breathtaking cinque terre challenge

cinque terre italyAhh, Italy’s Cinque Terre – where vistas are breathtaking and olive groves and vineyards cover the mountains that plunge into the sea. Exploring this dramatic coast should be on everyone’s bucket list and Carol Watson was so glad she rose to the challenge of walking the whole way…

“I was quite nervous if I would have the fitness to explore the Cinque Terre. I’d read about the hilly terrain and how long the walk was between each of the villages, so I was surprised at how I conquered all 5 villages on foot. The lucky thing is the entrance ticket to the Cinque Terre Marine Park also entitles visitors to use the local trains that travel between the villages, so when you are feeling a little tired, there is always an alternative.

I started in Riomaggiore early in the morning. There is a quick walk around its tiny harbour for the best view of the village, the colourful boats bobbing and the pastel coloured houses that seem to cling to the cliff. This would easily be missed unless you knew you were looking for the view. Luckily our leader knew her way.

The path from Riomaggiore to the next village, Manarola is the easiest section. It is only 25 minutes on a well paved track. It is also the busiest section. Manarola was my breakfast stop. There are many small delis and cafes to choose from. I tried an Italian style breakfast of a strong coffee and pastry while standing up at the bar – it was only a few Euros and I felt like one of the local residents. Each town only really needs less than an hour to explore, but can take much longer because of photo stops.

The next track was a little more difficult with stretches of unpaved path, a few more inclines and about a 50 minute walk. There are still quite a few travellers walking this section of the path to Corniglia. As you leave Manarola behind don’t forget to turn around. The view of Manarola is spectacular and when I look back at photos of the Cinque Terre that inspired my decision to walk the track, I realise it is probably the most iconic of the images I had seen.

From Corniglia and path becomes a lot less trafficked and steeper. Our leader had a great idea to ascend to the upper path for this section – to escape the tourists and to get an aerial view of the coastline. It was an awesome decision although my legs were feeling it the next day. It was a gruelling climb up but worth it. I had not realised there was the lower path which sticks closer to the water level and then an upper path with great views and less people.

The next village is Vernazza. Another picturesque jewel perched on the edge of the sea with a castle as a crowning glory. This was our lunch stop. We decided to choose a small café, take a seat and relax. The choice was to have wine with lunch and perhaps give up on the walk ahead if it was a particularly nice drop. Knowing me and knowing Italian wines, I knew this was not a great decision.

I was determined to get to the end and this next section is the most challenging. After lunch I noticed that there were many people who we’d seen on the path, had dropped off and caught the train. But I kept on going. After steep inclines and declines, impossibly sheer cliffs, gravel tracks, a suspension bridge and 2 hours, I made it to Monterosso. I was so excited. It was one of the highlights of my travels so far- actually walking this fabulous stretch of coast.

I took some time out to take a swim and then sip a delicious wine at a waterside café. It was a perfect day. I recommend anyone give it a try, and if you can not make it – just catch the train. There is no reason to miss this great experience!”

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* photo by Jamie Hughes

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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