Pictured above: hiking into the village of Vernazza.
Leaving Tuscany, we needed one more taste of the Italian coast before bidding it a final farewell. Cinque Terre was a mystical place I’d read about, but had never had a chance to visit. While I understood there were five villages (in the abstract) I knew nothing of the villages themselves, or of the all-day hike necessary to hit all of them.
We arrived in Riomaggiore, the first in a line of five villages, and our home for two nights. Luciano of Luciano Guesthouse happily greeted us, informing me that my booking.com “status” had qualified us for a complimentary upgrade. Though not realizing I had used the service enough to attain such a thing, we certainly weren’t going to complain about a nicer suite with the gorgeous new bathroom that Luciano was very proud of.
The second largest of the five towns, Riomaggiore has a stunning cliff-side façade of brightly-colored buildings and a main drag littered with bars and restaurants catering to crowds of athleisure-clad tourists – like us – ready to embark on the famous hike.
That first day was a stormy one, with white waves breaking mercilessly against the cliffs and often splashing an unsuspecting sunbather or tourist attempting a selfie. At sunset, the weather made for some great photo opps, so we eagerly climbed many steps to take advantage of the magic hour.
The next morning, we rose early in anticipation of the hike through Cinque Terre National Park, packing up a backpack filled with snacks, several liters of water, and other essentials. While there are several different trails through the park, the Azure Path is the shortest and most popular. The 7.5 mile path is divided into four sections that connect all five villages.
However, upon arriving at the tourist office, we were met with some unfortunate news: rockslides had caused the closure of the Azure Path between Riomaggiore (#1) and Corniglia (#3). As a result, in order to do the full hike as planned, we needed to take the higher trails through the famous Cinque Terre vineyards (read more about all the available paths here).
First, we did an arduous 2,000 stair climb from Riomaggiore to sleepy Manarola (#2), and then another steep uphill climb to Corniglia. Once in Corniglia, to regain our strength, we grabbed the best possible option at the moment: a lemon basil gelato, before rejoining the Azure path to Vernazza (#4). Vernazza is one of the prettiest of the cliffside villages, but also one of the most touristy. We sat down at a Restaurant Belforte, which I’d hesitate to recommend highly because they made us order two entrees even though we really just wanted to split a pizza. After lunch, we had just one more path to endure before our final destination.
14 miles, 3,368 vertical feet, and about 3 gallons of sweat later, we finally made it to the resort town of Monterosso Al Mare (#5). I was so happy and proud when we finished! We immediately jumped in the sea to relax and unwind from a much longer-than-anticipated hike.
Upon returning home to Riomaggiore, we showered and made our way down to commence a celebratory dinner. As Riomaggiore doesn’t have a ton to offer as far as dining options, our favorite place for dinner was a local Italian and seafood takeout restaurant, Primo Piatto, whose dishes we preferred to enjoy while sitting on the rocky cliffs, admiring the sunset. The takeout and Cinque Terre wine were the perfect accompaniment to our cliffside fete. We stayed for long after the sunset, rejoicing in the day’s triumphs, and savoring the last of our time in Italy.
And just like that, the next morning, we departed for our next seaside home: Nice.
Looking back, I absolutely loved our time in Cinque Terre, but probably not for the reasons that one might expect. The towns were nice, but filled with hordes of tourists and a severe lack of decent food options, making the experience in town less idyllic than I would have hoped. Rather, it was the beautiful scenery, the feeling of accomplishment after a day long expedition, and of course our post-hike celebration, that made the experience memorable.