In summer, we did a 10 day road trip through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. Our itinerary was: Berlin – Weimar – Heidelburg – Freiburg – Lucerne – Lake Como – La-Spezia – Cinque Terre – Bussana Vecchia – Monaco – Éze – Gorges du Verdon – Moustiers-Ste-Marie – Valensole – Chamonix – Tübingen – Swäbisch Hall – Berlin.
I think no stop on our itinerary was as highly anticipated as Cinque Terre. This national park is famous for colourful villages standing on rugged cliffs overlooking the sea, a thing of painter’s dreams.
We were staying in La Spezia, and from there it’s possible to catch a train to the villages of Cinque Terre. We decided to visit Riomaggiore first, since it was the first of the villages coming from La Spezia, and I’d read good things about it so didn’t want to miss it. The order of the five villages if travelling from La Spezia is: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare.
Coming from the station, we had to walk up and along a path for bit, with nice views out to the sea. Then we rounded a corner and came face to face with the spectacular sight of Riomaggiore laid out of the hills.
The square buildings in bright colours made a patchwork mosaic tumbling down from the hills to a small harbour with fishing boats and tourist dinghy’s. We stopped to drink an espresso while taking in the view, then walked through the town down to the harbour and around to the place where ferry boats were coming and going. Each ferry boat dropped off a tremendous amount of tourists, and it became crowded very quickly. We’d been warned that Cinque Terre in summer is very crowded, and it’s true, but we were still glad to be there.
The path leading from Riomaggiore to Manarola was closed, so after wandering around Riomaggiore for a while, we walked back to the station and took the train to Corniglia – or rather, to the bottom of the hill atop which Corniglia sits. Getting to the village itself was a steep, hot walk up lots of steps (there is a shuttle but there were lots of other tourists and we didn’t feel like waiting). Thank goodness there were drinking fountains on top; we drank and drank. Our next priority was then lunch, and we had a quick pizza before walking around Corniglia and taking in the atmosphere. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a pizza with pesto on, and it was delicious. Basil pesto originates in Liguria, the region we were in.
We then decided to do the hike from Corniglia to Vernazza. When we arrived at the start we found out there was a rather steep entrance fee (think it was 7 euros) to do this walk, so we did debate it. It seemed a lot for a short walk, but it does cost some money and effort for the locals to build and maintain the paths, and carving paths out of cliffs can be a dangerous job. As the train station in Corniglia was rather far away, we thought walking would be the quicker and more scenic option. We did feel very hot and bothered as it was mostly uphill, and mostly quite bare, and the sun was blazing down on us. There great views at the beginning of the walk, above Corniglia and above Vernazza at the end, but in the middle not so much, so there was not much distraction from the hard slog.
As soon as we got to the end, we rushed to a cafe to get something to drink. In this region they serve freshly squeezed orange juice all over the place, and it made for a good thirst-quencher. As our next plan was to look for a swimming spot, I took the opportunity to change into my swimsuit in the bathroom. Then we walked further down into splendid Vernazza.
Here we had slight differences of opinion. The original plan had been to continue to Monterosso al Mare, the final village, which has a big beach, and swim there. However our friend wanted to swim immediately, and walked (like many of the other tourists) straight past a no entry sign to a small, crowded beach next to the cliff (the no entry was due to the risk of rockfall). We waited for her to finish before heading to Monterosso, with some good gelato helping to pass the time. Having had her swim, she was not so keen to go to Monterosso, but in the end she came with us. All of us were a bit edgy from the heat and over-exertion (we must have climbed thousands of steps that day), but the swim at Monterosso refreshed us immensely. The best thing was that as it was late in the day, there was more space on the beach. The swim was the perfect ending to the day in Cinque Terre. Afterwards, we headed back to La Spezia on the train, where we would overnight once again before continuing our journey.