Our Cinque Terre Adventure
We’ve have now lived in Italy a total of twelve years off and on, and although we’ve traveled from region to region often during that time, one area that we’ve never managed to visit is Cinque Terre in Liguria. In my quest to take advantage of living in Italy six months a year, this year I’ve been planning short trips from our home in Umbria whenever we have free time and Cinque Terre was on my “to do” list this year. Last week, after I did some online research, I planned a quick trip to Cinque Terre, imagining three glorious days hiking the trails, exploring each of the five towns.
About Cinque Terre: Cinque Terre is a rugged, five mile portion of the coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the region of Liguria and is composed of the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The steep slopes along the rocky hills have been terraced over the years, and are covered with vineyards and olive trees as far as you can see. The five towns are linked by walking trails, trains, and by boat, as most are not accessible by car. The natural beauty of the Ligurian coastline, as well as the unique setting of the towns of Cinque Terre, make this area an extremely popular tourist destination.
Unfortunately, there are some things you cannot control and the weather is one of them. The minute we arrived in Monterosso al Mare it started raining, and it ended up raining off and on over the entire three days we were in Cinque Terre. Despite the inclement weather, on the first afternoon of our trip, we went to buy tickets to hike the trails but we were told that all the trails were closed as there was a rock slide that occured on the coastal trail that morning, causing serious injury to a number of hikers.
Despite the fact we were told the trails were closed, we saw a large number of hikers walking the trail leaving Monterosso, we decided to start the trail towards Vernazza ourselves, thinking that we would walk as far as we could until we reached the section of the trail that was closed. We walked and walked, and apparently they do not actually close down the trails with actual barriers, because there were dozens of folks hiking along with us and we never even saw a sign stating the trail was closed. We even spoke to a few Italians along the trail, and they told us we must have misunderstood because the trail we were on was not the one closed, so we kept hiking. Halfway to Vernazza it started to rain, and at that time we had to make the decision to either keep going or turn back. Thinking it was best to keep going, we continued hiking towards Vernazza but the further we walked the worse the weather became. The rain intensified significantly, and it actually rained so hard you could barely see in front of you, rivers of mud entirely covered the rocky paths, and by this time we were the only ones left on the trail apart from a couple stragglers we passed along the way. Climbing up and down steep, rocky trails in torrential rain with thunder, lightening, mud so thick it covered my shoes, and rivers of water totally obscuring the trail was a little more than I bargained for, let me tell you!
Though we had umbrellas with us, they were soon all but useless, and by the time we reached Vernazza I was covered in mud from my feet up to my knees and utterly soaking wet. Unfortunately, we also had our little five pound Yorkie Luca along with us on our adventure, carefully tucked out of harm’s way (we thought) in the oversized bag I wear across my chest. Halfway along our trek, I passed him over to my husband as I found I was getting dizzy the higher we climbed. Although only his head was peeking out, poor Luca got terribly wet as well, and I couldn’t help but feel he kept giving me nasty looks as we pushed through the heavy storm. I’m sure he thought we were crazy, and wondered what in the heck we were doing out hiking in that weather!
Did I mention I am afraid of heights? For someone afraid of heights as I am, there are portions of the trail between Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza that are quite dangerous and downright scary even in fair weather, as there are no barriers or railings along most of the trail. In particular, there are some points along the trail where it is unusually narrow, and if you look down all you see is a steep cliff all the way down to the sea. One wrong slip and it would be a terribly long drop I am sure! Add torrential rain and heavy mud to the equation, and I admit there were points on our trek that I almost considered going down the rest of the way to Vernazza on my bottom as I was extremely nervous I might slip and end up in the sea.
Of course, as luck would have it, as soon as we reached Vernazza the rain completely stopped, and the sun came out. Though I wish it had happened sooner, at least we were able to dry out before taking the train back to Monterosso looking like drowned rats. The lesson I learned this trip was that if the officials say the trails are closed, stay off of the trails, because they apparently do not physically close the trails with any barriers or even mark that they are closed with signs. After our precarious hike the first day, we decided we would indeed stay off the closed trails, and spent a relaxing time the rest of our stay visiting the towns by train as it turned out even the boats were grounded due to rough seas. Despite our hiking adventure the first day, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Cinque Terre, ate some truly marvellous fresh seafood meals, and plan a return visit to the area once more next spring when hopefully the weather will be better so we can hike the trails in more pleasurable conditions.
Some Photos From Our Cinque Terre Adventure!
Sentieri Azzuro – Coastal Hiking Trail
Manarola – View From Our Table At Lunch!
Monterosso al Mare
Vernazza As Seen On Our Hike Just As The Sun Came Out
Rivers Of Water Running Down Our Rocky Trail
Mud, Mud & More Mud!
View Of The Coast From Our Hiking Trail
wow! That really seems dangerous, and I must day bravi! you are very brave! Happy you had a nice time anyway !
Sally, probably more stupid than brave. Next time we’ll listen!
I’ve loved visiting and staying in Cinque Terre and hiking the trails. I read that in October 2011 a devastating flash flood caused considerable damage especially in Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. Did you see any residual damage to the towns or closed businesses? Thank you for a wonderful report and for bringing back many fond memories.
Carol, we were told most of the damage took place in Monterosso and Vernazzo but the clean up must have been very good because there was little evidence of the floods left in either town. On our hike, just before we reached Vernazza, there was half of a house hanging on a cliff showing exactly where the mudslides came through.
Beautiful region ! We hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso last week. It was extremely hot and the hike very difficult for beginners but we made it !
We visited Cinque Terre in July just before the devastating flood in October 2011.. I was very happy to see your pictures especially of Vernazza as it was truly in ruin after the flood but from your pictures it looks like it has significantly recovered. Thanks for the update..
We visited Cinque Terre in July just before the devastating flood in October 2011. Vernazza and Monterosso were especially devastated from the pictures on the internet. I am happy to see from your pictures that they have significantly recovered. Thanks for the update.
Thank you Deborah. My maternal grandparents immigrated from Sicily with two babies undertow back in 1911. I don’t think I’ll ever get to visit there. I love your pictures and writing of beautiful Italy. Sicilians, I have heard are not well thought of by the mainlanders. I don’t care too much. I enjoy your site so much! I have been to Australia and took an amazing hike in Three Sisters Blue Mountains. I will never forget it! Thank s again.
I’m glad you came out unscathed–those trails can be hairy in sunny weather. Sometimes travel can make us throw caution to the wind, or maybe go into something not quite knowing what you are getting into. I felt that way in Portofino National park in May, when I ended up on a trial where you have to hold onto chains! When you return to the region, the area around Lerici (Montemarcello) is quite beautiful as well.
Thanks for the story…you are braver than I am!!!! Glad you made it safely!
I’m glad to hear you made it through okay…what an adventure!
My World Cultures class at the CP Center watched a wonderful episode of Rick Steves touring Cinque Terre…of course for him, the weather was absolutely perfect!
What kind of accomodations did you stay in while you were there…Mr. Steves recommended staying with locals who rent out rooms because of the great prices and homey conditions.
Peggy Hakanson and the World Cultures Class at the CP Center in Oakland, CA
Peggy, thanks, yes it really was an adventure! We actually stayed in a hotel in Monterosso because we were traveling with a small dog. Most of the towns have very limited accommodations though so renting out rooms is more of a necessity.
visiting cinque terra is on my bucket list, but at my age, definately not hiking. So glad you made it safe and sound.
My husband & I got there two years ago and loved every moment. We could see ourselves living there. Weather wasn’t fantastic when we went and the trail was closed. We will be back again to CinqueTerre. Your pictures brought back so many wonderful memories.