Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cinque Terre-- hiking the hill towns

Our reason for going to the Cinque Terre was twofold.  First and foremost, I saw a program (thank you Rick Steves) on the Cinque Terre many, many years ago and knew immediately that it was one of my bucket list places.  It was the Italy I dreamed of—not Rome or Venice.  And secondly, after the terribly flooding in 2011, the Cinque Terre needed visitors to help them restore their economy.  We felt if we ever wanted to visit, now was the time.
When the sun rose on our second day, we got up early, went to the bakery  and  bought some delightful cornetti—Italian croissants filled with many different fillings. I had no idea what was in each one, so we bought several! And yes, they were ALL delicious. After we grabbed our pastry, we stopped in at Burgus for our morning coffee—cappuccino for me and an Americano for the Dutchboy.  We took our coffee to the harbor, with the promise to return the cups and had our picnic breakfast. This would be our ritual for the days we stayed there.  In hindsight, those quiet mornings at the harbor nursing espresso and croissants were some of my favorite memories of the trip.

Hindsight, indeed! Truth be told, that morning I was probably too excited to appreciate it the way I should.  We were going to hike the trails I had dreamed of! We would see this part of Italy for ourselves. So we set off to the train station, walking sticks in hand, to buy our park permits (you can’t hike the trails without paying a small fee and having a “pass”) and catch the train to the far end of the Cinque Terre and hike back to our home base of Vernazza.

Waiting for a train that would take us five minutes further down the line to Riomaggiore.

Like everything else in this area, Riomaggiore is built on a mountain. So it goes straight up! But going straight up, you pass along the main street with all the little shops and markets.
A glimpse into a focacceria—great for a quick breakfast or snack.
See? Straight up! Looking down Main street Riomaggiore
Riomaggiore from the Harbor
Looking towards Monterosso, the path we walk to Manarola is visible along the Cliffside.

The beach of Riomaggiore.  Lots of rocks, not sand. And people didn’t seem to mind that at all. The train tunnel is above, in the alcove.  I loved Riomaggiore—it’s small and quaint.  It’s quiet without being sleepy.  Next to Vernazza, it was my favorite city we saw in Italy! But there was more hiking to do. The next town awaited us!  This part of the trail is known as the Via dell’Amore (“Pathway of Love”). It’s a kilometer long, paved path that connects Riomaggiore to Manarola. It’s an easy walk, and lovers lock padlocks to the fencing that holds back the rock.  No, we didn’t declare our undying devotion with a padlock, but we did hold hands while we strolled towards  Manarola, Town number two on the Cinque Terre circuit.

Well, held hands until we encountered this friendly native. Who was too friendly for my liking.
Lizards seem to find me on every trip. I’m cursed with some pheromone that summons lizards.  Ironic that it should happen on the Via Dell’amore, right?

By this time, I was getting a bit peckish, and the smell of focaccia beckoned. So we bought a nibble or two and walked again towards the water.
Lunch!! Foccacia—one with anchovies and one without!
This was our view during lunch.
Or we could look the other way and see this! Manarola, the lady herself.

After lunch, we started hiking the second leg of our trip, but were thwarted. The path was blocked by a gate—it was closed due to a landslide.  We could have taken a different path, but we didn’t realize it at the time. Instead we walked back through Manarola and took the train to Corniglia, where we could continue onward with our trek back to Vernazza.

The thing about Corniglia—it’s on top of the mountain. There’s no harbor access to it. The train station is at the BOTTOM. You have to walk up almost 400 (felt like 4,000) steps to get to the top. Of course, there’s a shuttle to take you up, but where’s the fun in that???

Corniglia—narrow quiet lanes.

And stairs. Always with the stairs. Everywhere  you look.

Looking back to Corniglia, hiking towards Vernazza.

This hike takes you past lovely mountainside vineyards.

A sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean.

The path ahead.

And the path that was behind us.  The road to another town is above the pathway.

This path seemed to wind on and on forever. But in an hour or so, the town of Vernazza came into view!
This photo is deceptive, though. Vernazza was still quite a bit down. Straight down some steep hills and equally steep stairs.  But the rewards were sweet. Great views, lovely memories, a sense of accomplishment and…

Gelato!! Really, really amazing gelato.

Followed later by a lovely dinner at Gambero Rosso. I had Tegame di Vernazza  (fresh anchovies baked with potatoes and tomatoes) and Dutch opted for Spaghetti al rag├╣ di carne alla Bolognese (pasta with a Bolognese sauce).

Dutchboy’s dinner.  The photo of my anchovy dish didn’t turn out. It was dark and we were dining al fresco, harborside.

The wine was excellent, too. Wine of the region is white, dry, and very very good.

After dinner, we strolled through town, enjoying the warm evening. Music spilled out of cafes, and people were out, taking in the scene. It was easy to be there.

We ended the night, once again at the harbor. The lights of Monterosso, the last town of the Cinque Terre, beckoned us. Tomorrow we would hike the last portion and see the magic behind those lights in the distance for ourselves.