Hiking the Cinque Terre: An Amateur’s Tale

once in a lifetime travel

Kenzie, director of research shares her tales on the trails of the Cinque Terre.

I am a champion mountaineer. I am capable of anything this rugged Italian coastline can throw my way. Honestly, I live in the Rocky Mountains. How hard can this possibly be?

Hard. Very hard.

“Why am I doing this?” I asked aloud to no one in particular. The sun was sinking lower behind me, and I was alone, ascending trail that, somehow, just kept going up. I think the mountain was mocking the tenacity I had that morning when I set out on my endeavor to hike across the Cinque Terre in one day. That tenacity had since disappeared, and I was operating on my desire to gorge myself on pesto pasta and sleep for a hundred years.

Originally, I intended to do the hike in a couple of days, moving slowly from one town to the next, enjoying the Mediterranean air and stopping in each of the towns for photos and wine with the locals. But this plan was quickly abandoned when I crossed paths with an extremely fit Australian couple toting walking sticks who had completed the hike in an easy 7 hours.

The walking sticks should’ve been my first clue.

I started the following morning in Monterosso, hiking the coastal paths of the Italian Riviera to the nearby towns of Vernazza and Corniglia. I planned on hiking from Corniglia to Manarola and finally to Riomaggiore, where I would take the train back to my room in Vernazza in time for a sunset dinner.

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About half way through my first hike, I realized a couple of things.

  1.  I don’t hike. I live in one of the mountainous places in the United States, so nature isn’t exactly foreign to me. I’ve just never been that committed to rugged mountain terrain when I could instead curl up with a book. Or, you know, Netflix.
  2. I have no sense of direction. I already knew this, of course, from previous failed attempts to navigate European cities, American cities, my university campus, my house, but this was hardly a deterrent.
  3. I will never be like the fit couple. I like gelato and pasta way too much for six pack abs, and, honestly, what does a walking stick even do?

The Internet said the last leg of the hike would be easy, that the hard part was climbing from Monterosso to Vernazza. This was mostly true, and I was prepared for one rough trail. I summited and descended, first into Vernazza, then into Corniglia, where I stopped at a market for some water and freshly picked grapes, warm from the August sun.

I munched away and began the trek in the direction of the sign that pointed to Manarola but apparently I missed the memo that there are 2 trails to Manarola. One trail is 2km and should have taken an hour but, unbeknownst to me, this trail is closed, and has been for some time.

The other trail is, according to Google, 5.7km and, according to me, an endless set of switch-back stairs, carved into the mountain hundreds of years ago by somebody who decided it would be hilarious to watch from the heavens as I sweated off my sunscreen.

Aside from my brief interaction with my potential future soul mate, I didn’t see a single other person. The sun was slowly setting, and the trail was steadily ascending. A little bit of panic was on the verge of emerging, when something amazing happened.

The trail opened up, and I could see Manarola, framed by vineyards that terraced down the side of the mountain, and everything was a warm golden reflection of the evening sun. I walked through the vineyards, into a town called Volastra. My final descent into Manarola led me through a grove of olive trees, blanketed by the harvesting nets that will be used to catch the olives through the end of the season.

I arrived in Manarola just as the sun fell entirely below the Mediterranean, took the train back to Vernazza, and enjoyed meal and a shower.

I sunk into the comfort of my bed, and just before I slipped into a deep sleep, I realized how much I loved every bit of that impossible, perfect day.

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

once in a lifetime travel


Travel Fearless

Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

copyright 2016

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