May 25, 2011 § 6 Comments
This past weekend, around 20 of us took a trip to Cinque Terre, a city of five different villages located on the coast about six hours from Cortona. Although the travel to Cinque Terre was a bit of a mess (a total of four train changes, almost missing our train out of Florence, walking around the city of Bonasolla for around two hours as we tried to find our hotel at 1 a.m., etc.), the trip was easily the most worthwhile thing I’ve done since being in Italy.
The hike between the five villages is only a total seven miles, it was easily the most intense and physically demanding thing I have EVER done. We assumed that the hike would be on a nice, flat sidewalk, winding through the villages at an easy, breezy pace. We were so wrong. So very wrong.
The hike took us through the mountains along the coast, sometimes up stairs that seemed impossible to climb. The hike sometimes took two hours just from one village to another, and felt like the most intense Stairmaster of my life. Four days later, my legs have still to recover from the strain I put them through in Cinque Terre. But I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that hiking Cinque Terre was one of the best experiences of my life, and one that I will never forget, no matter how bad my calves ache days later.
We took a train from the city of Levanto and arrived in Riomaggiore, the first city in Cinque Terre. We purchased our tickets to allow us to enter into the Cinque Terre park, and then decided to get a little food before heading out on our (presumably easy) adventure. At a restaurant sitting on the coast, I had a fruit salad called macedonia, which was easily the best fruit salad I have ever, ever had.
Riomaggiore is one of the smaller fishing villages, located right on the rocky coast. But with the crystal clear water below and the boats pulled in by the shore, it made for a beautiful view from our restaurant.
After eating, we left our little seaside restaurant and embarked along the Via dell’Amore, a road where lovers from years long past leave messages and locks along the path, intended for the person who will “hold the key to their heart.” For someone who has an inner romantic side, I found this part of the trip especially touching, just with the thought of all the people who have left messages for someone who may or may not ever see it. But their declaration of love in a really beautiful place is still a thoughtful and romantic gesture, and I couldn’t help but love everything about that part of the hike.
We arrived in Manarola around thirty minutes later by train (the path from the Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed due to a landslide), but only stayed there long enough to snap a few pictures and grab another quick bite to eat. I’m pretty positive we ate something in every town we stopped in, but it was probably for the best, considering how much energy we would need for the more intense parts of the hike to come.
We left Manarola after eating and embarked on another short hike to Corniglia, the middle of the five cities. The hike there took us around 45 minutes, but was relatively easy as it was on a flat sidewalk that wound up the side of the mountain. We essentially skirted the city, but the view from just past Corniglia showed another beautiful, colorful city that looked straight out of a picture book.
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was absolutely incredible, filled with breathtaking views of the sea. We climbed through the country side, and passed by homes tucked away behind small vineyards. I can’t imagine living in such a pristinely beautiful place, but that is the reality for the people of Cinque Terra. Lucky Italians.
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was extremely challenging, and although I wanted to collapse on the path several times, I kept going. Not only did this view reward me with some amazing views, it also showed me that I’m capable of things I never thought I’d be able to do. A two hour hike literally up the side of the mountain? Before this trip, I didn’t think I could do something so strenuous, but I was very proud of myself for what I’d already accomplished. So proud, in fact, that I treated myself to gelato as soon as we arrived in Vernazza.
Vernazza was my favorite city out of all the five villages, as it was the most colorful and full of life. The beach comes right up to the edge of the city, and people were relaxing by the sea or laying on the beach, just enjoying the late afternoon sun.
I think we all could have sat in Vernazza for the rest of the day, but the city of Monterosso kept calling our names. So we sat and enjoyed our gelato in Vernazza, and then embarked on the last leg of the hike.
I’ve got to say, the last leg of the hike was both the best and worst part of the trip. We were all so exhausted, but we were so close to being done. It was only the determination to finish the hike and the ability to say that we hiked all five villages that got us through that last portion. The best parts were the friends we met along the way, including a few fellow American college students and a two very friendly boys, one from Alaska and one from Australia, who hiked with us the rest of the way. And the views leaving Vernazza weren’t bad either.
We arrived in Monterosso around two hours later, just as the sun began to set over the Mediterranean. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to stop moving in my entire life. We arrived in Monterosso, changed into our swimsuits, and ran straight into the water. The water was cold as the sun had already begun to set, but we didn’t care. Finishing our hike with a dip in the Mediterranean Sea was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Like I mentioned earlier, the hike of Cinque Terre was the coolest thing I have ever done for so many reasons. Not only was it an incredible experience to see all the five villages and experience a little bit of life in each one, but it was also a once in a lifetime hike that I doubt I will ever do anywhere else. And on top of that, the day really brought all of us closer together, and I can easily say that I bonded more with these people than I could have imagined possible in one day.