When I was travelling around Italy, I was half way into my 5 month European trip and already the planning element of my travels had long gone. One of the great things about travelling on your own is the fact that you and you alone are in charge of your own destiny! Change direction, stay somewhere longer, skip some destinations if you can't be bothered. So I had not pre-planned how I was getting through Italy on my way to the South of France and so when someone in Florence said to me that I must visit the Cinque Terre, I quickly read up on it and booked my train to Monterosso the following day.
The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 small coastal villages making up the 'cinque terre' - the 5 lands - all built into the cliffs and connected by footpaths which you can hike or take the train between.
Top advice for the Cinque Terre is probably to ensure you book your accommodation way in advance. Monterosso is the largest of the villages and there are hotels a plenty, however if you are wanting something a bit different you will need to search for it.
Monterosso, the largest of the villages, is the most touristy. After a short walk from the train station I arrived at my cute 3 star hotel. A lovely room with air-con and balcony overlooking the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Palms trees masking my full view of the beach. Happy.
Next morning I got the train back to the first village which was called Riomaggiore which is a very small village. This confirmed to me, that in terms of liveliness and choice of eats and drinks, it's best to stay in Monterosso although it is the most expensive village of them all.
From Riomaggiore I began the walk by climbing up many steps, with a proper pavement, whilst hugging the cliffside at the same time. This seemed easy hiking, however I was soon to find out...
The hike from the first to the second village was pretty tame. I had a quick mooch around the second village - Manarola - but didn't stop too long as on reading up, the hike between the last 3 villages was the longest and toughest so did not want to dawdle. The path between Manarola and Corniglia turned out to be closed (due to bad storm damage some years before) so you had to get the train between them. When I got out of the train at Corniglia I was met by an immediate sharp climb up to the village by means of about 400 winding steps!! Glad I had bottle of water with me!
My problem when walking is that I can't do it slowly so I always have to manoeuvre around slower people and get to the front. I suppose that's a bit of my competitive streak coming out there - despite the 35 degree heat. Thankfully in Italy and in most towns and villages there are plenty of water fountains where you can replenish your water bottle and I certainly needed plenty of water on this hike.
The hike to the 4th village, Vernazza was certainly the toughest yet. A rough winding track, littered with tree roots and bushes, creating a natural obstacle course to experience. Sometimes the cliff track was right on the edge and I had a fear of looking over in case I followed my gaze down to the water below. If I met people coming the other way, sometimes it was a bit of a chore to pass each other, to avoid an accident!
When I reached the highest point before descending into the Varnazza, I could see, that apart from Monterrossa where I was staying, this was the biggest of the villages that I had been to so far. The village stuck to the cliff and part seemed to be on a rock out in the water, I stopped halfway down the descent for photo opportunities. By the time I got all the way into the village, it was swarming with tourists and I decided that lunch on the rocks next to the Marina was the way forward and a quick jump in the sea to cool off!
Along the final part of the trek, Monterrossa is always looming in the distance and the views are breathtaking.
Reward yourself with a nice cold beer in a cafe on arrival and sit back and enjoy!
Is not a trek through the Andes, but this little corner of Italy is well worth a visit.