Cinque Terre. Corniglia – Manarola – Riomaggiore.
On our final day the plan was to complete the Cinque Terre walk but Tren Italia workers had other ideas and called a strike., fortunately a rather soft one – from 9am to 5pm. So with an extra early start we were in Corniglia just after 8am at the base of those 382 zigzag steps we had descended a few days ago. There is a sign at the bottom advertising a pharmacy at the top – ?oxygen. Once at the top we were ready for some breakfast in one of the cafes in the little square of this rather strange promontory village. The coastal path has been destroyed so we take the higher route over the headlands via Volastra, this involves some fairly stiff climbing up stone steps. There are some great views back down to Corniglia to take our minds off the task. Most of this area is devoted to vines with stone walls supporting terraces down the steep hillsides. Any grapes grown here involved arduous work over the centuries. In recent years a type of rack rail has been installed for transport on the slopes, it all looks very precarious. No wonder the wine tastes good. The day is perfect with hot sunshine and blue skies and this section of the walk is relatively quiet. Soon we are descending steeply into Manarola with its busy streets above the harbour. The bar I chose for a light lunch of bruschetta and tomato has the only miserable waitress seen all week. From here to Riomaggiore the famous Via Dell’Amore clinging to the cliffs has also been destroyed by landslides so once again we haul ourselves [literally in parts] up steep steps. The place has suddenly become very popular with all sorts of humanity struggling along the trail. The drop into Riomaggiore is just as steep and we are hot and sweaty by the time we reach it. A swim in the stony bay round the corner is first priority and a lazy lie on the beach to dry off in the sun. There is time to explore the higher narrow streets of the village before going through the tunnel to catch a train back, now the strike is over.
In the evening we enjoy a rather over elaborate and expensive meal in a hilltop restaurant, La Ruota, the free Grappa at the end reminding me with a headache for the journey back to England the next day. It has been great to be back in Italy and this area is certainly spectacular if over touristy. I would like to return, alone or with a couple of friends, and explore some of the quieter coastal paths and the routes going into the hills inland.
Years ago there was a good Italian restaurant in Preston named Portofino, candle lit dinners serenaded by a guitarist who happened to be Spanish, but never mind. The name stuck with me and I had a hankering to visit this place. So this morning we get off the train in rather elegant Santa Margherita and walk across the promenade past a statue of Christopher Columbus. He was born in Genoa up the coast so I’m not sure of the significance of his statue here.
It was raining as we set off into the hills –– steep tracks through pine and chestnut trees eventually brought us out at a cafe next to an old mill. Here a welcome coffee and a drying out helped us on our way. The whole area was very green and luxuriant but there was a lot of damage from recent storms. Soon we were looking down on the natural harbour of Portofino.Portofino has become the Italian playground of the rich and famous and was full of tourists. I didn’t venture into the jewellery and fashion boutiques, in fact I ate a sandwich on the castle promontory, there are some fabulous views of the harbour from up here. I then braved a coffee in the over priced Bar Pasticerria up the side street. They had photos of the visiting rich and famous from the past.
We had a route march back along the coast to catch the train in Santa Margherita. Portofino – been there, seen it, couldn’t afford the T shirt.
There were no walks scheduled for today, people were doing their own thing. I considered a walk northwards from Moneglia but fancied a change and the weather forecast was for morning rain. So after a leisurely start, I meant to say the breakfasts at the hotel have been excellent, I was on the train to Monterosso again. From here I was joining the tourists on the boat trip down the Cinque Terre coast and on to Portovenere. Actually there weren’t many people on the little boat as it was miserably damp. All the five towns were viewed from the sea which gave a different perspective to the walking days. We called in at Vernazza, Moneglia and Riomaggiore, Corniglia doesn’t have a harbour.
I stayed on for the longer leg to Portovenere. By now the weather was stormy and most people had retreated off the upper deck. This a much larger town, again a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at the far end of the peninsula before La Spezia Bay. Its harbour is lined with brightly coloured houses. All these towns seem to have perfect pastel painted houses, I wonder if there is a plan or colour coordinating police?Narrow medieval streets lead up the hill to a castle and a church on the promontory, once the site of a temple to Venus (Venere in Italian) from which Portovenere gets its name. The main street, lined with shops, is entered through an ancient city gate. Here a small family cafe, Bar Zurigo, rather than one of the expensive restaurants was chosen for a lunch of Anchovies with a view over the harbour. By now the sun had come out and I strolled up the hill to the church and views up the rocky coastline and across La Spezia bay to Palmaria Island.
A tortuous bus ride to La Spezia and then the train back to Moneglia. I’m becoming very familiar with the stations on route but the line generally is disappointing due to all the tunnels, it serves a purpose.
Cinque Terre. Monterosso – Vernazza – Corniglia.
This week is different for me and I’m not sure about walking with ten other people no matter how charming they may be. I feel I’m missing things on the way – flowers, birds, houses, shrines etc. OK you see them in passing but if I was on my own or with another much more time would be spent observing and absorbing. More time is spent chatting rather than experiencing the route. If you drop off the back to contemplate the rest are waiting for you to catch up – I don’t need that! Anyhow worse is to come today as we hit the crowded Cinque Terre paths.
Our morning train takes us to Monterosso the most westerly town of the Cinque Terre – Five Lands. The old part of town with narrow streets full of cafes also had two unusual churches. All humanity was here – Americans, Japanese and the rest of the world’s tourists. Some are content to eat ice creams in the expensive port but many are clambering in various attires along the famous cliff hugging path. Traffic lights would not seem out of place to regulate the flow of people. An entry ticket is needed by the way. Anyhow the path high above the sea is dramatic. We walk through pine and oak forests and terraced vineyards. There are good views back to Monterosso and eventually down to our next destination – colourful Vernazza, with its natural harbour dominated by the Doria Castle.
Lunch, local Focaccia bread with Pesto, is taken in a little cafe away from the port itself but everywhere is crowded.
Then more steps climbed out of the village and we traversed high again towards Corniglia which is perched on a promontory rather than at sea level. It was an interesting place to explore with little passageways leading nowhere and good views of the coast. There was time for an ice cream before heading down flights of steps [382 I didn’t count them] to the station platform for the return train.
My antisocial self survived, actually enjoyed, the day: I’m getting into tourist mode. Back in Moneglia a swim refreshed me ready for a meal at a small restaurant [U Limottu] up an unfrequented side street. Ate the best fish so far in this town and the best wine from Colli di Luni a complex red Niccolo V.
Rapallo, Montallegro and Chiavari.
Back on that train again, this time to Rapallo. But for some strange reason the train only goes as far as Sestri Levante where we have a 40 minute wait for an ongoing train, time for a walk round the town of impressive buildings and a coffee. Once at Rapallo we cross the small town to make our way up to the Funicular station for a squashed 500m ride to the upper station. A short walk up steps leads to The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montaleggro. Here in 1557 a vision of Madonna was seen and a sanctuary built for pilgrims, the present day impressive marble facade dates from 1896. From here we had a well paved level track [with stations of the cross] along a ridge of oak and chestnut trees, unfortunately the mist interrupted coastal views.
For most of the day the pilgrim/mule trail was cobbled, often between old stone walls running across terracing on the hillside. Inland low hills, with scattered farmsteads, led up to the distant Apennines whilst down to our right were glimpses of the coast. There was a steep scramble up a rise in the woods and we were nearly mown down by mountainbikers on the descent. The ornate church of La Madonetta suddenly appeared in the trees further on.From here paved ways led down to the town of Chiavari which had some grand buildings in its centre and lots of alleyways leading nowhere. The railway station was tucked away in a tunnel. This was a relatively short walk as we had a wine tasting to attend in the early evening. This took place in an old house used in the past for the preparation of Anchovies which were an important food through the winter months. Our host runs a restaurant here and gave an entertaining and informative presentation helped by his young daughter. [blurry picture below] One of the grapes used in this region is the Vermentino producing a light fruity dry white wine. We tried four from slightly different areas and methods. After that we staggered out into the street and into a nearby restaurant [Gian Maria] for a tasty prawn spaghetti and of course more wine.
Framura, Delva Marino and back to Moneglia.
Breakfast was promising. Our group of ten also.
The railway along this coast connects all the towns directly whereas the roads are a convoluted and slow affair. Both commuters and tourists use the train. In the cool morning we await the train heading south to Framura, two stops away, only 10mins late today. Once at Framura the walking starts, typically we are to find, with steep steps out of town. Now is not the time to chat with one’s new companions. Soon we are high above the coast with spectacular views east.A sunny square materialised with an old defensive tower and then we were heading down again on a track through pines, giant heathers and strawberry trees.A few streets led us onto the beach at Deiva Marina and I couldn’t resist a swim in the invigorating Mediterranean, I was soon dry in the hot sunshine. A nearby cafe provided caffe macchiato. There was a chestnut festival in the village which was just getting going with music and roasted chestnuts.Jollities over a steep ascent through oak forests brought us out at a wooden cross high on Monte Telegrafo, 443m, but views were restricted by the trees. Downhill once again to the prominent village of Lemeglio with it’s black and white church – – and then on old paved tracks back to Moneglia.
For a first day’s walking this had been quite tough with steep gradients and nearly 3000ft of ascent. This area is outside the Cinque Terre region and few other walkers were seen. A session in the hotel’s Jacuzzi helped aching muscles before an excellent meal of mainly fish and ten new names to recall.
“Cinque Terre is a string of centuries-old seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colourful houses and vineyards cling to steep terraces, harbours are filled with fishing boats and restaurants turn out seafood specialties along with the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. The Sentiero Azzurro hiking trail links the villages and offers sweeping sea vistas.”
That sold it for me.
I’ve only really been to the Ligurian coast once – climbing based on Finale west of Genoa. We also came close finishing the three week GEA in the Apennines to the north of La Spezia a few years ago but hadn’t time to visit the coast.
This time I’m heading straight to Moneglia a coastal village between Portofino and the Cinque Terre. My fellow passengers on the flight were from Durham and I slipped back into my early accent as chat passed the time quickly. Its interesting how a common background leads to familiarity. An early arrival at Pisa airport, thanks Easy Jet, had me on a bus to town. The ticket queues at the rail station were a testament to Italian inefficiency but after half an hour or so I was on a train to La Spezia. A dash saw me on the coastal train onwards. Glimpses of the Med. and the iconic villages flashed past but a lot of the time we were in tunnels.
Moneglia looked a bit run down but improved as I approached my hotel, Piccolo, near the sea front. Disappointingly there seem to be buildings blocking off the sea front itself. I realise later that this little town is much quieter and less touristy than the other resorts.
I’m here in roundabout way on an Exodus walking holiday, the rest of the group are coming later on a flight from London. So I make myself at home, have a swim in the sea, refresh and go out to find supper. My choice, Restaurant Vela, is a great little family run place and they look after me well.