was just my age and wimpiness talking.
To get an idea of how high Corniglia is above the sea, take a look at the picture of the train station that appears on this page. You’ll probably have to read the caption to tell it’s the train station because it’s so far off in the distance and so far down that it’s difficult to make it out.
The picture was taken from the town level. Or to be more precise, it was taken from the lower level of the town. Corniglia continues a little ways further up the hill/mountain.
After I climbed all the way to town, I walked around a bit. As I did, I noticed a set of easily missed stairs that, according to a sign, led down to a terrace bar. Although, it might be more grammatically correct to but an ellipsis between “terrace” and “bar.” The terrace and the bar it was part of were separated by the width of a pedestrian street and a full flight of stairs.
Relaxing With Prosecco
I sat down at a table on the quiet terrace, which overlooked the gorgeous scenery. I rested there a long time without any employees of the bar dropping by even to say hello, let alone take an order. The view was incredible and the terrace was relaxing. As a result, I was able to keep my angst down to its normally high ambient level so that it didn’t get the better of me.
The only other occupants of the small terrace were a couple who were tourists from the United States. (I forget which state and I didn’t make a note of it.)
I’m a pathologically shy guy who doesn’t normally strike up conversations. But I eventually did get up the nerve to ask them if someone would come to take my drink order or would I have to climb up to the bar to get it myself. They assured me a waitress would drop by, but it didn’t happen frequently. I was on vacation, without a watch on my wrist or anywhere I had to be, so I waited peacefully. Or as peacefully as an exceptionally neurotic older man can be.
It took a long time before a very attractive waitress came to take my order. Which is not to say that any waiters or unattractive waitresses arrived prior to her. Just to be clear, the attractive waitress was the only server working the terrace. But I digress.
The initial question that I asked the couple led to a casual conversation that continued as I sipped the Prosecco that I was finally able to order. It continued until they left and I was alone on the terrace. I considered carrying on conversing even then, but I thought it might look strange if someone happened by and saw me talking to myself.
During our discussion, the couple asked how I got up to the town from the train station. I was a bit surprised because I thought the steps were the only option unless you had your own car or had arranged a ride. Oh, no, they informed me. There’s a bus that goes from the station to the town. And it’s price was covered by the Cinque Terre trekking pass I had already bought. Crap like that happens to me all the time. (Word of advice: Don’t travel with me. Either that or take the lead if you do.)
The Main Drag of Corniglia
But enough about my activities. What about Corniglia? Small, human-scale, quaint, charming, laid-back, delightful and beautiful are all adjectives that come to mind when I think of the town and its environs.
The most interesting part of Corniglia is the narrow pedestrian street hemmed in by stone and painted-concrete buildings. Shops, bars and restaurants line the way. The street (probably better referred to as a walkway) culminated in a vista point that provided gorgeous views over the sea and the hills that line the shore.
Being a small, old European town, Corniglia of course had the requisite charming church. That’s not the church that you’ll see if you stroll on the main pedestrian way. That one is much less fetching. The charming church is a little off the beaten path. Then again, so is Corniglia. But it’s worth it.