The Cinque Terre walk is a 12km track on the edge of Italian coast. It’s a walk that strings across five different towns. The Cinque Terre towns; Riomaggoire, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso. Small Italian towns filled with people the colour of caramel, with sing-song accents and the best pasta/pizza going around. A fresh produce haven, a photographer’s dream.
But let’s focus on the walk. And I will be your guide…
To begin early is the best. But this is just a guide and so this is just one way to do it. And best for one person may be worst for another. So perhaps don’t use this as a guide, think of it as a one-person experience. And you may be this one person, you may not.
The day is fresh, the air still cool from the night. You pull on your sturdy runners (or £2 fabric shoes) and fill up your drink bottle so that there are no air bubbles. Maximum capacity, you’re going to drink a lot. In Riogmaggoire there is the tourist office open beside the train station, and so you buy your one day pass to enter the national park. Five euros. And up you walk (note the word: up). Up to ‘Del l’amore’, lovers walk.
It’s leading away from the town of Riomoggiore that is a sprawl of colours beneath you. A town made of houses built on top of one another. It’s a wonder the cliff edge they are carved into hasn’t caved into the sea. ‘Perfect’, you say. Del l’amore is a footpath of concrete and stones that is wide enough for two sets of lovers. The view is a stolen breath, but just you wait, you don’t even know what the other three tracks will hold. This path from Riomaggoire to Manarola is to boost your confidence. It’s a deliberate ease. ‘YES! I can do this,’ you think, and you don’t understand what the others talk of when they say the walk is a killer. It kills.
You enter Manarola. It’s quieter than the first town, but they look similar. Same colours, same chipped building faces, same payed-50c for a postcard look.
There are repairs on the walking track from Manarola to Corniglia. But you want to walk it all because when it comes down to it, you’ve always been a bit competitive, you have. Knowing you’ve done it all is more than saying you’ve done it all. And so you skip a coffee in this town to save it for the next and head straight for the mountain Manarola town is leaning on.
Stop. There’s a fruit man selling from his fruit van. Buy some, it’s fresh from his fields. He hands over what you choose (get the peach and the apple) and his tummy strains against his navy polo as he leans out of his van-turned-grocery store to hand it to you. His mostache reminds you of your uncle Johnny, don’t you think? Fruit in your backpack which is already damp against your back, you’re on the upwards walk. Around the road, you’re above town, off road, you’re in somebody’s vineyard. Pop a grape into your mouth, but up you go. Keep going up. Lean on your legs to push yourself up the giant steps made of crumbling stone and dirt. Heart racing. And so you walk on the path that overlooks whole of the ocean. The path next to olive orchards and provincial homes. You’re dripping sweat, or tears, but it’s probably sweat. And then after an hour and three quarters of heavy walking you see the sign for Corniglia.
Cornigula is halfway. You’re halfway and you deserve lunch. But you turn a mistake-left instead or a right-right. And you travel down a winding 368 stairs. But town is not at the bottom, it’s at the top. Up you go. Go on.
For lunch you get the brusketta (and you note that the spelling is different) and frittata to share with your friend opposite you. It’s a light lunch with a coffee at the end.
Afterwards you’re on the beaten track again. It’s no two-set lovers’ walk now. It’s a winding crawl around the cliffs, up over tree roots and down beside creek beds. And it’s a manageable one hour hike. Anything’s better than the last track. When you’re breathing heavy, you realise it’s all you can hear. It’s now the heat of the day and your cheeks have never been a brighter shade of red.
Vernazza is the second last town. This is it, this is it. You get the three scoop ice-cream waffle cone (nutella, biscotti and mint) and feel it melt down your throat. A sit on the concrete walk that overlooks the port. The sea soothes. You watch it as your heart beat slows to its normal pace.
But you must gather up your last spark of energy. Final path. Final 3.5km. As you take the first set of stairs in the shadow of the town’s body, a man passes you looking ready to die, here, now. “3 hours” he says. And he points three fingers at your heart as if to stab you. You pause on the step. Can you stop when you’re nearly there? No.
As the path leads up you are caught behind a group of men. It’s a case of Hansel and Gretel, you’re following their sweat-drippng tracks. Drop here, a drip on that rock. Overtake. There’s no stopping you. You reach the trail’s climax, you can see over the last couple of towns which are a mess of colours. Then you’re on the downhill run. You feel it, this is the last stretch. Down. Step down. Wait. There’s a hole in the vines. It’s a small lemonade business run by a sweaty Italian man squeezing lemons to the pumping sound of dance music. A small queue gathers because it’s too good to pass on by. When you taste the cup he hands you, you can see the lemon pulp dancing to the beat. It’s sour, squint your eyes and put your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
You’ve arrived, Monterosso is before you with its beaches and bustling restaurants. The town doesn’t interest you, it’s the water the pulls you. And in you dive.