Coastal trails connect all five seaside towns in Cinque Terre. When I visited the area I intended to hike all of them. According to what I read somewhere, that should have taken a total of about five hours .
Being almost officially a senior citizen and a guy who was never in top shape, I certainly wasn’t going to do them all in one day. For one thing, if five hours is normal, it would probably have taken me six or seven hours. For another, I wanted to explore the towns along the way, which would have added even more time. And finally, hiking five to seven hours over hilly land in one day seemed too much like work to me. I was on vacation. And no one was going to pay me to walk whether I was on vacation or not. So there was no way that was going to happen.
My plan was to do the four coastal hikes over the course of the almost three days I was in Cinque Terre. There are frequent trains serving all five coastal towns, allowing me to get back to the town I was staying or to go to another town to start a trek. So it seemed like a perfectly workable plan to me. And it would have been, except …
Most of the coastal trails were closed when I was there. They had been washed out and not yet reopened.
The only coastal trail that was publicly accessible when I was there was the one between Monterosso (where I was staying while in Cinque Terre) and Vernazza, the next town to the east.
According to the pamphlet that the tourist office gave me, all of the coastal paths are easy. Note: “Easy” is a relative term.
The guide book I was using, Rick Steves Italy, said the Monterosso to Vernazza trail was the most difficult of them. However, as I said, according to the tourist office it was still easy.
If that’s easy, I’m certainly never doing any of the “expert hiker” high country treks that also connect the towns. As much as I might wish otherwise, I’m not getting any younger. And what would be considered to be a superior level of fitness for a man my age, let alone a younger man, is probably forever beyond my reach.
(Actually, I did sort of do one of the high country trails. You can cheat on at least one the high country trails. On that trail, you can take a bus from one of the coastal towns to a town at the summit and then just walk down. I did that. You can read a bit about that hike and about why I’m not writing a blog post about it in my Cinque Terre introductory post.)
Mountain Climbing Skills not Required for This Hike
I think that what the tourist office meant by easy is that you don’t need mountain climbing skills to complete the trek, even though you do reach a considerable elevation. Flat (of a fashion) rocks are strategically placed to create steps.
But those step-rocks sucker you in. The steps near both ends of the trail are indeed quite flat. And they have low rises. However, once you’ve walked far enough along the trail that it no longer want to turn back, the rise between the rocks becomes greater. And the rocks start to become less like steps and more like randomly shaped rocks that, by a fluke of nature rather than design, create something that could, if you press your imagination into high gear, vaguely be considered to be steps.
Some of the path is narrow with a hill or rock face on one side and a steep, high cliff on the other. Those spots are not great places for someone with a serious fear of heights, like, for example, me.
At one of these narrow spots I came upon two young women walking the other way. Upon seeing me, they—probably because they are of the sort of people who feel obliged to be polite to old farts like, for example, me—hugged the rock face so I could pass them.
It’s nice that they were polite. I don’t know about them, but I’m Canadian. I believe that we’re constitutionally required to be polite. And I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I would have preferred being the one hugging the rock face. There were two reasons for this: I had already trekked a long way uphill and could have done with a rest. And, two, given a choice between hugging a rock face and walking close to the edge of a steep cliff, I’ll choose getting intimate with the mountain every time. Did I mention my fear of heights?
Some of the narrowest parts of the path did have rickety wooden fences on the cliff side. When I say narrowest, I mean that someone who is even just on the border of morbidly obese would have trouble fitting between the fence and the side of the mountain. Then again, you have to climb a lot of steps before you get to any of these sections. So the morbidity part of “morbidly obese” probably weeds out those people long before the narrow space is a problem.
Rereading all of the above, I realize that I may have made the hike sound more difficult than it is, particularly if you are in half-decent shape
True, it’s much more than a walk in the park unless crossing the park involves traversing considerable elevations. You start and end at sea level, but climb fairly high in between. (See the accompanying pictures to get a sense of how high.)
The hike took me roughly two and a half hours to complete, but it was absolutely worth it. The views were spectacular. And, I obviously did survive it. What’s more, no hospital stays or even doctor’s visits were required.
If you go, pace yourself if you have to. But if you get a chance and can afford to go to Cinque Terre, definitely trek the trail.
If the above trek sounds beyond your ambulatory ability, then some Cinque Terre coastal hikes might still be an option for you if the other trails are open when you go. Assuming Rick Steves was right about them being easier (not having hiked them I can’t verify whether he was), you might want to wimp out by skipping the Monterosso—Vernazza trail and just doing the others.